Music is one of the greatest things about being alive. It’s hard to imagine a genre devoid of at least one song or artist to love. I do enjoy a good heart-rending, mournful blues or country song or an aggressive heavy metal or rap song. But as a person with a tendency toward intense moods I also need to recognize that music is a powerful force for shaping one’s state of mind. Spending too much time soaking in the sad or angry stuff really can infuse life with sadness or anger.
Fortunately, happy and inspiring music is an equally powerful shaper of moods. A study by psychologists Yuna Ferguson and Kennon Sheldon found that listening to a little bit of upbeat music every day for just two weeks was sufficient to boost people’s happiness levels. So it’s important to have some happy tunes handy when you need them. But it’s even better to go see a live music performance.
Watching and listening to someone create music is nothing short of magical. And going to a concert either with people you know and love or with a willingness to meet new people helps strengthen social bonds. Throw in some dancing and you have a form of exercise that’s shown to be great for boosting moods. Here are some of my favorite live shows for putting a smile on my face, in no particular order. I’ve sampled from a variety of genres so hopefully there’s something in this list that sparks your interest. Or perhaps you might try something outside your musical comfort zone. Either way, I recommend finding out when these folks are playing near you and getting tickets. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic:
Nothing will put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip more than stepping on to the Mothership. At 76 years young, The Grandmaster of Funk still choreographs a high-energy, unending party on stage that you can’t help but join. The massive cast of characters that make up both Parliament and Funkadelic now spans generations in age and varies wildly in style and genre. But they wander on and off stage in a seamless fabric of funkitude and fun. And Starchild George smiles from ear to ear through every perfectly placed beat.
When I first saw P-Funk over ten years ago in Pontiac, MI the thing that struck me first was the diversity of the crowd. There were grandmothers and gang-bangers, men dressed as nuns and women dressed as priests, middle aged strutters in brightly colored pin-striped three piece suits and hippies in tattered tie-dyed tees. And that was just the row in front of me. I had never seen more different kinds of people have more fun together.
I got to see Dr. Funkenstein and his crew again recently at The Bomb Factory in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district. Again, the crowd included all kinds. You can be yourself at a George Clinton show. Or you can be someone else for the night. You can let loose, dance and let your freak flag fly. You’re always a long way from being the weirdest person at a P-Funk Party. Even if you are the weirdest person, they will love you all the more for it.
Captain and Camille
If you find yourself in the Dallas / Fort Worth area wanting to smile and laugh and dance, I have some advice. Find out where Captain and Camille are playing and go there. Yes, it’s the smooth sounds of the seventies. Never been a fan of the genre? You will be by the time the show is done. This seven-piece set nails every song with an on-stage chemistry, talent and energy that keep you grinning and shaking your groove thing along with them.
You’ll find yourself singing along to songs you didn’t think (or didn’t want to admit to yourself) you knew all the words to. You’ll probably dance to them too. Or at least you’ll smile and sway side-to-side a bit like an awkward kid at a high-school dance during the Carter administration. Either way you’ll walk away at the end of the night feeling better than you did before.
Moors & McCumber
Their campaign-style bumper sticker reads “Moors & McCumber 2016: Americana Duos are This Nation’s Backbone”. By the end of their show, you’ll believe it. You’ll want to vote for them. This would be good energy to have in the White House. The ridiculously talented duo of James Moors and Kort McCumber play so many instruments between them that it’s hard to keep track. On any given song they may be playing guitar, fiddle, cello, banjo, bazuki, ukulele, squeezebox or something else they have laying around. Have a piano? Kort will jump on that, too and play it masterfully.
The pair puts vivid stories into songs that pull the audience in, taking them on journeys to places and times they might not have thought to go. They harmonize beautifully. And they clearly have a lot of fun playing and goofing around together. Soon after their first song, everyone in the room feels less like they have paid to watch a show than like they are hanging out with musically gifted friends they hadn’t met yet.
Kort McCumber lives in Colorado and James Moors lives in Wisconsin, so people in those general areas have the best shots at seeing them. But fortunately for everyone else, they tour a lot and may soon be coming to your state or country. If you happen to be in Ireland, they’re on the Emerald Isle at least once a year so track them down there and join them for a pint. You’ll be glad you did.
