It was — finally — time to pull apart the Velcro fastening keeping me and the couch locked together in a weird co-dependency. For a brief moment, I even considered cancelling. I was happy enough to stick to my established Friday-night routine of a half-bottle of wine and old reruns of Top of the Pops. In any case, the babysitter was booked. I was officially going to my first gig in 21 months.
It’s weird when you imagine and wish for a moment for so long, only to find yourself there, right at its threshold. There were many things to miss since March 2020, but for me, live music was among the biggest. But here I was, apprehensive about returning, but also keen to be replenished and restored by a good live show. The wait would be over. Given that missing and craving gigs has been such a huge part of the last two years, that apprehension felt strange somehow.
The band (This Is The Kit) and the venue (Dublin’s Button Factory) loom large in my affections, featuring as they did in the earliest stages of my courtship with B. We found ourselves standing in the exact same spot in the venue as we did almost six years ago, on our second date. I was back in my happy place, and at my happiest moment: the moment when the house lights go down and a small ripple of anticipation crosses the room. Man, I’d missed those lovely few seconds of silence before you hear the very first note.
What I missed less, and had almost forgotten about, was the way much taller men would saunter into the gig during the first song and plant themselves right in front of me. Whether you can see the stage or not is not their problem. This time, the guy in question didn’t bother with so much as a backward glance. I poked him in the shoulder. “No,” I told him. “Not cool.”
He was, I gathered, on a date and keen not to lose face, so he looked at me as though I’d peed on his jeans, before turning back toward the stage. His date laughed in that unkind, can-you-imagine way. I was the d***head as far as he was concerned, insisting that I didn’t want an uninterrupted view of his shoulder blades for the night. I seethed, partly at the rudeness, but mainly at the fact that this exchange left a sour note in the air. I guess this is to be expected when you’ve spent 21 months without anyone standing in front of you.
I’d also forgotten that the other person you can always count on being at a gig is the person chatting loudly in the middle of the room. This particular guy, in full Friday-night mode and shouting over the band to be heard, enraged me more than usual. Was he not aware of the sense of occasion, for everyone? I’d almost forgotten these people existed. Him, and the iPad wielders, and the girls who got their dance moves from the Kate Bush playbook taking up more space than is really necessary. Almost, but not quite.
Eventually I landed into the moment, allowing the darkness and the music and the lights do their sweet, wondrous thing. In the main, the crowd was full of people twinkling with gladness to be back beneath the beautiful loudness of live music. It is not unusual for me to cry during a live music gig. My gig buddy, Laura, is usually around to wordlessly hand me a tissue, knowing that the tears don’t mean anything too bad, and that it’s a weird release of sorts. I held B’s hand and let the happy tears fall. How many gigs could I have been at in the last two years if it weren’t for this pandemic? How much healing and good energy and spiritual nourishment have we all missed out on?
At their very best, music gigs can do this. You arrive at the venue and you’re immediately with your tribe: friends, the faces you see at all the other gigs, people who you know probably love this music as much as you do.
You’re all standing shoulder-to-shoulder; the warmth of other bodies making you aware of the cold beer in your hand. Being locked in this loud, communal embrace. There’s something so fundamentally human about it all.
I’ve been doing this for nearly three decades, ever since the fateful evening when I went along to see a relatively unknown band called Radiohead in the Rock Garden. I was 15 or so, bolshie and gobby in that very teenage way, and fresh from a stint in Friday detention (some incident in biology class, if I recall). That night changed everything. I had unlocked a whole new plane of experience. It’s only gotten better in the years since. And when a gig is truly great, I can even manage the look-at-my-bald-spot-for-the-night guys, on occasion.