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When wax becomes flesh

[vimeo width=”630″ height=”472″]http://vimeo.com/19639991[/vimeo]

. . .

Something magical happens when you see a band play live for first time. Sound becomes three-dimensional. Instead of the flat interface of an LP, CD, or a computer screen, sound comes at you through space. You hear and feel the music as it is – in the case of metal, instruments amplified at earth-shaking volumes – not as a studio assemblage piped through headphones. If you didn’t know the band’s music before, you get to know it unmediated. No blogs or friends or opinions get in the way. It’s just you and the music. You must make up your own mind.

That’s the ideal, anyway. That’s why fans say, “I can’t wait to see that band live”. They want to establish the personal connection that only comes with face-to-face contact.

But live music so often falls short of that ideal. The sound is bad, the performers are all too human, or other fans ruin the experience. Concerts are both the best and worst settings in which to experience music.

In fact, some music shouldn’t ever be performed live. That might sound strange, as all recorded music was performed at some point in order to be recorded. But just because music sounds good on record doesn’t mean it would sound good live. Metal fans speak of mythical gigs in which Darkthrone and Burzum would emerge from hermitry and attain a real-time presence. I hope those gigs never happen. Darkthrone most certainly would suck performance-wise; Fenriz has openly said that he does not practice the drums. And Burzum at its best is music not of this earth. Even if Varg Vikernes somehow assembled a band (watch your back!), it would be a bunch of hired guns, one of whom would conduct the Casio Symphony Orchestra. You don’t want to see the Casio Symphony Orchestra; you want to close your eyes and let Burzum take you to the stars.

Hence my mixed feelings upon seeing the above video that Karen Mann took of Horseback live in February this year. (See her full post here.) I fell in love with Horseback’s Invisible Mountain in late ’09; it was my second-favorite record that year (review). It’s very introspective, something made for headphones and late nights. That was indeed the only setting I knew for the album for over a year. Then I saw the video above, and suddenly the music became mortal. It was performed well, and the video is of high audio and video quality. (My only complaint is an out-of-tune guitar string, which still bothers me intensely until about the 10-minute mark, at which point I resign myself to its presence.) But the mental images that the music evoked in me were replaced by the sight of indie rock-looking dudes playing instruments that annoyed me. (I have an irrational loathing of Les Paul guitars and Fender headstocks.)

Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do. Take, say, Marduk. Much of their live presentation is how they look. They look like their music. It wouldn’t work if Marduk looked like your company’s IT department. (That would actually be more disturbing – too bad bands aren’t brave/crazy enough to look like the opposite of their music.) Horseback are sort of screwed in my mind, because any look, indie rock or not, would elicit the same feelings. When I heard Invisible Mountain, I heard humans, but I didn’t see them. I saw great clouds of smoke billowing through inner space. Lifting the curtain to reveal the humans behind it was bound to disappoint.

I’m actually not disappointed in the Horseback performance above. It’s really good. If they came through here, I’d see them without hesitation. But my relationship with their music has reached a new understanding that’s more complex. It’s like meeting people in person after corresponding with them on the Internet. They inevitably satisfy some expectations, but dash others.

So now Horseback are mortals channeling what to me is immortal music. They’re out now on the road playing some rare live dates (see below). If you can see them, I encourage seizing the opportunity. Mortals can’t continue to make immortal music without help from other mortals. But if you want to just hear the sounds, I’d completely understand. You can stream Invisible Mountain below. Close your eyes and lose yourself in the music, or open them and meet its human conduits. Both choices are right.

— Cosmo Lee

. . .

THE INVISIBLE MOUNTAIN

. . .

HORSEBACK – REMAINING TOUR DATES

6/10 – Indianapolis, IN – Vollrath
6/11 – Milwaukee, WI – Cactus Club (as part of Utech Festival)
6/13 – Iowa City, IA – The Blue Moose
6/14 – Memphis, TN – Hi Tone
6/15 – Asheville, NC – The Get Down

. . .

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