Do you remember the last time?: Sleater-Kinney and the limits of memory

Making the case for phones at gigs.

If you follow a football club, especially online, you will soon encounter the phenomenon of perfect recall – fans who seem to have an almost photographic memory for games and players past, and anecdotes relating to their years following their team.

What do you think the coldest game you ever attended was?

Crawley away. February 1993. There were problems with ice on the road into town so we only got to the ground with about 10 minutes to spare. Not only did we get beat 2-0 but the locks on Kev’s car froze and we had to get the AA out.

Was that the game where Alan Oates fell on his arse taking the corner?

Might have been. I spent much of that game wrestling with my scarf to try and keep warm but I do remember Bruce MacDonald scuffing a penalty that would have made it 1-1.

Crawley was cold right enough, but Plymouth 1988 was cold AND wet – always a recipe for a miserable night.

That was the match where little Stuart Prince got a nosebleed after 15 minutes. Worst pie I ever had.

There’s an app on my phone, one of those things that supposedly improves brain function. Little games and tasks to fire up the neurons and improve memory. Before phones got clever, there was Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Nintendo DS. There’s some debate about whether such things work, but when you find yourself starting to forget people’s names or what you had for supper the night before, it’s worth a try. One element asks you to listen to descriptions about several characters, and you’re subsequently quizzed about them. Unfortunately, as soon as the narration stops, my mind goes blank. Was Anna the airline steward or the artist? Who went to college in Minneapolis? Was Jane wearing glasses?

I last saw Sleater-Kinney back in 1999. Might have been 2000. Can’t quite remember. All I recall are a few banalities like the guy on the merch desk apologising to everyone because they only had orange t-shirts. In Glasgow! I recall someone filming the show from the back of the venue but know the footage has never been shared. I also remember there only being maybe 70 people there. I don’t remember what they played but it was a really good show.

This is why I try and take a few blurry photos when I go to gigs. I have been known to tape – and even film – the occasional show. One thing you discover about trying to film shows is that a) it’s hard to do inconspicuously and b) it’s boring and c) your arm gets tired.

We have much to thank the humble bootlegger for. Not only was Nirvana‘s last ever gig captured by a considerate German, but so was their first, seven years earlier. Who tapes a random band playing a house party? Who does that? There’s even a short recording of pre-Beatles group The Quarrymen, from 6th July 1957 – the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time and changed popular music forever. The fact that those moments in history were captured is pretty mind-blowing which ever way you look at it.

There’s stuff on the internet, complaints about people using smartphones at shows, watching the performance through the screen. Yeah Yeah Yeahs asked people not to use them. Other acts have had a moan. And that’s OK. I get it. Experience the moment. Live in the now. Don’t disrupt the experience with a sea of screens and a lack of attention. Experience has a direct effect on overall happiness. But at the same time, memories are also a source of contentment. Even blurred photos or dodgy phone footage of a gig can spark conversation, laughs and a sense of well-being. Even in the few months since I saw Sleater-Kinney again, I can barely remember what they played (Thanks!) beyond thinking ‘Wow, what bands wouldn’t give their left nut/tit for a run like (checks notes) ‘Words and Guitar / One More Hour / Modern Girl / Dig Me Out’? But I remember the stupid stuff like Moon Boy being a dick and trying to push himself down the front, and the fact I still didn’t like the shirts. But a quick swipe of my phone or a search of YouTube and I’m back there. In the moment. That’s a good thing.

A balance then. No arms in the air for 90 minutes. No waving your tech in other’s faces. Probably no selfies with your backs to the act. Basic manners and just be the good people. That’s not so much to ask.

So if there’s an older guy taking a photo or scribbling down a few notes, have a little patience. It might well be me, trying to wrap my head around a memory.

About Douglas Baptie (208 Articles)
Editor at Words & Guitars. Lives in Carlisle, far away from 'that London'.
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