The best show I’ve ever seen… seriously.

Entertainment Column
Written by Nathan Mattise

Can you ever definitively say any single concert is the best you’ve seen?

Musicians unfortunately aren’t like athletes. There are no standardized statistics to judge by; no prizes at stake to raise the importance of a performance. Beyond that there is the genre predicament that feels a bit  like comparing athletes across sports.  A country artist can be incredibly technically advanced and play the cleanest concert of his/her life. If you don’t like country though, some polka band at the town picnic can be a “better” concert.  

Call it a purely subjective sentiment then, but on August 2, 2009 in Clifton Park, N.Y. (at this strip mall no less)… I had my “best” concert experience. Allow me to defend the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs.

If you were to make a list of the three or four things you’d want in a concert, Karen O and company not only had it, but on this night they did it better than anyone else. In fact…

1) Intimacy

I’d rather see a band in a back alley club than some 100,000-seat arena. There is something unique about being within an arm’s length of your favorite musicians. The concert becomes more personal, more emotional.

The YYY don’t get this opportunity often these days. They’ve grown a ton since their debut at the beginning of the decade and recent gigs at Lollapalooza and All Points West are now more the norm than the exception.  This show was a surprise announcement and likely just added so the band could  play a nearby show on their way out of N.Y. after APW.

The venue probably didn’t hold more than 250 people.  Anyone in the mass at the front of the stage was as close to Karen O as friends sitting across a room watching television together. When she spit beer, people got wet. When they released Y-shaped confetti, we were showered in it.

2) Showmanship

Take a look at Karen O (courtesy of the “Ariel=]” flickr account. My camera died while this was still my best photo). Her outfits are over-the-top eyecatching. Her antics are in your face (beer spitting, placing the entire mic in her mouth, this sadistic smile that’s oddly seductive). The energy she conveys through her vocals and her movement across the stage is unmatched.

I’ve seen Girl Talk, Bob Dylan, Ted Leo,  Death Cab for Cutie, Kanye West, The Hold Steady, Ra Ra Riot in Syracuse and other acts with a reputation for pure lovefests with a crowd. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced an act who developed a more sensual relationship with an audience despite carrying such high expectations.  When else would YYY be near Albany? Precisely. This was the lone chance for the YYY to cement their reputation to fans in this area. Naturally there was a ton of hype, but Karen O exceeded it.

3) Energy and Communal Experience

This may only be possible if items No. 1 and No. 2 are present. A crowd that totally buys into the act (singing along, constant movement, responding when prompted from the act) adds immensely to an experience. The crowd was in a state of constant motion with people right on top of each other all night (in my experiences, it was only rivaled by a Girl Talk crowd).

To sum it up briefly, the “no sweat” paper arm band Karen O wore was transparent by the end. My hands looked as if I showered for an hour straight.  The drive back to Syracuse needed to be done shirtless.

4) Quality Musicianship

I feel the need include my trips to see Dave Brubeck, John Mayer, Ben Folds or the like (Kirill Gerstein, anyone?) when discussing my best concert experiences. Maybe it’s the large amount of life I spent in concert wind ensembles, jazz bands and orchestras, but technical skill and creativity matters to me when evaluating a concert.

This doesn’t always strike me even when I go see bands I thoroughly enjoy. The YYY absolutely floored me in this regard.  Guitarist Nick Zinner writes riffs that are brilliantly simple yet they evoke visceral reactions from crowds. The band won’t wow you with incredibly fast runs, vocal pitches well above the staff or blistering paced percussive syncopation. Instead they create a tight pocket (borrowing the term from my high school jazz instructor), finding a  joint groove that where all three bandmates seemingly function as one.

The past couple hundred words could have the same value as “it was the best show I’ve seen,” to many.  If either description moves you to buy a ticket the next time they’re around, than mine job is done. It’d be your turn to get subjective on the subject.

(Links today from Flickr, 20 Watts and Wikipedia)

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Filed under Columns, Entertainment

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