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An Ode to Arboles (Libres), Review of their recent “Father” album release party

August 2, 2012

What makes a musician or band stand the test of time? What gets people crazy and girls fainting like the Beatles or Elvis? Why am I asking myself these questions? After seeing the guys of Arboles Libres put on the best show I’ve seen from them to date at their “Father” album release party I couldn’t help but compare them to the greats and wonder why that was the case. It’s one thing to see a band put on a good show (as is generally the case with Arboles anyways), and another entirely when the whole audience is riveted and you can feel something palpable in the air drawing them to the stage.

From the reactions I got to saying this repeatedly on the night of the party, I know what kind of comments to expect, but I can’t help but think it must be akin to having seen Jimi playing one of his earliest shows back when he was still paying dues. I’m not talking individual musicianship, or comparing any one member of the band to Hendrix, just to clarify. At the same time, there’s no denying the fact that these guys blatantly obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to getting sounds out of their instruments and making you want to listen to them; it’s more than just that at the end of the day though, so what is it?

This was the line of thought that brought me to the conclusion of what makes the greats so damn great. There are three factors that I think takes good musicians and turns them into forces to be reckoned with:

The first, and obviously one of the most important factors, is the one that only comes from hours upon hours of practice. Malcolm Gladwell puts the number at 10,000 hours in his book Outliers, when discussing how people like Bill Gates or the Beatles achieved their levels of mastery and subsequent recognition in their respective fields. I don’t know if the guys from Arboles have reached that milestone yet, but they’re definitely well on their way. The thing is, playing like an expert isn’t enough to get you to the top of any field (just ask that overlooked world famous violinist from the subway station that made the meme rounds not too long ago).

That brings me to the second quality an act needs to break away from the rest of their peers: the ability to make the amazing thing they’re doing (in this case, jam) seem effortless. Of course the aforementioned hours upon hours of practice is integral to making this happen. It’s only with complete assurance in your ability at the fundamentals of your craft that you can relax enough to experiment and explore it. This goes for any area of interest in my opinion, whether it’s music, art, or sports. It’s a tough thing, to do something so well that people can’t help but stare in awe, and at the same time make it seem so natural that the audience knows there’s no way they could ever do it as well.

Alas, even checking off those two things aren’t enough. The danger in making what you’re doing look too easy is that people will discount the enormity of your achievement. That’s why the last element needed to create the trifecta of a perfect performance is enough sincerity to pull the audience in, achieved by pouring your entire being into your playing. It’s possible to learn how to fake this well enough to get away with I’m sure. But then why do it at all? I think it’s the reflection of these musician’s love for their craft that really resonates with their audience. It’s their ability to simultaneously bask in the glory of our adoration, and welcome us to do the same. 

At the end of the day, there’s always that 5% that’s chalked up to luck, timing, and all the rest of the things we have no control over. That’s why there’s all that fuss about loving what you do and all that jazz; because despite whatever else you think you’ve got a handle on, there’s always that element (chance, fate, chaos, whatever) that will be waiting to bite you in the ass. And one thing I can pass along without a shadow of a doubt is that these guys most definitely love what they do.

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