Going to as many concerts as I do, you start to pick up on odd moments and specific quirks from each performance. During a mediocre gig, that’s what sets the countless shows apart. When a band plays 100 shows a year, those unrehearsed aspects are often the big keepers. Which is why I love James Parker’s new essay for Slate, where he explores classic moments of spontaneous bursts of live-music improv that some may call a “trainwreck.” His targets include Van Halen, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and the Sex Pistols. Among his observations:
A good riot is just what some people think they need. In a bootleg recording made at a 1972 concert in Frankfurt, Germany, dark blue troubadour Leonard Cohen can be heard growing suddenly depressed at his own depression. “I have been noted for my quiet songs,” he murmurs, “and for my melancholy and solemn atmosphere. But I don’t care if this concert turns into a riot. Because, you know, I can’t go along with this, ah, pretence any longer.” The crowd, devoutly hushed, seems somehow unripe for insurrection. Returning with a sigh to his music, Cohen strikes a morose half-chord on his guitar and is further dejected by some supportive applause and a single whoop of recognition. “You couldn’t possibly know what song that is,” he says wearily.