29 November 2018
It’s Only “Snowflake” Rock ‘n’ Roll
But I like it.
By Frank O’Nomics
Dark ceilings with walls seemingly running with sweat – this was surely back to the gigs of my youth. I was thinking Dr. Feelgood at the De Montfort Hall or Dire Straits at the Leicester Poly. Those 1970’s references will make it clear that my presence at a Noah Kahan gig at The Garage on Holloway Road last week raised the average age considerably. However, as regards attitude to a gig, my approach was distinctly more juvenile than the twenty year olds around me. My efforts to understand the modern music scene turned out to be much more successful in helping me to appreciate the “snowflake” generation, than new musical genres.
Early indications were encouraging. Beyond the look and feel of a proper rock venue, The Garage has acoustics that allow a full appreciation of the technical improvements in sound systems. The first thumps from the drums and base positively reverberated through my sternum. I was told that you need to “feel the base weight on your chestplate” and that was certainly the case here. The question then was whether to advance to the front and find the ‘mosh pit’ or linger in the spaces created further back, more in line with my advanced years. The answer was made for me – there was no such pit, and it soon became evident that I was at an event closer to a recital rather than what I would call a “gig’.
Where to start? Well lack of animation was the first piece of evidence. The audience was so concerned to hear the nuance of every lyric and to make sure that the footage for phone cameras was not undermined by undue movement or local noise that, beyond some appreciative head nodding, a little sing-along (but only when prompted) and reverential applause, they kept quiet. Ah, I hear you say, this was clearly not a rock gig. Not the case. Kahan does clearly have strong folk influences and a fine voice, but many of the songs are up-tempo and he has a conventional band format of drums, base and electric guitar, even though he plays an acoustic.
The noise level was entirely in keeping with a proper gig, certainly loud enough to mean that one needed to shout to communicate. But, oh dear! This was not acceptable to the snowflakes. Any attempt at conversation was met with gentle shushing, although even a request to pipe down was along the lines of: “If you wouldn’t mind it would be nice if you could be a little quieter”. Somewhat different to gigs of old where, if anyone gave a fig, they would have screamed “shut the **** up!” in your ear.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was timing. First of all Mr. Kahan barely kept us waiting, coming on stage about 10 minutes after the appointed time. What happened to the standard rock star disrespect for their audience? Second, even with an encore, he was finished by 10:15pm. Gone is the spirit of Springsteen, where the musician is dragged from the stage, fingers bleeding, after 4 hours? No more do we get a council official pulling the plug because of local noise by-laws. The average millennial is happy to be tucked up in bed before 11pm, particularly on a work night. Heaven forbid missing a 9am lecture, and no more are the days of turning up for work late, bleary-eyed and stinking of booze and fags.
Many of these changes of experience can be explained by the way in which musicians are discovered and progress. Kahan, who hails from Vermont, is only 21 and a year ago he was playing to virtually no one other than those who looked at what he was posting online. The internet makes stars very quickly, almost before they have a performance catalogue big enough to put on a show. As it was, even this one-hour set needed a cover version. Those who have discovered him are used to listening and watching in a quiet environment which they are keen to replicate.
Is any of this a problem? Not really. If a musician is any good we should want to be able to appreciate his performance, and Kahan is very good. The Mumford and Sons influences are clear, his voice is not dissimilar to Passenger, and he stands up well in comparison to both – download Hurt Somebody to see what I mean. The repertoire is varied and he has an engaging stage presence that will doubtless develop with experience. Some may feel a little short changed by the brevity of the gig, but there were no signs of any dissatisfaction from the full house in Islington. I fully expect Noah Kahan’s career to go from strength to strength and that he will play much bigger venues. For the snowflakes that will be a big relief – particularly if it means that they can listen sitting down.