The terrifying nature of "live, unplugged..."
When I was in high school, which fell somewhere in the mid to late nineties, pop-culture's raging addiction was unplugged concerts. MTV had "Unplugged" and VH1 had "Storytellers", and it seemed like all of the bands my friends and I listened to were staging unplugged shows. I even remember when they had Jewel do an unplugged and during the show she said something to the effect of "I thought I was already unplugged."
But there IS something very special about the live, unplugged show. It's mellow and clean, it has that coffee shop feel that used to be cool, and it gave the artists, even bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains, a chance to present their music in a new way. But beyond that, it was a super intimate way to perform. None of your inevitable mistakes or string buzzes or odd noises are hidden by the sound being incredibly loud. It's vulnerable and real. This is something that I think has been lost in the new age of digital music and musical commodification. Similar to what record stores offered, fans used to be able to feel connected to their favorite bands in a very tangible, human way through very personal performances.
I guess those performances still happen, but mostly for huge names. It sort of sheds a light on the fact that most people won't sit and listen to music in the same way they will sit and gawk at celebrities. Hence, the plight of the independent musician.
But, I digress, and sound bitter. Really though, there is something sacred and sort of scary about live, unplugged shows for artists. Maybe I am only speaking for a few of us, and I often tell people that I don't have stage fright, but it can be very nerve wracking to put yourself on stage like that and at the crowds mercy. If you're Nirvana, or Pearl Jam, or some other majorly huge, industry-backed band, you can rest assured that everyone in the audience will love everything you do because you're you. It's a little harder when only a few people, or no one, in the audience knows who you are. In those circumstances, you are judged solely on the merit of your art, hype-free, and that's something only some people are willing to even engage with.
Anyway, one of my favorite unplugged concerts was Counting Crows' Across A Wire. That VH1 Storytellers set of mostly acoustic songs was gorgeous.I listened to it over and over, studying all the moves everyone was making. The production is amazing, and the band reinvented many of the songs just for that setting. You could hear the crowd, in close proximity to the band, whooping and cheering after and sometimes during every song. You can even hear what some crowd members are saying. It's gorgeous.
I'll be releasing a 6-song live, unplugged EP of songs from my Kaden Hollow album soon on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, and I hope it will convey some of the same intimate, vulnerable energies that I love so much about that type of setting.
If you're out there in the crowd at some quiet venue where some solo artist is ripping their heart out, opening their veins to show you what their insides are made of, stop for a minute, and really listen. It's something that doesn't happen a lot anymore at the break-neck pace of modern life. They are making themselves vulnerable to share their art with you. Honor that. It's important.