One of the year’s best music moments occurred on a Friday night in October at the Sprint Center.
Stevie Wonder was in town for the first time in more than six years and for only the third time in almost 30 years. It was a bucket-list show; many of the 12,000 fans in attendance were seeing the legendary singer/songwriter for the first time.
It was also a night of conflicting interests. Across town, at Kauffman Stadium, the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays were playing for a World Series berth. Before the show, the arena’s sports bar was jammed with fans watching the Royals take an early lead. Throughout the show, fans kept track of the score on smartphones.
Wonder delivered some Royals cheer early on, announcing the score and wishing the Royals well. About three hours into the show, he introduced a surprise guest: Kansas City, Kan., native Janelle Monae, who joined Wonder on stage to sing “Another Star.”
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As that song came to a close, a cheer erupted from behind the curtains that veil the sports bar. The Royals had won. After the song, Wonder announced that Kansas City was going back to the World Series and started a “Go, Royals” cheer, sending the arena into a state of sustained euphoria.
A great live-music experience can be as exhilarating as a great sports event. Both are communal; they bring together friends and strangers with a stake in a common interest. Music’s stake is more spiritual: Songs have a way of attaching themselves to people, places and memories and listening to a song that conjures those memories among thousands of other fans can be as comforting as it is elating.
“All it takes is one song to bring back 1,000 memories,” the saying goes, and like nothing else, music has a way of arousing precious memories. Years ago I talked about music and grief with Dale Taylor, a professor who had studied the remedial effects of music. He explained the physical effects of music:
“Music itself is a very positive experience; it stimulates the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain,” he said. “Unlike, for example, a photograph of a person, which activates only the visual cortex, music or a song arouses a meaningful visual and auditory awareness.”
That stimulation can occur anywhere, when you’re alone in your car or walking around a grocery store shopping. When it happens in a nightclub, theater, arena or any music venue, among people feeling similar emotions, the experience becomes transcendent and spiritual.
In 2006, the Icelandic band Sigur Ros performed at the Uptown Theater and the place was packed to the rafters. There was a moment during one song in which the band slowed to a halt and the room was filled with a heavy hush, a prolonged silence so thick you could hear someone across the room clear his throat or the person next to you breathe. It was emotionally intoxicating, a moment that is still remembered and talked about by those who were there.
On the other side of that spectrum: the Rolling Stones’ show at Arrowhead Stadium in June. More than 50,000 people attended, and for two hours, everyone in the place seemed to be in a suspended state of frenzied euphoria, an unbridled joy aroused by a band that has been around for more than half a century playing songs that are indelibly embedded into millions of people’s memories.
Music can be a haven and so can the venues that host concerts — a place to shed life’s burdens, to set aside worries and woes and escape. Many are hallowed and sanctified, like great cathedrals. Mourning has already started over the RecordBar, which will close its doors in early January, ending its 10-year reign as one of the city’s best and most beloved music venues. Sports arenas can become shrines, too, refuges from everything else going on in life.
The terrorists who shed so much blood in Paris in November were aware of that relationship. One of their targets was a soccer stadium. Another was the Bataclan theater, a venue filled with music fans. The attack hit every music fan hard as they imagined the horror of a bloodbath unleashed in a sanctuary, a gathering of fans, musicians and sound and road crews all there for one common purpose: to indulge in the many powers of music.
There’s a video out in which members of the Eagles of Death Metal, who were on stage when the attack started, recall the agony and terror and grieve for their fans and colleagues. It’s a profoundly moving expression of the covenant that can form between musicians and the people who love their music.
Wednesday night at the Arvest Theatre at the Midland, more than 800 fans gathered to indulge in the sounds of four bands. Among them: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Turner is a showman who always appears to be having as much, or more, fun as anyone in the room. Several times during his set he gave everyone’s limbic system a jump start and the room burst into hearty sing-alongs, friends with arms around each other’s shoulders swaying along, sipping beer, pumping fists — escaping into the moment.
Those are the best moments of live music, which can feel a lot like your favorite team just took the crown.