The drive to discover new, live music again

Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick performs in 2016 at the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

People miss live music for a variety of reasons, and the last year has hopefully brought a new appreciation of the importance of live music events. In many ways it felt like concerts were becoming events that people wanted to be seen at, rather than a communal listening and visual experience.

My own desperation for a live concert sent me on a pilgrimage to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to see Todd Rundgren in person. Rundgren was broadcasting shows from Chicago over the Internet and to specific markets. In person tickets were limited to 20 per show and priced at $280 apiece.

I hopped in a car, drove to Chicago, saw the show, slept at a hotel overnight and drove back the next morning. While some of my friends thought I was nuts to spend that kind of money, it was less than what I would have spent on concerts last year.

The drive was a bit longer than I remembered, and I almost had the added expense of a speeding ticket that I literally got out of by singing a verse of Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” to the police officer.(That story may be worth a column of its own someday) Nevertheless, it was really emotional to see a full production in person, and was an experience I will cherish forever.

Inasmuch as it was great to experience live music again, Todd’s show was filled with songs I know very well. I discovered Todd’s music when I was 15 years old, right in the window between 12-22 years that neuroscientists say one’s brain is most receptive to new music discovery. That new music discovery process tends to diminish significantly after age 30.

One of the casualties of the lack of shows is that live concerts are an important part of new music discovery, at least they are for me. Let’s be honest, the classic rock stations aren’t playing new music, and most of the satellite radio stations are dedicated to established acts. (The Spectrum on Sirius actually has a nice balance between new and old music, I highly recommend it).

Most of the newer music I have discovered was when an artist came to town and their publicist sent me some advance material, or I caught an artist as an opening act. I have not added a ton of new favorites in the last decade, the few that come to mind are The Record Company, The Ben Miller Band and a short-lived country artist named Gone West.

Over the last year my listening habits have reverted to the artists that I discovered during those formative years between 1978-88. Lots of Rundgren, Grateful Dead, Styx, Rush, REO, Triumph, Frampton, The Beatles, The Kinks, and I am sure you can guess the rest.

This week I felt the urge to hear some new music, so I picked up Cheap Trick’s newly released “In Another World” album. Now Cheap Trick was at their peak at a perfect time for me to fall in love with their music. They are also one of the few artists from that era that is releasing new music.

The album does not disappoint. Cheap Trick can still write and perform a great song, and while the band is not new to me, the songs are, so the album satisfies my need for some new music.

While nothing is certain, many established artists aren’t taking chances and they are pushing show dates out to the summer of 2022. That may create an opportunity for some newer artists to capture some new fans, because even as shows are increasing in frequency, they are nowhere near the levels of 2021.

And how desperate are fans for live music? Well, if my singing is good enough to get me out of a traffic ticket, it might just be that the officer appreciates live music as much as I do. And he misses it too.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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