All things considered, this is truly an incredible time to be a music fan.
Digital platforms like Spotify, Rdio, and 22tracks make listening to and finding music second nature. An absolute feast of festivals from coast to coast (but beware the bubble) leave fans with endless opportunities to catch their favorite bands. For anyone who loves a good tune (or a few thousand), it seems like this moment is music’s Garden of Eden.
But one place where there’s been a noticeable decline in musical satisfaction would be within one of the most sacred of spaces: the live show. Because of new technologies, decreasing attention spans and social media obsessions, the well-behaved music lovers now have to lay in a bed they didn’t have any part in making.
For the rest of our lives, here are the three circles of concert hell you will undoubtedly experience at your next show.
Circle of Concert Hell I: The Innocuous Infractions
The real petty, OCD stuff. Such as:
1) Person Who Plays the Artist Before the Show
Were The Godfather: Part IV to ever be released, re-watching the original trilogy would essentially be required viewing. Whereas context and a refresher are important for nearly 10 hours of filmic brilliance, the opposite can be said for the guy spinning the tunes of an artist only a few hours before their show.
Are they making a desperate attempt at last second lyrics study? Are they reminding people of the evening’s plans? Not a great look.
2) Person Who Wears Band Merch at the Band’s Show
Your attendance was not nearly enough of an indicator of your fandom. We needed that t-shirt and bandana combo for verification. But if it’s a ‘99 tour shirt with a nice hole in the armpit, here’s a fist bump (followed by Purell application).
3) Person Who Comes Late, Pushes Through Crowd, Doesn’t Have Courtesy to Drop an “Excuse Me” or “Sorry”
Your mother is very disappointed in your manners.
Circle of Concert Hell II: The Smartphone or Tablet Cinematographer
The show is an experience and we’d all like a little something to remember it by, be it an Instagram photo or a questionably timed 23-second video. As the proliferation of technology has given us a plethora of options with which to relive these events, the technology also taketh away.
Let’s get it straight: No one cares about your vertically filmed show video. The sound is crunchy, the aspect ratio is a scourge upon humanity and the YouTube upload of said video only makes it harder for everyone else to find a video from the show that isn’t entirely useless. You are not Roger Deakins, of this I am sure.
And the bands know. Last April, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had to go so far as to post a sign above the door at New York’s Webster Hall advising concertgoers to put their devices away and enjoy the show. Even fans who should know better, like those of indie darlings Neutral Milk Hotel, appear impervious to frontman’s Jeff Mangum’s request to ditch the phones and live in collective moment during what is likely the group’s final run.
Pictured: Real talk.
And if you’re filming or taking photos with a tablet…well, no one can help you.
Circle Of Concert Hell III: The Talker(s)
I need a thousand of these and I needed them yesterday.
Over at Gothamist, John Del Signore coined a useful term for this phenomenon: PWEDITITETPF, or “People with Enough Disposable Income to Ignore the Event They Paid for.” In the hyper-social world, proving you were there has taken precedent over actually being there. And this has led to people treating the show like a soiree.
During James Blake’s exceptional, downbeat cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” last year I can distinctly recall an unbearably loud conversation between a couple about the struggles of apartment hunting in Manhattan. Because this ranks very highly on the list of things that I really want to hear, I asked them to lower their voices a bit. At this point I was told by the male that they had paid for tickets to the show and that they could “talk if they wanted to.”
Anyone with some semblance of logic or decency can see the inherent stupidity of this statement. This is my social hour. This is my time to catch up with a friend. I’m going to do what I want. The fact that this mentality even exists drives home the point that everyone has to make it a point to let these people know that is not how these things work.
Because we’re all in this thing together, if we don’t commit to voicing displeasure — whether timidly or with enough verve that it feels a bit like public shaming — then the bad behavior will only continued unabated. Who knows, maybe one person says it. Then another. And then another. Then a pitchfork appears. And then perhaps the guilty parties will really look inside and say “Wow, I’m kind of a dingus?”
And then, only then, will the concertgoing world become a better place. It’s up to us.
But the fact remains that there’s truly nothing like a great show. To allow this not-so-silent minority to totally drain the experience would mean the concert terrorists have won. And everyone knows that we do not negotiate with concert terrorists. We can only look on the bright side.
Circle of Salvation
Though there’s been a fair amount of harping on the inconveniences that technology has created at the live show, it would be careless to not highlight some of the innovative ways that it’s rapidly changing how we can enjoy shows as they’re happening.
For one, several apps serve to cut down the lines where you get your merch or your sweet, sweet booze. The concert ticketing app WillCall introduced the Bluetooth enabled “BarTab” in January, where bartenders can take your drinks and start you a tab just with your name. Major festivals such as Lollapalooza’s Chicago home have also incorporated cashless wristbands this year — though it appears they’re still working out the kinks a little bit.
Fixing both the problem of restless talkers and temperamental sound systems, Indiana-based jam outfit Umphrey’s McGee rolled out the option for handfuls of fans to rent out studio quality headphones so they can hear the live performance with the immaculate clarity that the sound engineer hears it through with the soundboard mix.
And finally, there are ways to still enjoy the show if you’re: a) cash strapped, b) too far away or c) feeling just plain lazy. Major national and international festivals such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Primavera Sound and many more are offering free live streams for all with sky-high production value and sound quality, making the “couch tour” easier than ever. If you’re looking to get really wild, there’s even one Japanese telecom company by the name of NTT that is testing virtual-reality experiences featuring a 360-degree broadcast video system to emulate the experience of actually being at the show.
So perhaps not all hope is lost.