Voices: Gigs are great – but open-mic nights are better. Hear me out

Last night, as the setting sun slid lazily behind the houses on the other side of the river, I decided to retire to the local pub for a restorative glass (or two, or three) of something cold and alcoholic.

My intention, while I did this, was to sink my teeth into a good book. But the unexpected tones of a guitar and heartfelt vocals, all of it coming through a very imperfect sound system, grabbed my attention, and moved me – nay, compelled me – to look up from the pages of The Psychology of The Legend of Zelda, and listen.

For the next hour at least, I was subjected to a number of musical acts and tracks that ranged from old to new, familiar to unfamiliar, upbeat to melancholy. And it did not take me too long to conclude (to the sound of Harry Styles’ “As It Was”, sung by a Jean-Paul Sartre lookalike, avec scarf but sans pipe) that I prefer open-mic nights to gigs.

Now, I know that gigs come in all shapes and sizes, but by and large they’re pretty impersonal affairs, even if you are treading water in a sea of lissome, sweaty bodies. Needless to say there’s a lot of noise. You might hear a short controversial monologue (Morrissey). Now and then you might get some lasers (Friendly Fires) or a riot in the audience (Chase & Status) or something to that effect, or you might see someone throw cake (Steve Aoki) or zorb (Major Lazer) or swan-dive into the crowd. Take your pick.

There was a confetti explosion at a Mumford & Sons gig I got free tickets to. And the poor boy in front of me at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Manchester spent much of the performance in floods of tears, sobbing, “he’s a socialist, he’s a socialist” (I thought this was sweet; music is moving). But my point is that gigs are very stimulating. And stimulating is not really what I want, not anymore. I’m not sure that’s what I ever wanted.

Open-mic nights have a certain je ne sais quoi – that is what I’m trying (with or without success) to say here. They’re imperfect. They’re raw. They’re intimate. They’re human.

You’re always surprised, in part because you don’t actually know the person playing, and also because you’re hearing tracks or covers you haven’t heard before. There’s a sense of discovery that doesn’t involve marching from the Willy Wonka Tent to the Bangers and Mash Stage (or whatever) in the hope of hearing something new.

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At open-mic nights, the people playing tend to be on their best behaviour: they don’t have the luxury of having a relationship with you already. They have no reason to expect that you’re going to endure their 47-minute experimental track about their fractured relationship with their ex-flatmate’s vet, part of it told through the medium of expressive dance.

Every track has to hit home; it has to be good; there is real effort and care. This isn’t their 64th gig of a global tour. They’re rarely tired; you’re never taken for granted. And there is a romance to it all, too, accentuated and intensified by the space. You can feel something.

And if (by choice or by necessity) you’re forced to spend much of your day on a phone or computer, jangling your nerves, scattering your mind – and, in the long run, putting your mental health at risk – then sitting down with a  glass of something and having someone sing to you feels thoroughly good for the soul.

So – next time you’re thinking about going to a gig, why not roll the dice and try going to a local open-mic night instead? You might like it. And you might also be supporting someone trying to make it in a very competitive world. Which means you can polish your halo without taking to Twitter.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.