Other People’s Sweat and Beer Soaked Shoes: What I Really Miss About Live Music

Features, Music Heals
Dusty Henry
Death From Above at Neumos // photo by Dave Lichterman

For Live Music Heals, KEXP's Dusty Henry shares some reflections on what live music means to him. Tune in on Feb. 18th as KEXP DJs listeners share their own stories on-air throughout the day. 

I miss other people’s sweat. The sticky, putrid stank of your t-shirt soaked and clinging to your skin. Elbows jabbing in the side of your torso while you stretch your neck to try to get a clear view – a view that only lasts a moment before bobbing heads interrupt and suddenly you’re tumbling in the opposite direction with the swarm of other bodies. Shoes sticking to the beer-soaked floors. A stranger picking you up, giving a quick pat on the back and a pantomimed “you good?” before you both smile and return to the moment. And, of course, the swell of noise blaring through the PA speakers – the cacophonous ritual that brought us all here in the first place. 

I miss the post-show afterglow. The smell of hot dogs, cream cheese, and onions wafting into Neumos while you shake the last drops of a Rainier tallboy (when, in truth, you probably should’ve cut yourself off earlier to save you the pain tomorrow). The lingering hum in your ears and the brightness of the street lights as you walk outside into the cigarette smoke haze. The setlist debriefs. Can you believe they played that deep cut? The new songs sound so much better live, I think I get the record now. A third encore?! They didn’t do that at the Portland show; we lucked out. Should we drive up to Vancouver? 

I miss the reverence of a room that’s completely still as a singer’s voice floats in the air. Sparse accompaniment, maybe just an acoustic guitar or the drone of a keyboard. Or maybe no instruments at all. How fragile those moments are when you can feel the artist’s emotions so palpably. And how it makes your thoughts drift to something or someone else, but while still feeling wholly present in the room. How the applause after the last note breaks the spell and suddenly your clapping too, still getting your bearings back to reality. 

I miss my friends. Running into each other in the pit just as our favorite song starts to come up. Embracing each other at the crescendo, screaming at the top of our lungs. Cloud Nothings barrelling through “Wasted Days.” Arms wrapped around each other while we stumble through Young Thug’s verse on “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” before we derail into fits of laughter. Losing each other in the fray, only to be miraculously reunited through the ebb and flow of the crowd. 

I miss mustering up the motivation to go to a show by myself. Worrying that I won’t have a good time because no one else was available, only to find that I love the solitude of being alone in a crowd of people. Writing notes to myself on my phone, scattered thoughts and feelings evoked by the music I’m hearing or the chatter of the crowd. Getting lost in my own world, unworried about anyone else’s experience but my own. Sipping coffee at The Moore while I sit stage left in front of Adrianne Lenker. 

I even miss the awful shows. The shows where the band clearly wasn’t ready for the tour, fumbling through the new record. The sound system blaring so loud that the music is indiscernible and you feel like your head is going to split in two. A headliner that shows up two hours late and then plays for only 20 minutes. The debriefs at the bar afterward. “What the hell was that?” Or when the band is fine, but you misjudged taking both shots of tequila and some god-awful potion called ‘brown sugar bourbon’ and end up puking in the parking lot. 

It’s the minutiae that maybe I’m missing most. All of the things I never really thought about prior. We are all just living it, nostalgia could come later. But now that we’re nearing a year removed from live music, these small moments are only growing in our memories. 

There’s so much to miss, feelings and moments hard to put into words. It’s easy to mourn the loss of live music, but as I look back at these memories I can’t help but think about what’s ahead. There will be hurdles to overcome, infrastructures to be rebuilt, and costs amassed. But I know one day we’ll be with our friends again, clanking and spilling our beers while the speakers rattle and the hot dogs beckon. It feels distant now, but music always prevails. 

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