The Flaming Lips
It’s really not possible to capture a Flaming Lips concert in words. It is pure, joyful, over-the-top spectacle. Wayne Coyne and company create a massive live dreamscape for fans who may show up dressed as stuffed animals, ninjas or whatever else strikes their fancy. Giant inflatable characters meander among the musicians, dancing and cavorting as a relentlessly creative digital and light show floods the senses. At some point, Wayne will enter a giant inflatable ball and walk around atop the crowd, joyously singing and making contact with as many fans as he can.
I have to admit that The Flaming Lips are only occasionally on my playlist at home. But there are few bands I would be more excited to see live again. Whether you are intimately familiar with their decades-long catalog of work or have never heard of them it’s worth figuring out when they will be near you. Go get lost in Wayne Coyne’s dream for a while. It’s difficult not to be smiling by the end of it.
When The Gourds broke up, there was great mourning amongst fans. Fortunately for them, Shinyribs was born from the band’s ashes. For sheer fun and showmanship, it’s hard to beat Kevin Russell’s infectiously groovy group. A self described blend of “country-soul, swamp-funk and tickle”, the music will get you moving. But you may have a hard time keeping up with Russell’s own free-flowing on-stage dance party. Part of the reason audiences have such a good time at a Shinyribs show is that they feel compelled to have at least a fraction as much fun as the man at center stage.
Shinyribs is showing up everywhere these days so pay attention to those tour dates and make the effort to go see them. Whether you get a chance to make that happen or not, you might also seek a chance to see his former partner-in-rhyme Jimmy Smith in one of his various fun and frenzied projects like The Jimmy Smith System with Mike Nicolai. Or if you were more drawn to The Gourds’ beloved singer-songwriter, track down Max Johnston in Dallas. The Gourds may be gone, but the fun they created remains.
Texas troubador Charley Crockett (proud descendent of David Crockett) seems like a visitor from another time. In his music, his look and his demeanor he somehow simultaneously channels old-school outlaw country, Texas blues and New Orleans jazz. The result is a combination that is like nothing else around today. And he delivers it from the stage with a beaming smile and a determination to make sure everyone in the audience feels each note.
A talented vocalist, guitarist and showman, Charley Crockett wants you to have a good time. His fantastic backing band is there to help him make that happen. So if you feel like stepping out of your current reality and stepping into a honky-tonk or blues joint from a different era, check out Charley’s touring schedule and find out when he’s near you. I promise you it’s worth it.
To be honest, I’ve never really had a “jam band” phase. I’ve never been Dead-head. I never phollowed Phish around. Psychedelic bluegrass was never on my musical radar screen. Until recently I didn’t know that Leftover Salmon was anything more than a risky choice for lunch. I hadn’t experienced the happy hippy trippy stuff until I met the woman I love. She’s a fan of all of that, and so are some of the dear friends I have met through her. They have never steered me wrong when it comes to live music. So over the past year I’ve joined them for shows that I likely would never have sought out on my own.
Thanks to do214, we recently got tickets to see Keller Williams at the Granada Theater. Keller pioneered “looping” (something for which Ed Sheeran is now famous). He’s alone on the stage with a stunning number of foot pedals. From nothing, he creates a band by weaving together recordings of riffs from his several guitars, beats on his bass and his drum machine, and some Bobby McFerrin-style vocal impressions of other instruments. The result is absolutely hypnotic – a song will build and build until you’ve lost track of how long it’s been getting progressively more complex and layered and just get lost in the music. With a blend of unique talent and irreverent humor, Keller transports his audience away from the troubles of life for a while to dance a little, sing a little, and laugh a little.
After the Keller show, we wandered next door to Sundown at Granada and discovered the groove-rock outfit Mamafesta. It reminded me of another jam-band I saw there with the same friends: Pigeons Playing Pingpong. With both acts, it’s as though George Clinton’s funk married the Grateful Dead’s jams and had a musical baby. Terrific for dancing and/or getting lost in a 10-minute song. This is serious talent put to the task of a lighthearted good time.
The best thing about the jam-band shows is the “no bad vibes” energy of the bands and the fans. The friends I have joined for these shows are a joy to be around in general. But they are among the best people on the planet to go to join at a live show. People like them are drawn to the same scene. There are few who love live music more purely and joyfully.
They get there early and strike up conversations with random strangers. They get to know them, make them smile if they’re not already and get them pumped up on how much fun they are about to have. And when the music starts, they let go and just enjoy themselves. These are people who believe deeply the power of music to connect people and they put that belief it into practice. It’s been a good lesson for me – step out of your comfort zone and try something new, it might just turn out to be a lot of fun.
February 10, 2018 | Ryan Rynbrandt