Live Music In A Dead Age

Bad Brains at the 9:30 Club in 1983. Image by Malco23 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bad Brains at the 9:30 Club in 1983. Image by Malco23 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I’m not normally a huge fan of recorded live music. Very few of my most treasured albums were recorded in a live context. The majority of the time, I find live recordings to be inferior versions of their studio-recorded counterparts. Right now, though, I’m mostly home bound, unable to attend gatherings where music would be played. I had tickets to see Tennis perform in May, but that was postponed indefinitely. I don't foresee that show, or any others, returning in the next few months.

Living through this, live recordings can slake a sort of thirst that isn’t getting quenched any other means. NPR has unlocked over 100 performances from the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington DC to fill in the gap. I'm creating a habit of listening through a live performance on weeknights. I started with this Stars show from 2007. As expected, the songs don’t sound as good as they do on the records, but there’s a certain energy and spontaneity to them. There is also a sense of nostalgia that is invoked by these little time capsules. They take you back to an earlier time in an artist’s career as well as a different part of your life.

The downside to these live performances has to do with some of the technology involved. The sets are each presented as one monolithic piece. Those who are used to track divisions and song identification from live albums may be put off by the lack of those things in the simplistic player that NPR offers.

NPR also has an accompanying piece about the 9:30 Club by All Songs Considered host, Bob Boilen. The club is 40 years old, though it remains closed, which makes it harder to celebrate its legacy. When it opened, according to its own typewritten promotional material, it was “the first non-disco niteclub to open in downtown D.C. in thirteen years.” I’ve never actually been to the club, as my dad saw to it that I couldn’t go as a teen living in Northern Virginia. My cousin worked there for much of his adult life, though.

Boilen clearly loves the venue and the rich experiences that it provided for him. He ends the piece by advising us to have the same affection and dedication to the clubs wherever we may live.

So in that spirit, celebrate the clubs in your town. There are many more venues in D.C. now than there were in 1980, but not all of them are likely to survive this pandemic. There's a newly formed organization called NIVA is taking action to help support venues. If there's a club you love, new or old, remember that they are part of the fabric of your community. These places that have given so much to us and, in turn, to the artists who have energized, galvanized and changed many of our lives.

Robert Rackley @frostedechoes
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