The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Let the Drummer Kick That

This is officially the year of concerts for me. Usually, I average maybe two bigger shows a year with a smattering of smaller venues for good measure. However, this year, I have been burning the concert candle at both ends.

And while I love love love hearing live music, going to this many shows has also called my attention to the not so nice side of concert going.

So here is my list of nine things I hate about going to concerts. I thought of doing ten, but I couldn't come up with a tenth one without stretching. If you have one, feel free to submit it.

In no particular order:

1. Bad sound. I hate this. Come on, these guys are supposed to be professionals. They supposedly rehearse and get paid serious money to perform for us; shouldn't they have the sound thing down? Chris Cornell's show at San Diego's House of Blues was a perfect example of the sound guy (or girl) just not getting it right. Chris Cornell has a very distinctive voice. It is a crime to have it swallowed by the instruments.

2. Creepy uberfan. This is the guy with the Prince Valiant haircut and tee shirt from another show that he wore in a calculated move to appear concert savvy yet also appear as if he is not trying too hard ("What? Oh this shirt with the stage directions for a relatively unknown but cool band? I just grabbed the first thing in my closet. I go to so many shows, you know, it's hard to keep track."). This is the same fan who gives awkward thumbs up to the band at odd times during the show and who cannot forget for one second he is surrounded by other people who will never get this music like he does. This is the same fan who writes messages on paper that say "It's all for the true Music" and who later will go home and masturbate while listening to the illegal cd he just recorded from the show, clutching a photograph of the lead singer in his sweaty left paw.

3. Rubbing bare skin on a stranger's sweaty bare skin. I don't think I need to go into this further.

4. The guy sporting the man tank who hasn't showered in a few days and insists on raising his white-power tattooed arms, treating all who surround him to a wave of BO.

5. Band members who think that they are the reason the crowd payed $60 to stand crammed like sardines in a can for three hours. Now I'm not talking about members of an actual band (like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or something like that) but band members who were hired just for this tour: no one knows them, no one ever will. They will always play back up for another bigger name or substitute for a guitarist that has overdosed on heroin the night before. We don't care about them, and they are quickly forgotten. They need to get over themselves.

6. And speaking of band members, why do some of them feel the need to take off their shirts mid show? Yes, I know it's hot. I'm packed in a steamy meat locker listening to you; I don't take my shirt off. There are some things we need to protect others from encountering. In my case, it's my mom gut and saggy parts. In scrawny, scraggly guitarist's and drummer's cases, it's tiny puckered baby nipples and the five strands of chest hair trying to cover them.

7. Expensive food and beverages. I will die of dehydration before I will purchase a $5 12-ounce bottle of water. I will (gasp!!) drink tap water.

8. Throwing "souvenirs" into the crowd. Now I could hate this one because I have never ever in all of the shows I've been to in my life actually caught anything thrown into the crowd. So you can discount this peeve as sheer bitterness. I'm still going to rant. What is this? Mardi Gras? Do we really need more people taking off their shirts and scrabbling for picks or drumsticks or sweat-soaked towels? Do we really need to feed the egos of the back-up band member who thinks he's the shit because some woman is screaming for his pick? Trust me, it's not his pick she specifically wants. For women like that, any pick will do. Of course, this is coming from the woman who has never had a pick . . .

9. Okay, so this is my top hated thing: people who seem unable to make a real memory of the show, so they rely on their blackberry or phone to make a digital one for them. These are the people who never actually look at the musicians, preferring to gaze through the small digital screen of their chosen electronic recording device. I'd bet that if technology allowed, they'd listen to the show through headphones (though that might fix the sound). These are the people who don't go to shows for the music but to say that they've been. These are the show name droppers you hear in the bathroom: "Oh, I had VIP seats for the Radiohead show last night because I know the owner of the House of Blues" and "Today is my fourth concert in five days." AHHHH!

Now that I've gotten the peeves out of the way, you might be asking yourself why I even go to live shows if I am such a curmudgeon. Why don't I stay in my temperature controlled, sealed room where I can listened to cds that have perfectly monitored sound and not have to deal with a single member of the human race?

That is a good question.

And while finding the perfect song or mix on your stereo to compliment your day can be one of life's more exquisite pleasures, there is no substitute for live music.

Live music has an energy unmatched by any stereo system. Think about it, we pay serious money to go listen to someone sing to us. Sing. As in what some of us do regularly on a daily basis (like you don't sing in the shower). What is it about that? That singing, that composition of instruments? It's ecstasy: ex stasis. Through live music, we are transported out of ourselves into something, somewhere else. Not necessarily better, but different--and unmatched. That's why those nine peeves listed above are so jangling: they mar the movement to ecstasy.

Music fills us and moves us like nothing else. From the very physical movement of the bass line permeating our pulses to the intangible movement of lyrics and moment. A cd or record (or I guess, cassette tape) can do some of this, but it comes nowhere close to experiencing music live.

Live music can bring you to tears in the midst of a crowd of strangers. And, get this, no one will judge. They will understand the power that is present.

Live music can make you so full of joy that you actually glow.

Live music can transform the most scrawny, rodent-faced man or the most rotund, drugged out girl into the sexiest thing alive. Because they can offer something so few of us can: music that matters. Music that transports. Music that lives.

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