My Spring Break was awesome.
Sure, you might not believe me since I spent most of it at home alone reading, playing guitar and following around the neighbor's cat with a camera in hopes of capturing a golden moment to create a smash hit on icanhascheezburger.com, but it was freaking sweet. Why? Because I experienced one night of fantastic live music.
One great show can alter more than just a moment - it can stay with you long after and even change your life, offering new inspirations and a slightly different approach to things. This is, of course, a rare occurrence, which only a handful of bands can do.
This time, the band that did it for me was a Baroque folk/pop group called Fleet Foxes.
The reason the show was so great? It wasn't an incendiary performance with crazy antics, there were no special effects and it wasn't the personality of one individual in the group.
The best answer I can offer as to why the show was phenomenal is that Fleet Foxes possesses the almost undefinable quality that I will refer to as "It."
Though it does play a factor, It is not just that the sound quality is terrific and a band's songs are fantastic. I've seen plenty of shows from bands, whose albums I adore, that have only left me saying, "Eh, good but not great."
So let me try to break down what It is and why Fleet Foxes made me totally forget my malaise and ennui for bland classes, tiring work and life in general.
"Charisma? Really? Dude, that's not very undefinable," you say. Yeah, maybe not, but my definition involves a lot more than just schmoozing the audience to warm smiles with banter similar to that of a lounge singer.
Sure, there needs to be a connection with the audience, but it doesn't have to be overt. It can be as simple as smiling at the first row during the sound check or being polite when they need to move a monitor you're leaning on.
The main part about It charisma is the "hang-out factor," which entails you wanting to hang out with the band after the show, but you have no idea why.
Take the Strokes for example (before they put out "First Impressions of Earth"). They're pretty much jerks on stage, yet somehow after seeing them live, the It factor makes you want to go to Waffle House with them.
This has a lot more to do than just technical proficiency. Someone could get up on stage and shred guitar but still suck big time.
It's really about a band fusing into one single entity. It's also important for a group to be into the music they're playing. The way members present themselves on stage has a great impact on what the audience takes away. But this is where the It factor comes in. Faces that would usually look ridiculously contrived (furrowed brows and squinted eyes of deep immersion) look absolutely sincere and downright awesome for bands who have It.
Stage antics have a lot to do with how a show is perceived too, but many bands take it too far. For bands that have It, things they do on stage feel organic, natural and spontaneous. Take the band the Wrens, for example. Dudes are like 40 but they go absolutely bananas - throwing instruments into the air, climbing on top of huge monitor cabinets, etc. It never feels contrived. Oh, and just as a side note: The Wrens are pretty much a one-band example justifying live music, indie rock and probably New Jersey.
But take a group like the Flaming Lips. You know what to expect, and yeah, Wayne Coyne delivers on those expectations, but it ends up feeling manufactured. Bottom line: The Flaming Lips doesn't have It. Gasp!
There's only so much a band can control (however unconciously) about its It factor. The rest depends on the atmosphere.
Smaller venues are always going have a better chance for the It factor to hit you. Fewer people makes it feel like you're one of a select few to be in the presence of greatness.
The audience also makes a huge difference. Is it quiet, or are scenesters talking loudly while the band plays? Are people standing there taking it in, or are you constantly getting cheap beer spilled on you?
All of these factors will, of course, vary from person to person, but the point is to go to shows. You never know when your expectations will be exceeded and you'll find It.