As Viola mentioned, we attended the Transatlantic concert last week. You can read our review here. One segment of the concert was such a profound experience that I wanted to expand on it. “Is It Really Happening?”, the eleventh song on The Whirlwind , is an example of how a live performance can capture an audience.
On the recording, after a brief intro, a simple bass drone layered with samples sets the starting tempo of the song. The eight minutes of recorded music evolves as keyboards enter, followed by the guitar. The band members repeatedly chant, “Is this really happening?” Cymbal rolls add ambience to the calm pace. The tempo steadily increases driving the music forward. As the music increases in intensity, a double bass drum adds momentum to the song. The keyboards inject a syncopated melody accompanied by the bass and guitars. The tempo has evolved from a crawl to a sprint. The tempo increases until the song suddenly ends.
On a recording, the performance energy on a song is usually spliced together. But during a live performance, you get to see the energy of the performers in the moment.
During the performance, the band took their time by controlling the pace and allowing the music to naturally evolve. Dim stage lighting created a mysterious mood. Bandmembers communicated through body language and eye contact as they fed off each other’s energy. Pete Trewavas’s steady bass drone lasted longer than on the album. As Neal Morse added keyboards and Roine Stolt followed on guitar, they improvised solos to extend the drama. Mike Portnoy added his cymbal rolls and extra fills to enhance the improvisation. As the music the intensified, so did the colors and brightness of the lights.
The audience was captivated by the moment. People were frozen as the band shaped their musical lines on stage. When the song ended, the audience jumped to their feet screaming and applauding for the band. On the album, the song transitions to the next one quickly, but the audience response didn’t allow that to happen. Eventually, the band members gestured with their hands for the audience to quiet down.
Great performance moments are rare. Think of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire during Woodstock, or Elvis singing “Hound Dog” on The Milton Berle Show. Energy from the band coupled with the audience reaction creates a timeless and unique experience. This is why there is no substitute for a live performance. You never know when these rare occasions will happen or by what artist. But when you are fortunate enough to witness such a moment, you carry it with you for years to come.