[Abby’s Road] Pulling the Plug

The galaxy of sound is deep and wide. My feet, however, are firmly planted on the amplified planets. I like the way electrified music makes my body feel; I like a driving beat, booming basslines and for my innards to flutter under the decibels of a live performance. As kids, it seems we have predisposition for things 180 degrees from what our parents fancy. It is part of natural, childhood rebellion I guess. 75% of my folks record collection is/was comprised of folk music, much of it acoustic. Maybe this is why I’m not drawn to it…directly.

This week I had the opportunity to see a band that I had seen on one other occasion. A few months ago I was taken by how they filled a small part of the void in my musical life that has been empty since The Verve, (early) Oasis, Stone Roses and other Britrock outfits took a ride in their rockets and never returned. Guitar driven tunes complete with organ and a nod to 60s mod-rock, Munich’s Becquerels took me by surprise. When I caught wind of another show in the works my excitement was quelled before I had time to get all warm and tingly about it as I heard it would be (gasp) acoustic.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think this would be completely disastrous. That said, I am a selfish admirer and a change-up in the general sound of one of “my” bands is often met with a grumble even before I give new material a chance (think Screamadelica vs. XTRMNTR). Therefore, I wanted to see and hear what I liked so much before. As of midnight this past Wednesday, however, I was eating my words as their set, acoustic but for the keys, was magnificent. With shakers and tambourine abound, the evening was laden with pronounced beats, strong vocal harmonies and worked supremely well in the cozy Café Muffathalle. While the differences between a fully mixed recording on wax, a live plugged-in version and a live unplugged one and the reasons why we may prefer one over the other at different times are vast , in my opinion, this particular performance made me like Becquerels even more. You can be the judge.

This threw me into a bit of a tailspin. The following day I was moved to revisit my own collection and investigate a little. Bands which I hadn’t necessarily forgotten but hadn’t paid enough attention to in the past as far as their unplugged and acoustic material aren’t too numerous but they exist nonetheless. As I flipped through my records I recalled seeing J. Mascis in London roundabout 2000 play a (largely) acoustic set…just him on a stage, shortly before (or after?) after “More Light” was released. How could I have stowed in the recesses of my brain such an evening? I should be talking about it all of the goddamned time. Yes, anyway…at the end of my afternoon, Nirvana, of course, was the stand out.

Though I’ve listened to them rarely over the last decade, I feel privileged to have seen them live, once. It was loud and electric. There is little to be said about their Unplugged MTV recordings (of which I just listened and re-listened to) aside from how outstanding and controlled they are – The Vaselines cover with Novoselic on accordion, especially.

Perhaps having the crutch of amplification and distortion kicked out from under the bands we love forces them to eke out some talent they (and we) never knew they had. Perhaps.

Happy weekend.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

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