The Neal House on Hardy Street welcomed a flock of students and Hattiesburg residents Wednesday as South City Records (SCR) hosted its third session of the Classic Album Listening Series.
“(The idea) came about in London, some of the recording people that we meet with do this and it became super popular over there,” Entertainment Industry Professor Drew Young said. “And I thought it’d be so much fun to do here, because people are really into music in Hattiesburg.”
After sessions with Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead, it was time for the sounds of Led Zeppelin IV to fill the upper room of the Neal House.
Five rows of chairs were facing toward a table with a record player and a high quality sound system, carefully set up for the best listening experience. A black Led Zeppelin flag had been religiously hung, providing a minimum amount of visuals for guests.
But the dim lighting and voluntary simplicity of the setup made it clear, the event was not about the visuals. Everyone had come to listen.
As the room filled with students and other Hattiesburg music lovers, SCR hosts opened the night with a quick trivia about the band and gave a summary of the history behind the record. Then it was time to let the vinyl speak.
What happened next seemed like a spiritual liturgy as everyone sat in a sincerely respectful silence, while the ghosts of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones took over the atmosphere.
“There’s something about a communal listening that’s really fun. Records take you on that little journey away from your life,” Young said. “It’s nice to go on this half-an-hour trip, forget about the rest, listen to music and enjoy it for what it is.”
Heads bowed down or bobbing up and down to Bonham’s colorful panel of rhythms, eyes closed or staring into the void, the variety of listeners reached a sense of unity among one another, like disciples learning from ancient writings under the sign of rock’n’roll.
“I like how there are all those distractions and cacophony and so many people telling stories all at the same time,” said Lici Beveridge, a journalist at the Hattiesburg American and long time Led Zeppelin fan, during the discussion that followed the listening. “Sometimes they were trying to talk louder than each other, and Jimmy Page was even talking over himself half the time.”
Robert Plant’s vigor and Jimmy Page’s intensity resonated through the room and were met with pious respect and devotion. Most listeners were traveling inside, but one could catch others mechanically waving their hands, pointing out the band’s interesting rhythm signatures.
“I think it’s because they’re not just a collection of songs. A really good album is one that has its own story and is cohesive. I think these are the ones that we remember,” Will Mueller said, an entertainment industry major at USM, about the album standing the test of time. “They used interesting techniques like recording for natural reverb in a giant room. Most people use effects and processors for that, they went and try to do it themselves.”
The group discussion that followed the listening covered many aspects of the album, from the technical input of the recording students to the nostalgic and historical view of other fans, mentioning the different context and mentality that surrounded the record, and even the “soul” in the music.
“I don’t think they thought about everything they did, but sometimes, innovation and genius just naturally happen,” Beveridge said. “It’s something nobody has ever been able to match, and it can be something really simple. They can take something like a basic blues, and just wrangle and mangled it and just throw it out there and see what happens.”
As the discussion came to an end and broke down into nuclear groups chattering around the house, enjoying drinks and good company, the discussions failed to gravitate around anything else than music.
“There’s a certain honesty to the music, I think. It comes down to people with themes that stand time,” Young said. “Everyone feels anger, disappointment, fear, excitement, elation, no matter where they are in their lives. If you can communicate that very honestly, it will transcend time.”