I had a discussion this weekend about whether or not you should check out opening bands before shows. It isn't something I had always done, but recently, I've made it a commitment to do so. The idea really hit home for me earlier this year.
Some of you Portlanders may have already been on these guys, but I had never heard Unknown Mortal Orchestra before attending the Portugal. The Man show this past May. I wasn't at all blown away by these guys at the time, but somehow they stuck with me. I found myself humming "Ffunny Ffriends" and "How Can U Luv Me" weeks after the show before realizing that they were even their songs.
I suppose in the moment, Unknown Mortal Orchestra's brand of lo-fi indie-pop was hard to digest. I couldn't get past singer Ruban Nielson's tunic-centric wardrobe and I wasn't prepared for his distorted falsetto voice. I knew there was something catchy about the instrumentation, but I couldn't sort it out. I just stood back, trying to comprehend what was happening, all the while studying the small contingent of people before me that seemed to understand what they were witnessing and having the time of their lives doing so.
There are many ways to approach listening to live music, but to me it boils down to a couple things - discovery and recognition. I used to feel I could go into a live setting, hear music for the first time, and I'll discover that it either sweeps me away right there or else it's crap. It's a risky method, and often left me disappointed.
Then I realized what I enjoy more is recognition. Having a mental map of what you are going to hear creates expectations. (When's the guitar solo going to come in? When's that drum break going to drop?) It's up to the person on stage to meet or modify those expectations. (Here comes the bass line - holy crap, did they just change something?) When expectations are met or are exceeded, a unique energy is born that can only ever be understood or experienced at that particular moment in time.
Here I am, nearly three months later, with a copy of their album finally pumping through my iPod, now understanding what I was supposed to hear that night, and I find myself wishing I could do it over again. I'd be a part of that contingent of the initiated immersed in the experience, rather than an observer still trying to put together all the pieces.
Surely you can't have heard it all before the moment arrives, but having a mental map helps. I knew this band was on the bill months ahead of time. Even if I had only heard a song or two I would have had a framework of their sound and could have appreciated it better, because now I feel like I wasted an opportunity to connect through music. I hear their songs now and see that crowd of people in my head but know I wasn't actually a part of it, even though I was there.
Now I must patiently wait and hope they come back my way one more time, but I'll never experience the unique energy that was shared that particular night in May. "Never again!", I say.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "Ffunny Ffrends"
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - How Can U Luv Me