In this world, there are two types of live music experiences, there are concerts, and then there are gigs. In one week, I experienced both and there was a big difference.
John Cale came first, the legendary musician of the Velvet Underground, playing his amazing "Fragments of a Rainy Season" set. Who can complain about such magnificent songs as 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night', as Cale roars "Rage against the dying of the night", or the viciously witty portrait of his own background with Andy Warhol that is 'Style it takes'. Then there was the wild piano playing of "Darling I need you", or the quiet atmosphere of '(I keep a) Close Watch', or the cynical "love song" that is Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. Best of all, was his unique take on 'Heartbreak Hotel', which is about as far from Elvis as you can get, though John did seem to turn into Tom Waits in the middle.
The music was amazing, but unfortunately, that was really all there was. This was a concert, in a big, plush venue, with perfect sound and comfortable seats. Mr Cale played the songs we know and love, and that's about it. There was no atmosphere, little or no surprise and really little more to the gig that couldn't have been felt sitting at home listening to the album itself. It wasn't really his fault, any more than it was the crowd's, the National Concert Hall is, as you might guess a concert hall, a place to sit quietly and listen, not get into like you would a normal gig. I think I'm still too young to really enjoy a concert like this as much as...
Two days later, in an out of the way pub on the Northside of Dublin, Peter Mulvey showed us the other side of live music. Now this was a gig. Strangely similar to the Cale show, this was one man playing an acoustic set, relying on the simple backing of one instrument at a time. Unlike Cale, though, there was no grand piano, no perfect sound, no plush seating, just a battered guitar, bar stools and pure emotion.
In complete contrast to Cale, the individual songs don't matter. In fact it's much harder to even remember which songs he played over the incredibly long set. 'Brand New '64 Dodge' was there, as was 'Smoke' and 'Stephen's Green', but it didn't matter. This was a gig to sit back with a drink in one hand and a fag in the other and relax. The atmosphere was electric, Peter chatted to the audience, made jokes, had a few drinks. This is what is meant by the word authentic. And to top it all off, in the most unbelievable contrast to the Concert Hall, where we were politely shown out by ushers, the Cobblestone Bar gig was ended abruptly when the owner ran up the stairs and told us in hushed tones "The Guards have arrived!" No encore, no applause, just sneak down the stairs nice and quietly and bypass the paddy wagon on your way home.
Maybe this all means that I'm an uncultured oik at heart, but I know which performance I preferred.
by Donnacha DeLong