After introductions from Cameron Mann and Andria Lisle (which were blissfully short; the crowd knew who they were there to see), Ian MacKaye was met with a decidedly reserved round of applause from a crowd that would've looked perfectly at home seeing a show the Hi-Tone up the street. This set the stage for his initial remarks.
He mused on the fact that the event was inside a museum, which serve as "cold storage lockers of history," and that venues greatly influence the behavior of an audience. Over the next hour and 45 or so he fielded questions — mostly about music — that led to some interesting tangents and anecdotes.
Some things from my notebook:
On creating music and the collaborative process: "Don't come in with a [completed] song or you will be sad."
On Al Jourgensen of Ministry, whom he worked with briefly in Pailhead: "He's a really sweet guy. And deeply talented."
On music's role in society: "It's a point of gathering," and "a sacred form of communication."
On audience: "It's not a show if people don't go."
He had a great line about fear. I won't pretend to recall his exact words, but he was talking about situations that cause a knee-jerk reaction in people, specifically new and revolutionary types of music. He said that the fear reaction is just unused areas of your brain being massaged. Most people turn the fear of the new into hostility, but for him it's a signal that there's more to it.
Ian MacKaye is a thoughtful guy who puts his intellect out front. The world seems to pass first through his brain before emotion gets involved. A very calm individual. I've always been interested in people who are willing to think about things like live music performance analytically.
His final remarks brought the whole thing back around to issues of venue. His current band The Evens doesn't play rock clubs or bars. They specifically seek out unusual locations that are outside the realm of the alcohol industry. For him, it's about getting back to that "point of gathering" without the trappings of commodity that are often regarded as unavoidable today. He seems to be searching for something primal — that impetus that first made cavemen gather to make sounds together.
Although last night's gathering wasn't a music performance, I think anyone who attended will agree that music was the reason, at root, that we were all there.
Bonus: David Byrne gave a TED talk about how the architecture of venues has influenced music, which I was reminded of. It's a terrific presentation you should watch: