The musicians you don’t know will bore you to death
February 12, 2015 1:18 AM   Subscribe

We as a society are expected to believe that live shows are fun, even though they’re basically loud, plotless museum exhibits with no chairs and no rules about whether people should yell a conversation at you. In your innermost self, you know this truth. But if you’d like ammunition to make the case to your friends and loved ones, or if you just need to read it on the internet, what follows is an airtight case as to why live music is the grownup birthday dinner of cultural events.
Live music sucks.
posted by MartinWisse (206 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
So basically: Bad live music is bad?

Kthanks.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:30 AM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think classical music venues have it somewhat better re: the points he brings up, but the one aspect that does bother me, which the author doesn't seem to mention, is how expensive it can get. At my local concert hall, the seats with decent acoustics, meaning not so far up or sideways that the sound gets muddled, cost $60–$100+ depending on the name of the artist. And they sell out ridiculously fast because it's a smaller city, not like in NYC where there are tons of cultural offerings. A CD is much more economically accessible for most people, especially if you're trying to enjoy music with others who might not be as interested in a subgenre as you are. The quality of live music is still unbeaten though—at least in classical music—speakers or headphones just isn't quite the same.
posted by polymodus at 1:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


He's mostly right. There hasn't been much point in going to a 'rock' gig since that music become the establishment, and freely available absolutely everywhere, in around 1965.

the intentional creation of a shared experience through live music, i.e. puttin’ on a show.


The only concerts I enjoy are the ones I take my daughter to - One Direction, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc. - because they are a genuine coming together of a tribe. My daughter even looked at the audience and said 'look at all my people, dad' once. You partake of a world of home-made banners (!), selfies, Tweeting, between-song banter, screaming, videoing, overwhelming anticipation, emotional release, crying, gorging on junk food - and the musicians on stage are all mind-blowingly professional and skilled.

Unlike a rock gig where not only does the band have limited skills or charm, but part of their act is often to pretend they are not putting on a show at all but in fact the audience is interrupting the flow of their genius.
posted by colie at 1:49 AM on February 12, 2015 [37 favorites]


There are acts, there are performances. And there are SHOWS...
posted by mikelieman at 2:04 AM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your favourite (medium in which to experience a) band sucks
posted by ominous_paws at 2:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [19 favorites]


I was watching a video of Girls Aloud performing at Wembley yesterday, and thinking "wow, this is great and so professional!" Choreography, costumes, staging, lighting. All very exciting. Similarly, I love going to watch musicals, which never sound as good as the original cast recording, but the atmosphere and the staging changes the experience.

So maybe it's not "live music sucks" but "the genre of music that you and I value, dear reader, white middle-class guys with guitars who write their own songs: that sucks". Which is fine to say, though maybe the author is just getting old!
posted by alasdair at 2:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


If your boss called a three-hour meeting, you’d stab your resignation letter to their face.

I'm just about to get on a train to one of these. I bet there are others on this thread who've got one coming up. It may even overrun. No stabbing.
posted by colie at 2:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [21 favorites]


You know, when you get to the end, the author lays back on the "Everything and Everyone sucks" and actually gives a few pieces of relevant advice. The way he gets to, "Yes. Plenty of live music is actually good. Marching bands, for instance!" isn't the clearest path, and the dire doom and gloom doesn't help readers want to get there.
posted by mikelieman at 2:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


My daughter even looked at the audience and said 'look at all my people, dad' once. You partake of a world of home-made banners (!), selfies, Tweeting, between-song banter, screaming, videoing, overwhelming anticipation, emotional release, crying, gorging on junk food - and the musicians on stage are all mind-blowingly professional and skilled.

What seems to have happened here is that at some point you took a wrong turn, and ended up in the sixth level of Dante's Inferno?
posted by ominous_paws at 2:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [32 favorites]


This person is a fool with an axe to grind that seems to stem from his own self-admittedly failed music career.

1) The musicians you don’t know will bore you to death.
Oh really? Have you ever attended Bumbershoot, the incredible music and arts festival held on the old Worlds Fair ground in Seattle? I've only been there once, in 1999. The ENTIRE grounds are taken up with the festival. Interior spaces, exterior spaces, the on-site indoor and outdoor arenas...

There year I was there, I took notes about every band I heard over the 4 days I was there. I finally had to decide on a hard-and-fast rule -- only bands that I heard 5 complete songs of their set were bands I would count as "I heard this band". My total for that list is 29 bands across the 4 days. Some of those were ones I sought out and got to the venue early and heard the whole show. Many more were bands that I came across while wandering about and what they played drew me in.

Some of those were bands I encountered near the end of their set, so they weren't part of the "official count". Some of them were bands I found on the way to something I had circled on the schedule, but I stopped and listened but had to leave. They also weren't included.

But of those 29 bands I officially count as "I heard this band", the vast majority of them were not bands I had ever heard of before, were in genres I didn't usually seek out or were from a corner of the world where I could never have encountered them before, or were completely unexpected as I came around the corner from one amplified sound environment into another, and they drew me in and made me want to hear more. I stopped, and listened, and I was not bored to death. In many cases, I was enthralled.
2) The musicians you love will disappoint you.
SOME musicians you love will disappoint you. Others basically never will. The trick is knowing who is worth seeing live and who is not.

My two biggest disappointments in my concert-going life were seeing The Cars and seeing Scandal (featuring Patty Smyth). Both shows were entirely disappointing, with bad sound and lackluster performances. I saw Bob Dylan during his "I wear a giant hat and don't interact with the audience and only do 45-50 minutes of material" phase, but despite his lack of on-stage charisma, his song performances were, at least, worth witnessing.

The lessons I've learned about how to choose who to see play live has served me well. I have a list of bands who I will ALWAYS TRY TO SEE PLAY, and a list of bands that I know, already from reputation or blind prejudice, that I won't ever try to see, even if I like their studio music. And my instincts seem to be pretty good where this is concerned. I enjoy the shows I choose to attend, and have gotten reviews from shows I've skipped that tell me I was correct.
3) Live music, as a medium, is structurally flawed.
Um... No it's not. Your expectation about what a live performance is is structurally flawed. The medium's essential challenge isn't "playing them better than perfect" as you claim. The medium's essential challenge is connecting with the audience in a way that makes them want to take the journey of the performance you have planned with you while you create the journey. Exactly what you do with the songs that they're familiar with from the radio or their music collection doesn't matter one whit. What matters is whether what you present as a performer makes the audience give a shit about what it is you are performing. I saw Thomas Dolby recently do a show that was him behind a bank of keyboards with a laptop running loops and adding embellishments while he sang, and it was completely riveting. Whether or not you like Girl Talk or The Chemical Brothers when performing live isn't so much about supposed "structural flaws" in the medium of life music as much as it is about whether people know how to work within their idiom and make it something that carries the audience along.
4) Show-booking is not a meritocracy.
I don't even know what you're trying to say with this section. You got gigs for your band that wasn't actually trying through networking. Great! You managed a racist asshole for part of your career. Learn Better Judgement! You've detected sexism as a core problem in the music industry. Have You Ever Read Any Blogs By Female Musicians? Venues lie about their accessibility. Accessibility Issues Are Ever-present In Our Society; How Many ADA Reports Have You Actually Submitted?
5) So is anything in life fun?
Finally a bit of actual honesty about what makes live music work, but in a backhanded way. "more or less, anyone who takes seriously the intentional creation of a shared experience through live music, i.e. puttin’ on a show."

Um... what?

Bands, or any live performance that isn't taking serious the intentional creation of a shared experience, who don't take that seriously... aren't worth your entertainment time or dollar. Period. Any life performer or performance group who isn't taking that seriously, they should be ignored if they go on tour. Period.

This is not rocket science or brain surgery.

There is a reason that every band on my "I must see them every time they come around" list is on that list. It is because of repeat concert experiences that have lifted me outside my miasma of daily life into a different realm, with a consistency that lets me know that the next time I encounter them in a live setting, that is likely to happen again.

There are bands which dazzled on first encounter but who subsequently (repeatedly) failed to live up to expectation. They aren't on the list anymore.

There are bands which at first entirely failed to dazzle but who on subsequent visits showed me that first impressions can sometimes be wrong.

There are bands who have always elevated the moment to the point where I felt like I was removed from my mundane existence and was briefly in touch with the face of the Universe.

There are bands who are completely inconsistent, with one tour being purely brilliant with the next being dull as lead. (These are the most irritating, because while foolish inconsistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, artistic inconsistency is the demon-thief of the concert-going pocketbook.)
I have my list. Others likely do, too. And someday I will get back to Bumbershoot to have a random wander-about through various musical offerings, some of which will draw me in; others will not. But that kind of experience is very rare. Until then, I will stick to my guns:

Live music is incredibly powerful. It has so much ability to connect to people and to align crowds of people in ways that astonish. It should not be dismissed wholesale, and this author is a fool.
posted by hippybear at 2:21 AM on February 12, 2015 [91 favorites]


I saw Bob Dylan

Dylan is also a tribal experience.
posted by colie at 2:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I stopped reading this pretty quickly. I am sure it is no fun to have beer spilled on you. You can avoid that kind of venue. When live music is good it is like nothing else. It is like going to the theatre compared to staying home and watching TV.
posted by Major Tom at 2:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


One Direction, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc. - because they are a genuine coming together of a tribe.

I saw Bob Dylan

Dylan is also a tribal experience.


I saw Bob Dylan
I saw Taylor Swift
they're *tribal experiences*
catching my drift?
no? you don't quite get the point that I'm making?
just look at that chick at Swift's show: her butt's shaking!
and look at that chick watchin' Dylan, she's… well, she's…

digging the lyrics?

Hey, it's all tribal, man.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:39 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


6. Also, during the intermission somebody shoots Lincoln.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:47 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yeah, venue counts for a lot, also the fanbase counts for a lot (be social before the show- you're in a crowd!). Also ear-plugs are essential.

But this sounds like the amplified kvetching of a lot of middle aged hipsters I know. There's the olbigatory name checking (I like Cibo Matto and Ween and YMO- how wonderfully 1999 for you, Mr. Kennedy). Oh, I'm bored! Oh, my joints ache! Oh the hoi palloi is mansplaining something to their date! Maybe it's not the bands that have gotten old; maybe it's you who's ceased being young.

It is true that gigs is about social networking though. Prolly a major factor in the collapse of all my bands. And having good sound technicians is also key. The people on the boards, especially for small shows, are not paid enough for their work. Lastly, he is right that accessibility takes a back seat to seating maximization, even with a modern venue (and most of the venues, especially for the non-Arena crowds, are ancient things).

This article is a reasonable example of the modern "provoke, then inform" style which is becoming the predominant essay style - first you troll, and then you save your insights for the patient readers after you've exhausted your major quips. I would still argue that his opinions say more about his condition and less about the live music experience.

And I have friends that would kill to enjoy three hours of Ween.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:54 AM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


they're *tribal experiences*

JOIN US
posted by colie at 2:57 AM on February 12, 2015


Live music sucks.

Rolling Stones, Exhibition Stadium, every light goes out, bassline for Satisfaction rolls across the crowd, which collectively loses its shit.

Your argument is invalid fucking stupid, go smoke a joint or drink a beer and just enjoy the damn music already.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:04 AM on February 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's almost as boring to counter this article as it is to read it. I dunno, there's this certain sweet spot for me where a band is still playing to audiences of less than 2000, and you get their album and listen to it until you like it, and turn up to a €20 gig a month or two later and the experience just has nothing nothing nothing nothing to do with anything he's describing.
posted by distorte at 3:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


A job where I play jazz and ruin the days of hungover people who go to restaurants for brunch would be so, so great. "This next tune is called 'The Creator Has A Master Plan'....."
posted by thelonius at 3:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [21 favorites]


Rock shows kind of saved my life. Some of the happiest moments of my life were at the legendary Club Makeup. Those shows were like Phantom of the Paradise come to life, shock and sex and glitter and rickety cardboard. I had been a little drag queen in denial my whole life, and then at the exact moment I came out to myself and the world they threw the doors open at the place and me and a thousand other gender-bent rock n' roll freaks came running. I saw the very last performance of Dee Dee Ramone, a few days before he died. I mean, I saw this shit, while I was out in public wearing fishnets and a corset and feelin' foxy!

I miss that place, pretty much every day. I miss it like you miss a best friend, who went away too soon. And no matter what happens or how shitty things get, I've always got Club Makeup in my heart. I feel damn lucky that place existed, and that I got to be part of the show.

So, if you don't like live shows, that's fine. Don't go. But people gather in caves and bang on drums and hop around and get sweaty for a reason. We're kind of meant to do that.

This article is a reasonable example of the modern "provoke, then inform" style which is becoming the predominant essay style - first you troll, and then you save your insights for the patient readers after you've exhausted your major quips.

Holy shit is that an expert takedown of way, way too many think pieces I see these days. I'm probably guilty of publishing a few of them myself, back in my days as a journalist. I mean, that is a dagger that goes in your back so smooth you don't feel it until you realize you're bleeding out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Weird that the author echoes my current sentiments on live music and is also into a lot of the same bands as me. Maybe the bands we like just suck at live shows?

On the subject of Ween, I saw them live once, and the show was 3 glorious hours of solid Ween, no opening act or anything. The truly impressive part was that they only got into jam-band mode a few times. For the most part, it was all these tight little 2-3 minute songs. Their catalog is insane.

Anyway, I am old and grumpy now, so humbug and so on.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 3:39 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's pretty clear that the ideas that he's expressing as universal are assuredly not, but I just want to counter the comments here with the fact that almost everything he says rings very true to me personally. I'm not disabled, but I find it very challenging to stand for almost three hours, I'm often overwhelmed by the volume and crowds at live shows, and truly, I find the sound quality horrendous most of the time. Now, the majority of shows I go see are acoustic folk stuff where these things don't apply, but I do like other more high energy "rockier" bands and definitely want to experience them live. Some of the changes he suggests would make it much more likely that I would do so. I sometimes feel like there's a sort of hardass mentality of powering through a show in discomfort, but I really don't think it has to be that way.
posted by Polyhymnia at 3:39 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


He has a point though. The most memorable (rock) concerts that I have experienced all had one thing in common: seating. It's a sign to the audience that they ought to be quiet. It's kinda important since we're talking about music.

Otherwise it's just a party with band, playing music loud to drown out the conversation.
posted by cotterpin at 3:40 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The trick is to avoid going to see anyone famous. The bigger the crowd, the more the problems Kennedy mentions tend to manifest themselves. Obscure or unknown bands in small club or bar-room settings is the way to go. And don't forget that rock isn't the only game in town - country, jazz, blues, world or folk acts can all provide a much more civilised and enjoyable experience live.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:49 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


In fairness, the El Rey had no seats, and I stood and stood and stood at those shows. There were always huge lines outside too, and socializing with your fellow weirdos while the chilly winds blew up your skirt was part of the fun. I simply couldn't be on my feet like that now, I'd literally pass out.

Rock shows are ideally experienced in your twenties, but that's not to say that you can't have transcendent experiences at them when you're older too. It's like sex: it gets tougher to hit those cosmic, mind-blowing highs as you age, but when you do it's worth all the effort.

And, while I'm indulging the hell out of myself on this Club Makeup jag, one of the things I loved about it was that all rock n' roll misfits were welcome, oldies included. You could be old enough for the Senior Special at Denny's, and as long as you showed up ready for a good time (and ideally covered in glitter,) you were welcome. I don't recall seeing anybody in a wheelchair, but I could very easily imagine somebody rolling in with their chair wrapped up with Christmas lights and being the belle of the goddamn ball.

(Man. I wish that joint had stuck around to grow old with me.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:52 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Live music may or may not suck but I do so enjoy doing drugs with strangers, so I guess I will put up with it.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Until about 120 years ago, for tens of thousands of years that homo sapiens have apparently been making something likely to recognizable as "music," it was always and only "live."

Now we think recordings just are music.

Wrong end of the telescope.
posted by spitbull at 4:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [36 favorites]


The only useful thing I gained from this article was the knowledge that TPM (which was once great) has gone the way of Slate: clickbaity "you're doing it wrong, the thing you like sucks."

If the crowd annoys you, you are probably going to the wrong shows. If the band sucks live, go see a different band next time.
posted by sheldman at 4:09 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


As a rule I don't see any bands that play in large venues, or even medium venues. I find smaller venues much more enjoyable and though I wouldn't use the word intimate, they seem more connected or direct. Some people love big show. I don't. Doesn't mean they "suck".

In the "rock" category off the top of my head I've recently seen:

Albert Hammond Jr. (Great show)
Jake Bugg (Great show)
Johnny Marr (Spectacular show)
Steve Malkmus (awful show, though others I've been to were great)
Gruff Rhys (Great show)
The Pixies (some years ago but it was completely shit and factory like, one song after another, barely a break in between, no banter, and then gone)

I haven't the slightest idea how big or small any of these acts are in Canada though it was obvious Jake Bugg was the most popular but at the Gruff Rhys show at the Horseshoe a young man waiting in the washroom lineup beside me sees an older man exit the washroom (early 60s I'd say) and the young man turns to me in amazement and says, "Holy shit! That guy must be at least 40!" I responded that I was 45 and the look on his face was classic, said I didn't look I mentioned he probably has no idea what 40 looks like if a guy in his early 60s looks 40. He was a good sport about it.

Have seen some local talent and the experiences were quite mixed. The best being a band out of college that covered the entirety of Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted.

I have to say I couldn't care less about a tribal experience, and would rather not have one. Nor do I give a shit about conversation at a concert so it's clearly a to each their own type of experience.
posted by juiceCake at 4:28 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like good live music.

I almost never go, partly because I am poor, but mainly because it's usually too loud. Even if I like the genre, I can't handle most amplified music in an interior space, because they play it too loudly.

That said: Lemon Bucket Orkestra are freaking amazing. They are touring soon - so worth seeing. And not too loud (mostly? entirely? acoustic).
posted by jb at 4:31 AM on February 12, 2015


The problem with small venues is, too many of them are from the "we don't have room for bands or even enough outlets for a band and any band with a drum set is going to be way too loud in this space, but we're having bands!" school
posted by thelonius at 4:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


it's usually too loud

There really is something weird about a version of a sonic art where hearing damage is expected.
posted by thelonius at 4:35 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Saw Jason Isbell play on Monday and it reminded me how much I love live performances. There's just no substitute for seeing actual human being create art in real time in the same room as you.
posted by octothorpe at 4:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


This piece is crap but yeah most modern indie bands need to step it up a lot in the showmanship department especially now that dancing is completely unstructured and moshing is verboten. Back when even a like mediocre post-hardcore show at a small club would inspire full floor scrumming it was at least exciting to be at a concert. Now a "band" is one girl/guy with an MPC/loop pedal in a bedroom and reproducing that is both easy and Unexciting. Which is why tho there's such an opportunity for talented, hardworking live performers like Moon Hooch to conquer the world.

Work on your chops, together, and ram this dummies old man sneering back down his talking point shute.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Huh. This article reads as "Some shows I went to sucked, and the music industry, like society in general, has serious problems with sexism, racism, ableism, and general harassment."

But I wonder why he remembers the sucky shows so well? I haven't been to that many shows in my life, I was never "cool" enough to go in high school and only got dragged in my 20s by friends or my ex... but every show I can recall right now, I had a fabulous time at. From Flogging Molly to Weird Al to VNV Nation to Jonathon Coulton to my sorta-distant-friend's randomly awesome small gig rock show. Or that random show I saw in SF that we think was the band's last gig-- the lead singer promised he'd be naked by the end, and sure enough, he was. It was great.

Ok there was one that was awkward- new guy I was dating took me to a show. Turned out we could only talk to each other after >4 beers, so that was pretty awkward. On the other hand, the musicians were great- there was a beatboxer who was stunning (even though it's not my thing, he was clearly very impressive, and I was impressed!). So should I somehow blame the music or the venue for the fact that the guy and I had little in common besides a love of good beer?

Anyhow, the last few paragraphs were the most interesting bit of this article, but I found the proposed solutions a little weak. Esp. regarding ableism and sexism issues. There was a recent askme about allowing a teenage girl to attend a show on her own- and the common perspective was "no, dudes will sleaze at her". That's a problem, and I don't think some weak-ass whining at your audience to behave better will fix it. What will? large scale societal change. Who's going to effect that? and how?
posted by nat at 4:48 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought it was amusing and pretty truthful. It's surely obvious he doesn't really hate live music, but sometimes it's good to acknowledge both the inherent absurdities and more serious issues.
posted by Segundus at 4:53 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Live music sucks.

Rolling Stones, Exhibition Stadium, every light goes out, bassline for Satisfaction rolls across the crowd, which collectively loses its shit. Your argument is fucking stupid.


To this example I shall add:

* Peter Gabriel, back in 1986 - back when he still closed shows with "Biko". He and the entire rest of the band stand stock-still as they sing up until the very end, with the chanted "Ho-ho-hooooo-oh", at which they all pump victorious, heroic fists in the air. All 10,000 people in the crowd join in. After a couple turns of this, Peter starts calling out names of activists, telling the crowd to sing for them -

"Sing it for Victor Jara!"

The crowd sings: "Ho-ho-hooooo-oh!"

"Sing it for Nelson Mandela!"

"Ho-ho-hooooo-oh!"

"Sing it for Martin Luther King!

"Ho-ho-hooooooo-oh!"

"For Stephen Biko!"

"Ho-ho-hoooooo-oh!"

After leading the crowd a couple more times, Peter says "what happens now is up to you," and walks off the stage. The band stays. The audience keeps singing: "Ho-ho-hooooooo-oh!" Then after a moment, the guitarist walks off, followed a few moments later by the extra percussion guy. The audience keeps singing. One by one, the band gradually leaves the stage, leaving the audience to keep singing. Manu Katche is the last holdout, helping the audience keep time on drums; but finally the light fades down to just a spot on him, before winking out.

Darkness in the auditorium. But not silence - for a full minute, the entire audience is still chanting, "Ho-ho-hooooooo-oh!....Ho-ho-hooooo-oh!" Only when the group starts to break down do the lights finally come back on and the band comes out for one last curtain call.

Fucking stupid argument indeed.

(My aunt got me the tickets for that show - I sat with my best friend, and she and my parents sat together in the cheap seats towards the back of the house. My father made it clear before the show that he was pretty much only going under duress, but when we all gathered at the car afterward, Dad stood mute and pensive while the rest of us chattered away excitedly about the show for a few minutes - then he finally looked up all of us and said, quietly, "that was FUCKING GREAT." ....I was only sixteen and it was the first time I'd heard Dad drop an f-bomb.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on February 12, 2015 [38 favorites]


* Peter Gabriel, back in 1986 - back when he still closed shows with "Biko".

I saw him play this at the Amnesty International tour that year. It was deeply moving and even spiritual. Then Bryan Adams came on: "ATLANTA! Are you ready to ROCK?", which kind of broke the mood.
posted by thelonius at 5:00 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Have liked going to live music my whole life, but as I've aged, the PITA factor on top of the expense and life in general, I've gone to less and less, basically only going to certain artists I pretty much know will be good, and only sitting near the front, since I am loathe to spend the few times I can go now on potentially bad shows. When I really want to relive the concert experience, there is YouTube and DVDs and good home speakers, all within easy reach of fridge, bathroom & bong.

Speaking of TMBG, in the late '90's I went to the Moon in Tallahassee, Florida to see them with my wife, who is about 6 years younger than I. The Moon had an area with elevated tables on a platform where one could have dinner & drinks during a concert. I remarked how awesome it would be to sit and relax with a drink while enjoying the concert. My wife responded by mercilessly ribbing how old I was. Flash forward 10 years or so, when we noted similar chairs & tables at a Radiohead concert. She told me how she wished she could sit at one of those tables. Needless to say, the teasing was repaid in full.
posted by JKevinKing at 5:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is interesting how music has gone from a shared cultural experience that was indistinguishable from dance and movement to a performative liminal experience and now has moved squarely into the private consideration of recorded artefacts.

Remember this when someone makes a sweeping comment about the unbroken legacy of music throughout all history and before.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


STOP LIKING WHAT I DON'T LIKE
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:27 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


So, nobody seems to be engaging with the article's points about the treatment of women, and about accessibility. I agree with the person up-thread who commented that seats are an important hint that there will be a better experience; it also can make me, as a woman, feel more confident that I won't be groped, or simply so closely surrounded by people taller and bigger than me that it gets scary. It's also been my experience that many venues that claim to be accessible aren't actually, and especially aren't when they're crowded with people. Wheelchair-accessible seating, for instance, is often at the back of the hall, which makes sense based on where the entrances are, except that if the audience gets into the music and decides to stand up, the experience turns into a claustrophobic butt-viewing experience for the folks using those wheelchairs. Who paid just as much for the tickets as the rest of you.

I'd have said less that live music sucks than that it's a crap shoot. There are so many unpredictable factors: the venue, how the band decides to approach their music for the show, whether the band is too drunk or high to perform well, the audience members sitting near you and how obnoxious they are. I agree with whoever up-thread said that the sweet spot is bands you love who still perform in venues of a few hundred seats at most. Back in my youth, I saw every women's music performer who passed through whatever town I was living in. These concerts were community events: you'd see every lesbian you knew there, so intermission was like a party. They were usually booked in a church sanctuary or a decent auditorium at the local college. The connection between the artists and the audience was part of the appeal. The shows were low-key because these folks were traveling in a van or even a roomy sedan; they barely had room for their guitars and amps. I have a few happy memories of big stadium concerts, and certainly of classical music performances and musicals. But those small-venue women's music concerts were nearly always wonderful. I think the nearest analogue these days might be folk musicians, who can be "name" acts, relatively speaking, but still get booked in the meeting room at the UU church when they pass through town here, and play to an audience made up of all the local folkies, who go to all the shows and have known each other forever.

Because it's a game of chance, buying your tickets is like placing your bet: you're betting that this concert will be worth it. When ticket prices are in the triple-digits, it's a really expensive bet to place, and it's been a long time since I thought it was worth it. On the other hand, my partner and I accepted an invitation to go see the Pet Shop Boys with friends last year, and it was a very strange experience—we are not modern enough to have been prepared for the multimedia-ness of it and the sense that the whole performance was so pre-constructed that the performers themselves might well have been very well-designed animatronics. But we ended up having a really good time, and I'm glad we went. It didn't make me want to start shelling out that kind of money on a routine basis, but I'm glad we took the opportunity when our friends suggested it.
posted by not that girl at 5:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a rule I don't see any bands that play in large venues, or even medium venues. I find smaller venues much more enjoyable and though I wouldn't use the word intimate, they seem more connected or direct. Some people love big show. I don't. Doesn't mean they "suck".

Even getting to/in/and out of a 16k seat arena is a big fucking pain in the ass.

My current favorite is The Egg where their big theater, the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre, holds 900-something people. Their "Roots and Branches" series is a perennial favorite.
posted by mikelieman at 5:38 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's usually too loud

Pretty much EVERY SHOW I've ever been to has been 10dB too loud. Best decision I ever made were a pair of custom earmolds and some Etymotic musicians filters. They make a consumer line that's like 12 bucks a pair. Very much recommended.
posted by mikelieman at 5:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bands that I've seen that were way better live (not a complete list): Andrew Bird, The National, Mogwai, The XX, Cut Copy, Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens with the National Symphony Orchestra, 65daysofstatic, Fuck Buttons, Muse, GWAR, Ted Leo, The Protomen, Josh Ritter

Bands that were a bit better live (would see again): The Decemberists, Stars, Of Montreal, Jay Brannan, Belle and Sebastian, The Mountain Goats

Bands that were about the same (I had fun, but it was nothing special): SBTRKT, The Temper Trap, M83, Foster the People, OK Go

Bands that were way worse live: Edward Sharpe, Arcade Fire, Matt and Kim, Passion Pit, LCD Soundsystem, The Postal Service
posted by schmod at 5:42 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I personally love arguing about things like whether live music sucks - it's something upon which almost everyone has an opinion backed up by something legit (personal experience is legit for this purpose; plus lots of people have been in bands, have friends in bands, book shows, run sound, etc), it's very low-stakes and it has relatively little political dimension.

(Because "these venues are inaccessible" and "marginalized people get harassed" are problems that are hardly unique to music - and in fact, should be fucking solvable at any relatively small venue that is committed to doing so. The only shows I see anymore are at an accessible space where, if you were to harass a trans woman or shout "WHITE POWER" while playing, you would be deep-sixed so hard, possibly with a boot in your face depending on who was working. So the point is, the suckiness of live music in this regard is not that different from the suckiness of, say, going to see indie cinema or hell, going to the grocery store.)

But anyway! The point is that whether or not live music sucks qua musical experience is a fun, idle sort of thing to argue about.

The truth is, I don't like going to shows very much, mostly because they're a huge time commitment - I don't want to arrive when the doors open, wait a hour past the official starting time, sit through a bunch of bands before the band I want to see plays and then get out the door after, like, six hours in the grungy dark with drunk strangers. There was one show, once, where I was really there to see Unwound, but the opening band was this crazy little group called...Stereolab! We were in a small venue and wow, everyone just, ahem, rocked out. That was probably the most fun show I've ever been to, and it was much the exception.

The best live music experiences I've had, actually, have been skilled amateur performances at events organized around something else. There was a particular large benefit brunch that my house put on - seriously, so much work - and some folk music-playing friends played, and it was this gorgeous early summer morning with the music just flowing out the windows. It went on for about an hour and then it stopped, and also there was brunch.
posted by Frowner at 6:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or was I there to see Versus? Maybe it was Versus. It was in the early nineties, well before Stereolab would be expected to fill a large venue or to headline.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on February 12, 2015


Guess the article wasn't quite as horrid as I expected.

Also made me think about my own experience going to shows during the '90s and getting older and growing more annoyed with the people who tended to go to live shows (i.e. people like me, but 10 years younger).

As a general example, liking and then seeing an uber-hyped band in 2001 as they crested in popularity. The loud fratboys and 'see-and-be-seen' audience made me realize my show-going days were almost over. I didn't gripe about it (much) -- I just stopped going to shows I knew would bring that response. Now I listen to music but don't go to shows (and get the type of night's sleep I need to cope with 3 young kids).

One more thought: hardly anyone gripes about a $5-$10 show, which is why all of my best show experiences were in that range (and all of my worst were much, much more).
posted by saintjoe at 6:08 AM on February 12, 2015


I almost never go to shows and basically every show I have been to has been a wonderful experience. Maybe this guy just goes to too many shows? Variety is the spice of life.

I think that part of the issue is that shows are a big time/energy commitment, so a bad show is REALLY bad, and a mediocre show is kind of a disappointment for a while.
posted by selfnoise at 6:11 AM on February 12, 2015


Different strokes and all that, but I've felt this way for years, and totally get where the author is coming from. I had assumed I was all alone in feeling that way.
posted by jbickers at 6:15 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The author has clearly never seen Napalm Death at a small club in Houston and had Barney Greenway growl-howl right into his face in the front row. Toxic Holocaust opened. Now THAT was a great show.
posted by Renoroc at 6:15 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Obviously this person never saw The Hives in concert.

This is just silly. It depends how unrealistic your expectations happen to be and if you expect other people to make you happy. If you have a good disposition concerts are a blast and if have a chip on your shoulder, you will be disappointed.

I don't go often, but I when I do I have the time of my life, thank you very much...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:15 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had a very good experience helping my brother, who needs a wheelchair for things like this, at a large arena. He's had OK experiences at one or two smaller theatres, too. But yes, more needs to be done for accessibility.
posted by thelonius at 6:21 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like juiceCake, I like to go to small shows and you couldn't drag me to a festival (unless it's taking place where I live and I can go home when I feel like it). What I like to do is look at the calendar pages for the clubs that have shows for under $20, and if a band looks interesting I follow the link to their page and I listen to a couple songs (usually I haven't heard of any of the listed bands). If I hear something I like, I try to go. I bring earplugs and I don't try to push my way up to the front. I'm also a big fan of the house show or the back of the store show.

I don't care (much) about the mix, I don't mind if I get jostled a little, and I can't hear people's inane conversations when the music is so overly loud. I just like that feeling when a new band takes the stage and starts to play. It's joyful.
posted by jomato at 6:22 AM on February 12, 2015


I used to go to shows four or five nights a week. It was A Time In My Life. I've also had yearlong stretches where, "bah, just buy the record" is my mantra. One time I drove two hours (to this guy's club incidentally; in the town referred to in Uncle Tupelo's "Whiskey Bottle" as "a three-hour-away town") to see my favorite band (Calexico) open for Wilco. My friends spent too much time dawdling at a diner and I missed most of Calexico's act, so I was in a shit mood, but was blown away by Wilco. So it worked out.

Going to shows can suck, or it can be great. Part of it is where you are in your own head (this guy apparently hates everything). I think part of it is also what kind of band you're seeing. Calexico brings a mariachi band. Sigur Ros simulates an acid trip with their stage show. Wussy brings even more intensity than their records, which are already at a fever pitch. Lucinda Williams can't even remember the words to her songs, but hearing just a slightly different catch in her voice when she sings, "this beer I'm drinking is still the same old brand" can be transcendent.

Anyway, someone drag this cretin to see Wussy and shut him up, huh?
posted by notsnot at 6:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I used to go to shows often, and it's really hit or miss. Once some friends and I saw the same band in the same venue twice, two nights in a row, and one night was really fun and full of dedicated fans, and the next night there was a knife fight. Even the same band, same venue can vary wildly.

There was a period of a few months where I was going to probably 2 shows a week, and it was more often predicated on what was cheap/convenient than what the actual band was. In this town, the best bars just all happen to have live music, so that's what we did. One of the most fun shows was this absolutely horrid experimental noise band. My friends and I went because they had a cool name and we had no idea what we were getting into. The rest of the crowd was the kind of self-deprecating, funny hipster that used to exist back when being hipster meant looking like Ariel Pink rather than lumberjack gear.

And then there's those shows that are more or less friends playing music together. Half the crowd knows each other, people walk on and off stage to try their hand at an instrument. Someone knows how to flow real well so suddenly the indie rock band has a rap chorus. People are screenprinting shirts in the back for $5. Someone else has brought a keg and hidden it behind a tree. I'm sorry the author doesn't have those experiences.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:26 AM on February 12, 2015


So a while back someone here posted a link to the introduction of a book about sensory processing disorder, and I read that chapter and thought "holy shit, this is about me." And by that, I don't mean that the author was describing children who were like me. I mean that she started by saying "I realized that this problem existed while I was a nursery school teacher at St. Blah-blah-blah's nursery school in the late '70s," and I attended St. Blah-blah-blah's nursery school in the late '70s. I was like "wait a second! That author is Miss Carol, my nursery school teacher!" So I called up my mom and said "hey, did anyone ever mention that I might have sensory processing disorder," and she was like "oh, yeah, you had that when you were a kid. That's why you went to that occupational therapist." Thanks mom! I'm really grateful that you sent me to an occupational therapist, but it might have been nice if you'd mentioned that when I was old enough to remember it!

So anyway, now I have a nice name for why I can't deal with movies in the theater, unless they are very quiet movies with no explosions or flashing lights or big banging sounds, why I tend to have a meltdown at the farmer's market if I don't get there before it gets crowded, and why live music is typically not my favorite thing. It's not that live music sucks. It's just that boy howdy do I not do well with crowds, flashing lights, loud noises, or general sensory chaos. Folk music shows or sessions generally work fine for me, because I can sit down and listen to music without bumping into people or dealing with all the loud, flashy, bangy crap.

In conclusion, brains are funny things, and one person's fun night out is another person's panic-attack-inducing nightmare. And while I hear him on the accessibility and harassment issues, I think a lot of this is just that different experiences appeal to different people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:27 AM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


TL;DR: one size does not fit all.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:28 AM on February 12, 2015


I personally love arguing about things like whether live music sucks

Nothing like getting a finger in the door every now and then, too.

TPM (which was once great) has gone the way of Slate

Gotta give'em credit for hiring Butthead, tho.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:33 AM on February 12, 2015


I totally agree with the author - actually I thought the about face in support of live shows at the end was wrong. Live music is generally just boring.

I've been to quite a few gigs over the years. And only 2-3 were really "good". The rest... long, boring, loud. I usually get annoyed when the band comes back on for a second Encore cause my partner then won't want to leave yet.
posted by mary8nne at 6:35 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everything about this article resonates with me and he will be my new best friend.
posted by cellphone at 6:36 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: In conclusion, brains are funny things
posted by mikelieman at 6:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also recorded music just sounds so much better and more interesting. In a studio a band can do so much more. Who really cares that they are "capable" of playing songs every time.... or putting on a show. It more about the music itself for me.
posted by mary8nne at 6:38 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with the person up-thread who commented that seats are an important hint that there will be a better experience; it also can make me, as a woman, feel more confident that I won't be groped, or simply so closely surrounded by people taller and bigger than me that it gets scary. It's also been my experience that many venues that claim to be accessible aren't actually, and especially aren't when they're crowded with people. Wheelchair-accessible seating, for instance, is often at the back of the hall, which makes sense based on where the entrances are, except that if the audience gets into the music and decides to stand up, the experience turns into a claustrophobic butt-viewing experience for the folks using those wheelchairs. Who paid just as much for the tickets as the rest of you.

I agree with you that those are problems, but the source of that problem is not live music. It is caused by either general seating or venue seating or high ticket prices. Blaming live music for those problems is like blaming Disneyland for the measles outbreak.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Best decision I ever made were a pair of custom earmolds and some Etymotic musicians filters.

I'm solidly in the no-live-music camp, because it's boring, and sweaty, and you can't have a conversation with people (live music on a date? how does this work? sometimes I think some relationships last so long only because their main couple things-to-do are live music and sex, neither of which permit much conversation), and the drinks are overpriced, and who wants to drink standing up while people are thrashing along side of you, and most bands suck live... etc.

But mostly because it's ear-damagingly loud, and after all the punk shows I went to as a teenager trying to be cool and have lots of sex and get out all my angst, I already have significant hearing loss. When I mention this to people who are inviting me along to see the Cool Loud Band Playing in the Dark and Crowded Venue, I sometimes get this response: just buy some earplugs! Then your ears will be fine.

How is that a response! I should buy earplugs to go out and have an enjoyable evening? How about you not play your music so fucking loud that it damages people's ears? Is that really that hard?
posted by dis_integration at 6:42 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


3) Live music, as a medium, is structurally flawed.

Um... No it's not. Your expectation about what a live performance is is structurally flawed. The medium's essential challenge isn't "playing them better than perfect" as you claim


Absolutely. Live music is music. Everything else is fossilized music. Well, that's a little too sweeping, but for people whose art is making music in real time, it's live music that they make.

It's almost as boring to counter this article as it is to read it.

It's so true. For a brief minute I contemplated a point-by-point nuanced dissection with refutation, but the potential responses are all so obvious as not to be much worth taking apart (he's really talking about a specific subset of shows, anyway - I doubt he is involved in many other genres). Honestly, it's like a piece titled "Eating in Restaurants Sucks" in which the author lists everything that's terrible about restaurants and then throws in one paragraph at the end about how occasionally, a restaurant serves great food in an enjoyable atmosphere. It's just too sweeping. However, the stark simplicity of the premise created a hook that a detailed discussion of what makes live music great, when, and why, and why so many bands and venues fail at delivering, might now have. We all clicked on it, so win for the author.
posted by Miko at 6:42 AM on February 12, 2015


We all clicked on it

I didn't. I was sure it would suck.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I make recordings and prefer listening closely to a great recording to going to a live show myself, and I know first hand (having done both for many years) that live performance and recording are completely different forms of art that involve very different skill sets--anyway, my point is, I'm a partisan with a strong preference for recording artistry over live performance, and I still think this goes way too far. Live music, when it's done right, can be sublime and life-altering, just as hearing a great recording in the right context can be. While I definitely prefer listening to and making recorded music now, I've seen and been a part of so many shows that can't be described as anything less than magic, I'd hate to imagine a world without live music.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:54 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do people not like to see stage plays or dance performances or symphony concerts live either? Recordings are great if there's nothing else but it's just not the same.
posted by octothorpe at 6:56 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Live music" is much too large a category to generalize about, as many have pointed out. He's tired of seeing a certain type of it that makes him feel old and tired, but that's hardly the only way to see it.

not that girl, as someone who is just about to open a non-folk-music performing arts venue in a UU church space, your comment makes me feel good. Don't want to self-promote here*, but a lot of the reasons you outline are why I'm doing it.

I've been to venues I hated hearing bands I loved, venues I loved hearing shitty bands, good performances ruined by crappy sound guys (SO MANY), seen bands get completely ripped off after everyone else gets their cut, and had to put up with loud crowds and assholes just to see music. And a lot of the problem is that running a venue is expensive. Liquor licenses and booze costs, plus rent+utilities+staff. So the pressure to book partying bands with a rowdy crowd that buys lots of booze is intense; that's where the money is.

And small but interesting bands that don't fit that mold, and aren't going to be playing the big places either, are left out. Which is why house concerts have become a thing in our area.

But I like big shows, too, depending on who is playing. Aimee Mann does a great show; so does Ben Folds. We generally see them in sit-down venues because that works best for their music. I'm pretty excited to go to my first really big show in a long time when Weird Al comes to town in August; I hear his shows are great and I know it will be fun.

*D/FW area folks, hit me up if you want details.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


good performances ruined by crappy sound guys (SO MANY)

Many, many bands play at a stage volume that makes it impossible for the sound guy to do anything to help them. If you take all the guitars out of the PA, and they are still so loud that the vocals are inaudible (except for bands where that's an improvement!), and the guitar players won't turn down, it's game over.
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow, what do I do now that I've learned that something I like sucks?
posted by MoonOrb at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I agree with most of these criticisms. Yes my knees, back and feet hurt after standing up for 3 hours straight, my ears ring for hours afterwards, the music isn't crystal clear or precise as the CD, drunk people in confined spaces are the worst, especially ones that want to dance way into everyone else's personal space. I hate going to large shows (1000+) because of the frat boys and all the talking during the quiet songs.

But I love live music so much. When the venue is smaller it is more intimate (and I think the bands are a little more comfortable too), you get to talk and meet with the band afterwards, opening bands are how I discovered probably 1/3 of my bands, you can support the artist financially while also giving encouragement to continue. And the most important part: I am going to your show because your music has moved me. I want to experience this music with the people who have created it. I want to hear all the different ways the band can play their songs: turn an electric heavy song acoustic, play a slow song a little faster and vice versa.

I have been to bad shows and I have been to absolutely incredible shows. What's the band's mood, the crowd's mood, your mood, are they going to play only the 25% of their songs you don't like? If you don't like live music, then don't go or find a better venue/band.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wow, what do I do now that I've learned that something I like sucks?

I love it when someone sums it up this well.
posted by josher71 at 7:09 AM on February 12, 2015


And small but interesting bands that don't fit that mold, and aren't going to be playing the big places either, are left out.

They're not left out! Being from the DFW area, I went to see so many small, uninteresting (to other people) bands at small venues.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:10 AM on February 12, 2015


I like "fossilized music." The anthropologist Steven Feld (drawing on original usage by composer Murray Shafer) calls it "schizophonia," the separating of a sound from its living source. I can't emphasize enough how, prior to about 1890, ANY TIME YOU HEARD MUSIC it meant there were other sentient beings trying to communicate something in your immediate field of perception. Our brains and auditory systems evolved to perceive music as a sign of life and sentience. Any adaptive function music might have (in relation especially to language, from which in my opinion it should not be separated theoretically or neurobiologically or pragmatically) depends on the signalling of the presence of other intending beings (usually humans, but sometimes also spirits or gods making nature into "music").

Recording was a tool for freezing and dissecting sound in its origins. Read Friedrich Kittler (*Discourse Networks*) or Jonathan Sterne (*The Audible Past*) or Michael Taussig (*Mimesis and Alterity*) and you will gain a lot of relevant historical perspective on just how recent recording is, and how its "magic" is characteristically modern (and Western). We are still wired neurobiologically to hear music as a sign of life and sentience (and possibly threat) and to use our stereophonic hearing to triangulate and locate and track the movements of objects (or rather beings) in our proximate physical environment and contemporaneous experience.

Recorded music *is not* "music." Your experience of it may be music. The making of it may be music. But the recording itself is a medium that, regardless of audio "fidelity," is fundamentally distorting of musical communication. The people on that record could have been dead for years. Or they might not even know their sounds are on the recording. Almost certainly, they don't know you and will never know you, or vice versa (in most cases).

This technology has opened up huge new vistas of possibility for musical exchange, sharing, appropriation, theft, archiving, etc. But it has rapidly replaced experiencing music as live communication for most people in developed societies, to the point that many of us get well over 95% of our total lifetime musical experience delivered by recordings made before our moment of listening.

I'm not disparaging recording. My earlier comment that we are simply looking through the wrong end of the evolutionary telescope whenever we try to figure out what "music" is or see "live" music as exotic, unusual, optional, derivative, less than a recording, etc. is simply meant to question the parameters that make "live vs. recorded" an even match. They are two different things. One is at least 40,000 years old (at least, and that likely is a gross underestimation, it's just precisely that music does not survive its moment of creation before recording -- or music notation, which is an early, non-sonic version of recording, likely no more than a couple of thousand years old in its earliest incarnations), so we have to go by things like purported musical instruments and purported acoustically optimized environments and the physiology of the human vocal tract (and to some extent the use of "song" by other species in the present as an analogy) to even guess "how old is music?"

Your favorite band may still suck live worse than on their records. But that's only because we have learned (culturally) to hear decontextualized schizophonic recordings as equivalent to -- or in fact better than -- people in our presence communicating with sound. What's the advantage of recordings in a nutshell? No annoying other people copresent with you to help shape your experience of sound. That's it. Recorded music allows us to autonomize, individualize, and privatize musical experience. It's of a piece with modern Western culture in general in its rejection of collective experience as normative. But music has to have been mostly or entirely a form of collective social experience for the vast, vast majority of its evolutionary and social history.

By the way, I played in loud bands, for a good part of my living, from the mid 1970s until the mid 1990s, ranging from heavy metal to funk to reggae to country and western. For whatever reasons, I never wore ear protection, and never could stand the sensation of having my ears plugged up. I loved it loud. I still do. (And perhaps anomalously, I have almost zero hearing loss at 51, to the point that I sometimes mock the obsessives -- loud music is much less damaging to your hearing than short loud sounds like gunfire, since your hearing adjusts over time to protect itself from sustained high volume sounds). I'm lucky I guess, but I also think we are now accustomed to controlling music's volume and tone and timbral qualities through audio technologies that didn't exist 150 years ago (although one could argue concert halls were early amplifiers, and before that caves were natural delay units, etc.). The very idea that one should be able to experience music live "as if" it were a recording is funny to me, like having a volume control for our own experience. And of course most live music we ever hear (including all that discussed in the OP article and this thread, mostly focused on "bands") was conceived in the age of recording and solipsistic listening, as privately experienced, perfectly controlled recorded music first, live, collectively experienced, out of our control music second, so of course the experience of hearing it live will not be "as good" as hearing it recorded. (In my days of playing Top 40/GB, we referred to ourselves as "human jukeboxes," since our job was always to sound as much like "the record" as possible.)

I'd still trade one live Buddy Guy show for ten thousand blues records.
posted by spitbull at 7:12 AM on February 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


Yeah, pretty much what everyone else has said ...... if you don't like live music you don't have to go to it (and you also don't have to support artists you like and make sure they at least get some damn money out of what they do to keep themselves afloat and to continue to produce music that you like/appreciate/love). Live music can be an exhausting, irritating, unpleasant, awful experience, but so can most communal experiences these days, including just going to the local supermarket. I haven't been to a live show in far too long but the greatest ones I did go to changed my way of approaching and thinking about the musicians who performed -- and made me love music even more than I already did.
posted by blucevalo at 7:14 AM on February 12, 2015


Frowner, oh wow, you just brought me back to a Versus show that was one of the best live shows I've ever experienced. They were headlining the Middle East and the owner of the club was rocking out so much, he told them to keep playing past whatever time the club was supposed to shut down. The energy at that show was amazing, that is a band from the 90s I really miss.

I used to love going to shows so much years ago. Now, I am way too old and impatient to deal with the time it takes to stand around waiting for the show to start and the crowd of people who are all taller than me pushing me around. And all the bands I like play at venues that are way too expensive (House of Blues, I'm looking at you). I'm going to see Sleater-Kinney in a couple of weeks because, well, it's S-K, and they are a force of nature live. The night after that I'm going to see the Twilight Sad because I saw them a couple of months ago and I have never seen a band Bring It the way those guys did. Some mind-blowingly good live bands I've seen over the years- The National, Hovercraft, Neutral Milk Hotel pre-reunion, The Make-Up, Superchunk, and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die. Sometimes there's a magic combination of band energy and crowd energy that makes for a really special night. Now I just wish those special nights could start at 7 and get me home by 11. Venue owners, start a club for middle aged people with seating and early show times, I'll be there!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 7:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Now I just wish those special nights could start at 7 and get me home by 11. Venue owners, start a club for middle aged people with seating and early show times, I'll be there!

I would like to favorite this a bajillion times. I love live music, I miss seeing live music, but man, it has to be a band/artist I really really really want to see in order to brave the loudness, the drunk people, the people who keep talking throughout the show, the people who have decided the best way to see a live show is via their iPhone, and it being Oh God O'Clock when I leave a venue.

(Yes, I'm sorry that I sound so old at 38.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:26 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I would like to favorite this a bajillion times. I love live music, I miss seeing live music, but man, it has to be a band/artist I really really really want to see in order to brave the loudness, the drunk people, the people who keep talking throughout the show, the people who have decided the best way to see a live show is via their iPhone, and it being Oh God O'Clock when I leave a venue.


The best live shows are the ones that people can't bear to look away and at their phones. I know that's what I strive for when I play.
posted by josher71 at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Recorded music *is not* "music."

Are the people in movies not really "acting?"
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Face it, any article with a headline starting with "Face It" is never, ever worth reading.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I really dislike this type of article that attempts to make an objective point about a subjective opinion. It's an inaccessible argument because it says "either you agree with me or you're wrong." A far more interesting article would be an examination of why the author dislikes live music and how his expectations influence that.

It sounds like the author expects live music to live up to eyewitness accounts of The Beatles and how those shows were life-changing or whatever, and feels like a sucker because he doesn't have the resolve to leave a show early or say no. I think there's an impetus to discover new music and expand your horizons, which is good, but requires a lot of trial and error, which is wearying with time.

I've been to enough disappointing or unmemorable shows that I only see bands I enjoy, and I wear earplugs because I hate earaches and can sometimes hear the lyrics better. Also, unless I know them, I skip the opening act because I'd rather spend that hour reading than bored with increasingly sore feet.

All this makes me sound like a cranky old man, which is fine because I age every day. Sure, I'll miss an unexpected gem like the Man Man concert I went in to blind, but I'll also miss an evening where I grow increasingly agitated because David Bazan bores me, and I would have rather bake the no-knead bread rising on my counter.

So I save my time and attention for the good ones, because even though I've heard it hundreds of times through headphones, hearing Neil Fallon sing Bang bang bang BANG! Vamonos, vamonos! while feeling the bass in my bones at the end of an hour-long show feels transcendent every time.
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:30 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm convinced. Over a thousand shows, and really I was just trying to look too cool to admit that the recording industry does a better job delivering sound to my ears.

Remind me not to go to a show in Columbia, Mo. This person should have moved somewhere with a better music scene, or at least one that is more aligned to his/her tastes.

hippybear: you would be disappoint with bumbershoot these days. Folk Life is where its at in Seattle as far as festivals. Ew, stay away from Capitol Hill Block Party. I still like to go to bumbershoot if I can, because there are still always some moments, but most of my friends make fun of me so I go alone. If you are over here for it one year, drop me a line, cuz chances are I'm looking for someone to go with
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with a lot of what he writes here. Also, lighten up people, it's an opinion piece and obviously played up for laughs.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sometimes you go to a show for the music. Pick a great venue and a band that consistently puts on good live shows.

Sometimes you go to a show for the crowd, to be surrounded by other folks who like the band, or want to dance, or like a light show. Pick a great venue, pick the right friends to go with you.

Sometimes you roll the dice, hoping you will find a new band or a new scene. have fun, don't have high expectations, don't take party poopers with you.

enjoying live music isn't that difficult.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Clearly, this guy's never seen Prince.
posted by elmer benson at 7:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey, when I want your opinion piece, I'll write it for you.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 7:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Get off our moshpit.
posted by y2karl at 7:40 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article failed right from the start when it said "I'm about to give you my opinion and if you don't agree with me then you're obviously lying to yourself".

This guy doesn't dislike live music, he dislikes music. What he likes is listening to records, tapes, CDs, or whatever format of overproduced, overdubbed, over-engineered popular "product" he prefers. But he doesn't like actual music as a creative medium.

I love live music. Hell, I turn 50 in a couple of weeks and I still love seeing bands I've never heard of in local clubs. I even moved downtown a couple of years ago so I could do it more often and not worry about staying sober enough to drive home. There's a local festival coming up where bands (15 in all) play simultaneously on 3 floors of a venue and I can wander from floor to floor picking which ones I want to stay and listen to. Last year's was fantastic.
posted by rocket88 at 7:40 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bruce Springsteen, even in a massive arena, is a religious experience.
posted by uraniumwilly at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wanted to like this piece, because live music often leaves something to be desired, but then I got tripped up on a few of the major points the author was trying to make.

Then I realized, if I total up every live music show I've been to, from stadiums to open-mics, it's probably about 100 concerts of various sizes and famous-ness of acts. About 10 of those are memorable, and were amazing enough experiences that I'm ok forgetting the other 90 concerts. Among those ten were mostly my favorite bands having a great night but that also includes a couple bands I had never seen before, but were so charismatic and electric on stage that I became immediate lifelong fans of them.

So in summary, there's a lot of dislike about the live music experience (the noise, and me needing ear plugs to see anyone famous is kind of crazy), but the few incredible moments and gems among the many shows you might attend make it all worth it in the end.
posted by mathowie at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now I just wish those special nights could start at 7 and get me home by 11. Venue owners, start a club for middle aged people with seating and early show times, I'll be there!

Every show I've been to for years has ended by 11. Maybe it's a regulation here, not sure.
posted by octothorpe at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2015


If you illustrate your essay with a photo of your rap group in a live performance, and you are wearing a paper cat mask and socks on your hands, then I have sad news for you.

YOU are the reason music sucks.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'll take a recorded drum set over a live one any day of the week. Drums sound like crap live.
posted by readyfreddy at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015


There is a lot of real estate--lines to get out of the venue, the walk to the car, lines to get out of the parking area, the drive home--between "ends by 11" and "home by 11."
posted by MoonOrb at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey I'm going to drop some obscure hipster acts over the course of my "everything sucks" blog post. Is that alright guys?

Guys?
posted by GreyboxHero at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This piece is a good example of okay writing being utterly betrayed by a terrible attention-getting headline. It doesn't really work as an indictment of ALL live music – what would? – but it does kinda work as a wake-up-call sorta thing a la "hey folks, a lot of live music is terrible, can we please pull together to make it better?" – which is where the author ends up by the last few paragraphs.
posted by koeselitz at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


There is a lot of real estate--lines to get out of the venue, the walk to the car, lines to get out of the parking area, the drive home--between "ends by 11" and "home by 11."

A big part of why we moved back into the middle of the city was so that we could get to and from cultural events easily, usually by walking, but I do remember the pain of having to get deal with that stuff when we lived in the suburbs.
posted by octothorpe at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every show I've been to for years has ended by 11. Maybe it's a regulation here, not sure.


Almost has to be because that is not the case anywhere I've ever lived.
posted by josher71 at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't wait until Joanna Newsom starts touring again
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:03 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The conflation of live music with a certain subset of musical performance in many of the comments here is unfortunate.

And then there's those shows that are more or less friends playing music together. Half the crowd knows each other, people walk on and off stage to try their hand at an instrument. Someone knows how to flow real well so suddenly the indie rock band has a rap chorus. People are screenprinting shirts in the back for $5. Someone else has brought a keg and hidden it behind a tree. I'm sorry the author doesn't have those experiences.

This. I listen to, see, and/or dance to live music between two and five times per week - probably averaging out to about 2.5 times per week. Some of it is just friends noodling around such that I don't feel bad adding in my mediocre kazoo accompaniment or applying the egg shaker that's just been handed to me. Some if it is friends who are top notch musicians noodling around in a setting where the performer-audience distinction is a bit more well-defined. (As some comments above note, the performer-audience relationship is bi-directional even when the two roles are more distinct, of course.)

Everywhere that I see live music involves the option of seating, as well as the option of talking. Almost everywhere involves the option of dancing, if not being entirely focused on dancing with the live music being in support of that. Everywhere that I see live music involves the option of food, whether for sale or potluck or byo; and many places involve the option of alcoholic beverage consumption, whether for sale or byo. Some of the houses that I regularly see live music in are not accessible, and some of the public venues, while technically accessible, would present some obstacles to people with certain mobility impairments. The live-music-going community in my area tends to be aware of and do their best to compensate for these structural deficiencies through making space at the front of the crowd and such, at least. The audiences tend to be a very broad range of ages (teen through 70s) and at least somewhat of a range of genders (more than two, though not by much; that is an issue). Earplugs are not a necessity (though sound quality does vary by venue, despite the best efforts of some very talented sound techs). And sexist assholery is actively discouraged.

'Course, the maximum audience or audience+musicians group size anywhere hereabouts that's not an outdoor festival is between 30 and 180, and my local music scene involves a pretty regular set of both musicians and audience who all know each other, and about half of everyone in the audience will be a musician on some level (at least dabbler) because we're a rural area and have to make our own entertainment, plus, cultural history of kitchen parties.

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that's the fundamental problem here. My fellow mefites: you need to get out to some kitchen parties. "Live music" isn't some special thing that you have to go to special performances for only at select special times and places. It's just an everyday part of life and of socializing with friends - at least historically and still at present in some places.
posted by eviemath at 8:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw The XX during their first trip to the states a few years ago. Zola Jesus opened for them. Glam crap, totally sucked. But I do recall some real instruments onstage. Warpaint came next and they rocked the house. All rock instruments, playing their asses off. Unfortunately they've already jumped the shark with their second album where they suddenly became a more ambient post-discoey kind of grossness.

Then finally The XX came out, the guy and the girl stood there with guitars, sort of playing them but obviously complete amateurs technically. The other guy stood behind a table dicking around with a laptop and slapping a drum machine with his fingers. Seriously, they couldn't hire a drummer? The only thing moving onstage were the swirling lights. At least Warpaint could play. What are those laptop "musicians" doing anyway, looking at Chaturbate?
posted by ReeMonster at 8:07 AM on February 12, 2015


After a decade of sparing live shows I have been really get back in to live music as of late.
I recently saw Owen Pallet live and it was probably the best show of my life. Others agree.
I have also been attending a lot of random punk and metal shows, 2 genres I follow very little, and have been having a great time. We have a place that books a lot of $5-$10 cover shows, and you can go and have perogies, drinks, pinball and listen to loud music on a good sound system. I am really enjoying the casual experience of heading out to a show and not knowing what to expect, but knowing I will have a great evening.
posted by Theta States at 8:07 AM on February 12, 2015


I'll take a recorded drum set over a live one any day of the week. Drums sound like crap live, in my opinion.

FTFY.
posted by cooker girl at 8:14 AM on February 12, 2015


Oh God they're so loud. So so loud. And so many rock bands have literally no idea how to mix and balance themselves, and play at no volume other than fortissimo. Its like a Michael Bay movie where things just scream and explode for three hours with no emotional variation and then you go home with a splitting headache.

I have seen some shows where the experience was worth the pain, but I think at this point Springsteen is the only rock act I'd be willing to suffer the headache to see live, and I've gotten really picky about my jazz venues too because OH GOD SO LOUD.

The last big rock show I went to the headache was so bad I almost couldn't drive home. The volume level doesn't bother my husband nearly as much, I know it is not a universal complaint, but I just can't take it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I see lots of live music, nearly all of it in venues that hold fewer than 1000 people. It nearly always is a mix of pure joy (from the performance) and extreme annoyance at others in the crowd. There are always entitled people who force their way to the front of the crowd, even though they got there late (and the rest of us got there early to be close to the band). There is supertalldude who forces his way into the exact center of the crowd and stays there. There is ten-gallon hat dude who stands right in front of me. There are the people who don't even try to squeeze through the crowd--they just body check people out of their way. There is codependent couple right in front of me, dancing in such a way that requires 10' of space.

I often feel totally alienated from humanity at shows. But I still love going.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:17 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


But from a probability standpoint, any given stage will contain far more charisma-deficit oafs capably playing songs you have no emotional connection to, with harmonies that make you pinch your own arm for fun, and with sound run by a guy who is probably preoccupied by a flamewar he started on the local sound-guy messageboard.

Reminds me of Paul & Storm's Opening Band.
posted by phearlez at 8:19 AM on February 12, 2015


I'll take a recorded drum set over a live one any day of the week. Drums sound like crap live.

"Wait whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" - Jon Wurster
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


My fellow mefites: you need to get out to some kitchen parties.

As soon as I'm invited I'll do this.
posted by josher71 at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(I probably see 10-12 shows a year, out of which 5 are crap, 2 are ok, 3 are good, and one is MAGIC THAT GIVES ME FAITH IN THE HUMAN SPIRIT AND MY OWN IMMORTAL SOUL and I feel like those odds are just fine.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:21 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Empress: PG finished with Biko in the same manner a couple years ago. Agreed; it's totally amazing.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:21 AM on February 12, 2015


In order to understand Beowulf, you must have an Anglo-Saxon bard recite it to you live in period clothing. Horned helmet and all. Anything else doesn't count!
posted by gimonca at 8:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


...with a flagon of mead.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some of the best, thrillingest, most transcendent times of my life have been at live shows. I have a running list of shows I would visit if I come across a time machine someday (before heading off to find young Hitler, of course).

But a lot of that thrill would go if I weren't young, healthy, and tall, with somewhat middling hearing to begin with.
posted by sallybrown at 8:24 AM on February 12, 2015


I suppose "The guitar rock scene in central Missouri can be hit and miss" is a less exciting title than "Face it, live music kinda sucks." But, it better describes the content. And, if you ask me, suggesting that "Have jokes ready" is good advice for musicians means you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

To be fair, I agree that most live music is terrible. I'd also argue that most recorded music is terrible. Most books and plays and films and television programs and opera performances and theater and video games and choirs and marching bands and visual artists and performance artists and magicians and jugglers and DJs and chefs and mixologists and taco stands are terrible. It's the hunt for the fantastic outliers that make most stuff worth consuming.
posted by eotvos at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Rejected headline: "I Feel Weird About Being in My Thirties Now"
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [21 favorites]


In 2002 I took my mom and my cancer-striken father to see Sir Paul. When he came on stage, my mom and I both wept tears of excitement while my dad scowled at the overblown drama. Looking over at him during the opening strains of "Can't Buy Me Love", my dad was on his feet, hands in the hair, "WHOOOOOP"-ing with delight.

Don't like live music, eh? Then clear the fuck out and make room for those of us with a heart.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Smaller venues, acoustic acts, and house concerts are all great suggestions and good ways to experience live music. The majority of my music ingestion comes in that form. But this ignores the fact that for some groups and genres, this just isn't an option. Wilco will not be playing the 100 seat listening room that I work for. And it's those cases where I find a dearth of seating, and way too much volume, and would welcome a change.
posted by Polyhymnia at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2015


Empress: PG finished with Biko in the same manner a couple years ago. Agreed; it's totally amazing.

Huh. It's actually slightly strange he did; he always said that he would retire the song when South Africa did away with apartheid. And I saw him again in 2003, and sure enough, he closed the show with Here Comes The Flood instead. There must have been some Significant Thing that happened - Mandela's death, maybe?

Speaking of live stuff - in the 2003 show he brought a zorb onstage and did the entire song from inside it, rolling around in it and making it bounce. And then later in the set he'd come up with a way for him and his daughter to sing part of "Downside Up" actually literally downside up.

(sighs happily) He is such a gloriously unashamed weirdo.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing about shows that suck: you can always leave. The ticket price is a sunk cost, but if the show sucks, you can get up and go home and console yourself with your favorite album or something from Netflix or a late night snack at your favorite 24-hour breakfast place on the way.

I figured this out a few years ago. It's made my life as a concert-goer much happier. I still end up at un-fun shows occasionally, but I don't have to suffer through them.
posted by immlass at 8:30 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was dragged to see Bert Jansch by my dad when he played at Bumbershoot- ~10 years ago, now? Ended up sitting on the ground almost under his feet. It was the nearest thing to magic.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Taking this piece's assertions at face value rather than reading them mythically - a fabulist assertion around a narrative piece that contains a larger truth - is a mistake. I enjoyed it, and I love live music. I also agree with many of the problems he overtly and implicitly lists.
posted by phearlez at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whatever small morsels of truth may be embedded in the GRAR-ogenic slatepitchy envelope, this article still seems to have been informed by the author's implicit failure as a musician, manager, and record label owner. The token expressions of concern for marginalized groups is actually somewhat offensive to me because of that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't want to brag or anything, but I once played a live gig that was so crappy, every single person who heard it went on to found their own band, all of which were crappy. You've never heard of any of them. It's taken on the power of legend now, and even people who were there the whole time pretend they weren't.

Live music is powerful.
posted by kyrademon at 8:35 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


For several years, I went to a festival in Eugene, OR called faerieworlds, which involved a lot of live bands (along with a lot of silliness. My girlfriend was a vendor. I make no other apologies.) They were, as this article holds, bands I didn't know, and most of them didn't thrill me. But there were always one or two who were really freakin' good, and not my genre at all.

Delhi 2 Dublin is completely amazeballs live. They're good as a recorded act, but live? So much fun. So much better. And they're not remotely the only ones.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:36 AM on February 12, 2015


Reading these comments reminds me why I solidified my dislike of rock (and its descendants) in concert form into a basic refusal to consider going to a show again: namely, the attitude people give me when I tell them "no I'd rather not go see that band you think is awesome but if you want to get a drink and hang out we can do that later". Usually it's something like this: YOU ARE A BLACK HOLE OF NO FUN AND YOU PROBABLY HAVE NO REAL FEELINGS OR PASSION AND HATE LIFE. IF YOU DON'T GO TO A SHOW AND HAVE THE SAME TRANSPLENDENT EXPERIENCE AS ME YOUR LIFE IS MEANINGLESS YOU SHOULD PROBABLY DIE.

I mean, go enjoy the things you enjoy. But don't tell me I have "no heart" because I don't enjoy them.
posted by dis_integration at 8:38 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Are the people in movies not really "acting?"

Glib missing of my point.

They WERE really acting when they made the movie. You ARE really interpreting their acting when you watch the movie. But these two moments do not coincide the way they do in live theater. This allows for many amazing things to happen, and we tolerate the illusion of life as its own particular kind of experience. But would you rather watch a movie of your own kid's birth or be present in the delivery room? Are the two equivalent experiences?

And that said, we have a much longer history of using images to preserve visual experiences over time than we do of using sound in the same way. As in likely 100,000 years or more longer. Cave drawings could show people or animals doing things in the past or the future. They could be understood as representations. Humans have been making preserved visual representations since we lived in caves. Music could not be captured in the same way (or sound, generally). That came about only with notation, at first (and that's likely within the last couple thousand years for even the most rudimentary forms) and then recording.
posted by spitbull at 8:44 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Empress: I saw that 2003 show, too. I think it was slightly better than the very last one (Back to Front). But both were pretty great.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:48 AM on February 12, 2015


would you rather watch a movie of your own kid's birth or be present in the delivery room

If I could have given birth via video, I would so totally have picked that option.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:48 AM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Every show I've been to for years has ended by 11. Maybe it's a regulation here, not sure.

When I lived in Atlanta and you went to see a Biggish Name band that wasn't a friend's band or someone local you liked, doors open at 7, opening act at either 7:30 or 8, the main event an hour after, everything is wrapped up by 11. But if you went to see local acts, ain't nobody getting on that stage until 11 at the earliest.
posted by Kitteh at 8:52 AM on February 12, 2015


lol what a ridiculous article

a link to this is currently on the front page of the site that shall not be named:

guy starts teasing you shook me all night long during crowd banter and crowd runs with it
posted by lulz at 8:55 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


the site that shall not be named

Plastic?
posted by thelonius at 8:58 AM on February 12, 2015


Spitball, Recorded music is patently music. Luckily, you used "music" in your statement. Now can you please explain what differentiates "music" from music?

I think conflating the birth of your child to someone else playing music in which you had no creative input is a little unfair. I wouldn't like to be present at the birth of YOUR child, or watch it on a video. I think that would be a bit weird.

It's clear that there are a significant number of people who agree with the OP on this issue. I think that makes it worth having this opinion on the internet. No need to dismiss him out of hand.
posted by trif at 9:01 AM on February 12, 2015


I don't enjoy concerts, generally, but I really love music. Most people I know who are into music really love live shows. * gallic shrug *

That said, I just now learned about Sensory Processing Disorder in this thread, and holy shit, would that explain a lot about me.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guaran-goddamn-tee you Sleater-Kinney's gonna be a religious experience.
posted by whuppy at 9:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


@spitbull: This is essentially a semantic disagreement. What music "is" - if there can be a universal definition - most certainly encompasses more than just people playing instruments or singing in a live context. That the development of mechanical and electronic production of musical sound is a relatively recent phenomena does not discount the experience of hearing those sounds as a "musical experience." I heard the same argument in music school and thought it equally ridiculous then.

There is no doubt that music performed live is qualitatively and sociologically distinct from listening to recorded music but neither one nor the other is "real" music in any meaningful way
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:17 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


My goodness, quite the topic, rock my earn a place with the mods among Israel and gender studies...

Not to be elitist but my usual dissatisfaction at live performances is any amplification. Well not Rock obviously, although I did see a "street musician" that was elevated to a big club and realized I what I really wanted to hear was her with just a guitar and a few dozen folks huddled around. But the environment of any music seems almost corrupted by the expectation of loudness, and audiences that can't be quiet, so there are these insanely subtle voices and strings that are flattened and sound like an mp3.
posted by sammyo at 9:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: YOU ARE A BLACK HOLE OF NO FUN AND YOU PROBABLY HAVE NO REAL FEELINGS OR PASSION AND HATE LIFE.
posted by virago at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


the attitude people give me when I tell them "no I'd rather not go see that band you think is awesome but if you want to get a drink and hang out we can do that later". Usually it's something like this: YOU ARE A BLACK HOLE OF NO FUN AND YOU PROBABLY HAVE NO REAL FEELINGS OR PASSION AND HATE LIFE. IF YOU DON'T GO TO A SHOW AND HAVE THE SAME TRANSPLENDENT EXPERIENCE AS ME YOUR LIFE IS MEANINGLESS YOU SHOULD PROBABLY DIE.

1) People tend to overstate things that they're passionate about, particularly when they're young.

2) If they're not that young, won't let go of it and/or won't respond to a little gentle admonishment, consider a friend upgrade.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:28 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I used to average a show a week, mostly at small bars and all ages venues. I really got into the local scene, seeing those bands develop (and avoiding bands like the author was in). And seeing smaller touring artists as openers (St. Vincent, Deerhunter, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Black Keys).

I cut back not because live music is bad but because it was getting more difficult to get up for work the next morning. But also moving to NYC for a while and seeing more opera, chamber, and orchestral concerts (the younger me would've have been shocked). As has been mentioned, these are generally seated and often over at a reasonable time.

I still see some rock-type shows and there are many more I'd like to see... but won't. And I still think this article is ridiculous. If he's seeing all the bad parts of shows it's a good time to cut back... but that is more about him and his (current) preferences than about live music in general.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:36 AM on February 12, 2015


Spitball, Recorded music is patently music.

It's spitbull. And that is patently a tautology.
posted by spitbull at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


the attitude people give me when I tell them "no I'd rather not go see that band you think is awesome but if you want to get a drink and hang out we can do that later".

Well to be fair the polite thing to do when someone invites you to a thing you dislike is to feign unavailability. You can't just say, "no, I hate that thing you like" and then be surprised if they take offense or get defensive.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:43 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


But ok, I said it above and I'll say it again. For tens of thousands of years "music" was only and always a sign of sentient, conscious beings in your immediate physical presence (or an abstraction of that for philosophical purposes). For about 1000 years "music" has included notation intended to help recreate consistent versions of performances. For about 120 years "music" has also included recordings that capture living, co-present people (or not even, of late) for posterity and are listened to by other people not co-present with the recording process.

These are three different senses of the word "music." I'm not saying any one of them is "wrong," just that one of them has a deep evolutionary legacy in our brains and social organization that we are not likely to have surpassed and left behind in 120 years of recording technology. I even cited major works of scholarly literature on these points. But you come back with "but the word 'music' is in all of them so therefore they are all the same thing" as if I hadn't thought of that, or hundreds of philosophers, anthropologists, music theorists, etc. hadn't thought of that. It's the nominalist fallacy, in case you want to look it up. We use the same word to describe different things that are related but not alike. The differences, I am asserting, matter, with one meaning of the word being far more primary to human evolution, culture, and experience over a vastly longer period of time (to the point that we are hardwired to understand "music" in the live context in adaptive ways, I could cite plenty more lit on this if you like).

As an anthropologist of music and language (or song, as I prefer), I define music first and foremost as the *activity* of making structured sound (structured in non-referential dimensions that are foregrounded as basic to the communicative intent of the gesture) by people who are copresent, and the activity of interpreting and responding to those sounds by people who are copresent. "Music" happens in the recording studio. It happens in the dance club when the DJ spins the record for a crowd. It even happens when we play or listen to music alone (collective experience allows for solitary experiences within it). However the conflation of the inert recording -- an object that can be replicated endlessly, destroyed easily, or circulated widely -- as "music" without acknowledging that it is a representation of collective activity that produced it, and a representation that is capable of stripping away many contextual aspects of that activity and replacing them with new ones (you can dance all night to a sacred Hopi chant never meant for your ears if you want) is to make a categorical error, of the sort your nominalist statement actually makes, trif.
posted by spitbull at 9:47 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I completely, completely disagree, and instead think this entire article could read: "Don't go to live shows if you don't like live shows."

I've been to a lot of live shows, but the three "rock" ish ones I guess that I remember the most vividly were Gwar, Mindless Self Indulgence, and Rage Against The Machine. And in each case, it wasn't just "bored audience stands and watches bored entertainers." It was "Excited audience watches excited entertainers, and occasionally shoves each other with the music and has a motherfucking blast." Yeah, of course if the show is boring enough that a guy is explaining the Lego movie to his date then it's going to suck. But you don't go see boring shows live. You go to see shows live when the performers are actually showmen and the audience is excited to be there. Maybe that's the hipster problem - not being excited about anything means you can't even pretend to have fun.
posted by corb at 9:47 AM on February 12, 2015


Also, "live music" /= "rock bands playing in clubs." It's a bit broader phenomenon than that. And again as I said, almost all the discussion in this article and this thread deals with music that was created specifically to be mediated by recordings, for which live performances are advertisements, in essence.
posted by spitbull at 9:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been surprised more than once at going to see (at the instigation of others) musicians live I never much cared for one way or the other and found them to be much more interesting live. But did that make me run out and buy all their albums? No. I've never been disappointed at going to see any musician I actually liked. So I guess I would mildly disagree with that article I just skimmed through.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:54 AM on February 12, 2015


would you rather watch a movie of your own kid's birth or be present in the delivery room
If I could have given birth via video, I would so totally have picked that option.
posted by Daily Alice


LOL, you got me there. I was invoking a male perspective on birth (and assuming I was responding to a male commenter).

So would you rather get married in person (to anyone of any gender) or exchange mp3s of your vows?
posted by spitbull at 10:00 AM on February 12, 2015


Wilco will not be playing the 100 seat listening room that I work for.

But they will be playing in an outdoor courtyard at a contemporary art museum in Massachusetts, and that's a pretty fantastic experience.
posted by Miko at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Then finally The XX came out, the guy and the girl stood there with guitars, sort of playing them but obviously complete amateurs technically. The other guy stood behind a table dicking around with a laptop and slapping a drum machine with his fingers.

I saw them with Grizzly Bear and even though I liked the one XX album I had, I had the same experience. I think mostly I was pissed that I got there to find that Grizzly Bear was not the headliner, which made no sense. Also XX had a shitload of fog machines and the electronic sub-bass was so loud it made the inside of my ears rattle. And I love rock music and can deal with quite a big of loudness. But I just left, which was ok.

R.e. "live music sucks" this guy needs to quit bitching. I'm 45 and have back problems bad enough that I hurt after standing more than 45 minutes, and I've still enjoyed the hell out of shows in the last few years, even (or especially) ones in small places where the opening bands sucked and I was there forever and ever.

Now what *does* suck (in my opinion) is the majority of rock live albums. If I'm at home I'd rather hear the careful mixing and overdubs and all that stuff that makes recorded music a different and amazing thing from live music.

Some recent examples of shows I went to that were amazing:

* Ex Hex - tight band, loud, fun, no BS
* Dwight Yoakam (pricey sit-down show) - fantastically energetic yound backing band. Stripped down rock/country at its best.
* tune-yards - ridiculously arty stage costumes and set mixed with fantastic, innovative songs and a down-to-earth rapport with the crowd
* Shovels and Rope - a LOT of sound put out by two people
* Medeski/Martin/Wood/Scofield - John Medeski had a grand piano and his Hammond organ. Midway through the show the organ (well the speaker) stopped working and he played the whole second set on piano. Totally unique experience that just happened and was fantastic.

If I think back to my first show in like 1987 and to all the stuff I've seen since then, it's been amazing. And I mean, I *hate* crowds.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:18 AM on February 12, 2015


I am completely onboard with spitbull's points. It may be partly because I am a musician myself, and also a student and sometime museum interpreter of music history, but music is fundamentally interpersonal communication. Whenever I play with others I find that it amounts to an experience I'm not well able to articulate in language - it is a really deep, almost pre-language form of communication that can really only take place musically. It isn't something available at all, though, if you are not with others. Even non-musicians have access to a form of this experience while in the presence of musicians, because they're listening, watching, responding with their eyes and sometimes voice and body, sometimes in a structured interaction with the music and sometimes free-form, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively, and there is a palpable transfer of meaning and energy that is part of that. That is what the activitiy of music, "musicing," is. That level of transfer is simply impossible with recorded music, as wonderful as recorded music can be, and as good at other things as recorded music is.
posted by Miko at 10:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's clear that there are a significant number of people who agree with the OP on this issue. I think that makes it worth having this opinion on the internet. No need to dismiss him out of hand.

That is pretty much the only thing in the toolbox of the I am Serious About Music crowd, though.
posted by phearlez at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Recordings are great if there's nothing else but it's just not the same.

I completely agree, they're not the same. Recordings are better. And if you don't agree you're not a civilized human being.

/robble-robble

So would you rather get married in person (to anyone of any gender) or exchange mp3s of your vows?

This is nonsense. Electric guitars are not real. They produce an electric signal that amplifiers convert into sound. There's nothing natural about any musical instrument or audio playback device. They're all just machines for sculpting and reproducing electrical signals as sound.

And the fact is, a lot of people really do hate live music. Are you really so superior to them that you get to dictate the terms under which they're allowed to appreciate and understand music?

Long ago, music and poetry were one in the same. Poetry and music weren't even understood as different arts. Do you insist that every musician be a poet who can recite the latest epics from memory, too, or is it really only certain historically recent cultural ideas about what music is that your point-of-view represents? What music means and how people think about it has changed so drastically and in so many ways in different cultural and historical contexts, I think it's absolutely true that the emphasis on live performance as some kind of purity test for musicianship is really just a prejudice of Americans still very attached to the cultural ideals and historical outlook of the boomer generation and the 60s. For Americans who grew up constantly being told sentimental stories about Woodstock, it's easy to imagine everyone, everywhere always understood music as being principally about live performance, but that has not always been true. In the classical period, music was all about composition and the composer. Like closet-plays, people composed works they knew would never be performed just to exercise their technique and expand their theoretical knowledge. And people bought musical scores not simply to perform them, but to study them.

Nobody here or anywhere else should kid themselves into thinking there's some "natural" way of understanding what music is or should be. It's an art that has always been defined by the simulation of sound--simulating the sound of the human voice, simulating other natural sounds, etc. Most early music was very figurative--literally, people imitating the sounds of surf or rain or thunder or other natural phenomena using various contrived machines they built for that purpose.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had tickets to Rage Against the Machine and Beastie Boys but Mike D broke his arm and the show never happened so it exists only my aggrieved imagination and is therefore the most perfect concert of my youth because I forgot to imagine any seven dollar water bottles.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I once saw Devo perform at a zoo. There were monkeys screaming in the distance. Now that was an appropriate venue.
posted by theraflu at 10:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


where's twirlip? Pretty sure he can vouch for Guitar Wolf being absolutely excellent.

I mean yeah, I have been to boring or bad shows; a lot of it comes down to personal taste and preferences. I saw Soundgarden on their Superunknown tour and didn't much care for it despite having been a fan at the time. I've wandered in and out of bars in Seattle, many with bands playing that were people younger than me dressed in ye olde timey clothes with a washboard and a fiddle and a banjo and thought "nah, not my thing, this is boring" (worked out in the end when I got to the Funhouse and a punk band was playing.) I love hip hop, too, but most of the shows I've seen were pretty shit, frankly, for any number of reasons, some of which he's outlined (but I think he's overlooking that a lot of hip hop is also party music, and the guys are up there shouting and jumping because they want the crowd to get crazy. Doesn't always work but still.).

But man there's a reason I keep going back to shows and it's not because other people tell me it's fun. A couple of festivals and all-ages shows I went to in the 90s were great. I saw the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and L7 all on the stage at the same time. You don't see that every day! I saw the P-Funk All-Stars and Fishbone absolutely wreck it. I saw Tool twice, about the time they released Undertow, and they were really good (if way too loud). Not my thing anymore but man they had presence up there. And Fugazi. Both times, holy shit are they a good live band. And have any of you guys seen Biz Markie live? That guy makes a stadium feel like you're a teenager throwing a party in your basement while your parents are away.

People go to shows for different reasons though. I've gotten that impression from enough MeFi threads on concerts. You wouldn't catch me dead in a show where everyone just stands there and stares reverently at the stage in silence, but some people like to see music performed where that's the expectation. Me? I want to go to a loud, sweaty drunken party. Anyone can find either boring I guess, but to imply there's a big secret we're all keeping where shows suck is overstating things.

Also never had a beer spilled on me, for the record.
posted by Hoopo at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2015


Wilco will not be playing the 100 seat listening room that I work for.

But they will be playing in an outdoor courtyard at a contemporary art museum in Massachusetts, and that's a pretty fantastic experience.


I saw Wilco at an outdoor venue years ago on one of those first days of spring when it's surprising that it's warm and still light outside after 5 PM and you can wear a dress with no tights, with one of my chillest, kindest friends - we sat on the grass and watched all kinds of people mill around, with Wilco's music kind of floating in the background. Just lovely.
posted by sallybrown at 10:30 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a lot to say on this subject, but my opinions are too important, too real, to be fossilized into the dead symbols of so-called "written language" (which isn't really technically language at all).
posted by Pyry at 10:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm also in the list of people in this thread with upcoming Sleater Kinney tickets and boy am I excited. My wife is a long-term fan, but the thing that got me all the way into them is the new album. It's fantastic. 33 minutes or so of YES THIS IS WHY I LIKE ROCK.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2015


So many of his complaints are so valid! The loud thing -- I am a classical musician and I need to protect my hearing, so I wear earplugs, but sometimes those aren't enough. And I like going to loud shows where you can feel the bass in your body, but come on, there's a limit. And as for being hostile to women, yes, in a thousand ways; I think the only on-your-feet show I've ever been to where I haven't been casually groped (as in hands down my shirt inside my bra, sometimes) was the Rancid show where I got my nose broken in the mosh pit in the opening act. Apparently the two black eyes, blood all over the lower half of your face and your chest, grinning-death's-head look gives even malevolent creepers pause. And the short thing -- I'm 5'2", which is how come my nose was at that guy's elbow height to begin with. It's all real.

But man, live performance is a completely different animal than recorded music. My favorite shows have not been by my favorite bands, I went to a Soundgarden show in the mid-nineties where the Presidents of the USA were the opener and the PotUSA blew Soundgarden AWAY with how much fun their set was. Partly it's that performance is a different, separate skill from musicianship, and it's one that not everyone has. But partly, man, I dunno, there may not be any science to support it but there is a really palpable magic in performing music with other people. It's like you achieve a telepathic link with your fellow performers, and when everything's really On and you are clicking and hitting your marks and you find the groove together, and then with the AUDIENCE, and then there's this tense magic that settles in like an almost audible hum -- it's like sex, honestly, like really good sex, only nobody's lying on your arm and nobody ever gets a cramp or anything. You can't get it from listening to recorded music. It's the best thing in my life.
posted by KathrynT at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to love going out to shows but these days I hardly ever do anymore. Honestly a big part of it is just finding clueless/aggro crowds and uncomfortable venues with nowhere to sit down so irritating that I have to get super drunk in order to stop caring, and since I don't really like getting super drunk anymore, there's my coping strategy out the window.

Having said that, I've seen great shows at venues I kind of hate. At Terminal 5 (bad acoustics, nowhere to sit) I saw Owen Pallett and he was such a good live performer I became mildly obsessed; he was opening for Dirty Projectors, who were also stunning live, although their arrangements essentially didn't deviate from the recording. So if you like either of them, I recommend their live shows.

Electronic music live is a tough nut to crack. The problem is that this is my favorite type of music, especially heard on a big sound system. Yet at a lot of concerts basically everyone insists on raptly watching the stage while... basically nothing happens. Someone mixes records or types into a laptop; occasionally lights are shone on them. It's just so fucking awkward to just sit there looking at someone who is, at best, bobbing up and down while typing. It needs to be paired with something more visual, or put on in a different space from the stage/ballroom venue that these acts often seem to get booked in.

I managed to catch Kavinsky and he had solved this problem by essentially having a crazy light show; that's not in the budget of a lot of bedroom electronic musicians though. Nicolas Jaar had a very long, partly improvisational show but in a cool space at PS1, where you could wander in and out, take a break for a while, interact with the visuals (which were partly being rendered from visuals of the crowd), etc. And he had twists to it, too - singers would come out of the crowd and sing one song up on the stage and then leave, or a dancer would pop up on a platform and dance for thirty minutes or so.

Anyway, while this article is total clickbait, it is not actually shitting on live music, just on the systems that reinforce bad live music experiences. ITA with the conclusions, if not the annoying framing. (Also, yes, fucking volume, I have a [not otherwise memorable] show to blame for my thankfully mild tinnitus. And what's with venues where you can't even buy earplugs at the door/coat check?! Should be illegal IMHO.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2015


I'm a geezer now and some shows are just too damn loud now. I plan on seeing the Who in October and I'm going to have to wear earplugs. Some artists just need to turn it the hell down. Back in the 90s I went to see Elvis Costello at the Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis. Beautiful acoustics there, I've seen several shows at that venue and was always pleased. The Crash Test Dummies opened and they were a surprise. The harmonies between that deep baritone and the woman in the band were just fantastic. Plus they joked around between songs. You know, entertained. Elvis came on next. No interaction with the audience and the sound turned up to the point of distortion, with all those lyrics getting lost in a blur of sound. Utter disappointment.

Live music, when tied to things that matter, takes it to another level. I was at Vote for Change show in St Paul in October of 2004. Hard to tell which t-shirts were dominating, the anti-war or the Springsteen but that crowd was stoked. Bright Eyes opened, a little tentative at playing that big of a venue. Then REM comes on and Stipe is taking it to another level. The roof on that barn is levitating. Neil Young joins them for "Country Feedback", no one knew he was going to show. Bruce joins Stype for "Man on the Moon", just surreal. After REM, Bruce comes on with every song stripped down, no long intros, no vamps, not much for ballads either. Raw energy, crowd losing it. John Fogerty comes out, three songs including "Fortunate Son", dedicated to the current president. Utter insanity. Young comes out and his guitar is so freaking high in the mix. When he got to the line "Rockin in the Free World" he kept repeating that "we got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand" over and over and over. REM join Bruce for "Born to Run". Everyone comes out for a four song encore and it ends with "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding". I've rarely been so exhausted and so engaged. Yeah, live music can matter.
posted by Ber at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I went to a Soundgarden show in the mid-nineties where the Presidents of the USA were the opener and the PotUSA blew Soundgarden AWAY with how much fun their set was

Starting to get the impression maybe Soundgarden just weren't a great live band. Reverend Horton Heat did the same to them at the show I went to in the mid-90s.
posted by Hoopo at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks Miko. I'll pitch the book Musicking by Christopher Small. A little book that had a lot of influence on people who tended to equate "the score" with "the music" for about a century.

This is a heavy subject for me. I have actually published a formal definition of music from a social scientific point of view, so this is one of those threads where some of us want to get philosophical and some of us want to name our favorite shows and bands and some of us want to make glib one liners disparaging the ones who get philosophical, and some just want to hate on everyone else's favorite bands or brag about the shows they've gone to, and that's cool and very Metafiltery.

Like Miko, I think anyone who has spent a fair bit of time playing music (by definition live, even if it's in a studio) has a deeper sense of the phenomenological gulf being summoned here.

Aerosmith, Nassau Coliseum, 1977, first time I smoked good weed, which turns out to be the secret to enjoying all but the shittiest of live bands, which 1977 A'smith was decidedly not.
posted by spitbull at 10:38 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


@Spitbull: I do not have a nominalist view of music and resent your implication that I was merely using the word "music" to tie a bunch of stuff together. Music, as most of the world defines it, is the experience of interpreting structured soundwaves with our auditory cortex. Paper with notes on it is not music - it is a way to transmit musical ideas. A vinyl record is not music - it is a medium from which previously extant structured soundwaves which have been captured can be reproduced. At a live show it is not the performers who are the music, it is the sounds they make.

As a composer, I hear music in my head all of the time. Is that not music? Of course it is - it is, after all, what happens in my brain that is the important bit.

It is very impressive that you "published a formal definition of music from a social scientific point of view" but that does not make your definition the final say on the matter.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Music, as most of the world defines it,

Oh ok, grumpybear (I thought i was responding to trif). Take offense, see what I care. "Most of the world" is a gross exaggeration. And I am colleagues with many cognitive scientists of music and composers who agree with you. I think they are wrong.

We social scientists, who are fairly numerous now, do not. (I too was a composer first. The music in your head is a social product.)

Most of the world does not walk around with a formal definition of music to hand, but as someone who works on this subject cross-culturally, I'll excuse the ignorant generalization. In much of the world, "music" is not even a word that names something separate from dance, or ritual, or song, or song text.
posted by spitbull at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In order to understand Beowulf, you must have an Anglo-Saxon bard recite it to you live in period clothing. Horned helmet and all. Anything else doesn't count!

Well, now that you mention it, given the barriers of language and culture between us and the original audience of Beowulf, yeah, it probably would be better if you could travel back in time (and spoke the language) and heard it live performed by a talented bard having a good night. Any work translated away from its time/culture to us is going to be a pale imitation of the original, though of course we are quite good at taking those narratives and tweaking/interpreting them to make stories that do relate to us.

Many, many bands play at a stage volume that makes it impossible for the sound guy to do anything to help them. If you take all the guitars out of the PA, and they are still so loud that the vocals are inaudible (except for bands where that's an improvement!), and the guitar players won't turn down, it's game over.

Oh absolutely, plenty of bands screw up their own sound. I'm more thinking of the guy who lazily fiddles with the knobs a few minutes then wanders away to smoke a giant spliff for the rest of the show.
posted by emjaybee at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. Some of the best times OF MY LIFE were at live music events.

For me, though, the key is whether I can get up and dance. I saw J.D. McPherson at an all-ages show a few years ago - there was some seating along the edges of the venue, but most people were standing or dancing. The strongest beverage on sale at the venue was Diet Coke, and there were six-year-olds boogieing down in front. That band has some real showpeople in it, which is all the better.

If I'm seated, the energy coming from the stage has to be that much more intense. I've seen some great bluegrass shows in the last couple of years: maybe the tradition of having to perform the music, not just play it, is stronger with country/bluegrass. Not sure.

Then again, I prefer shows at small venues. Big arena acts don't do it for me. Nor do $60+ ticket prices.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2015


Also ear-plugs are essential.

I dream of a world where concerts are required by law to advertise what their maximum peak and sustained decibel levels will be. Or at least whether I'll need earplugs.

When earplugs are essential, the event is not about the music, it's about something else entirely. If that's your thing, that's cool. It'd just be nice to know up front so that when I'm buying tickets for an ostensible concert I can decide whether that something else is what I feel like experiencing too.

But when I want music, I'll go somewhere else where they're doing it well enough to pay for sound guys who don't just do loud, where they're picking a venue with acoustics that can support it, where they respect the organs through which music is experienced, where they don't consider stuffing crude baffles in those organs just another part of the signal chain.
posted by weston at 10:47 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Starting to get the impression maybe Soundgarden just weren't a great live band.

Well to be fair to Soundgarden, my boyfriend came down with influenza in the middle of their set -- over about 20 minutes he went from energetically rocking out to being limp and pale with a 103 degree fever, so we spent half the show in the lobby of the venue with me holding $7 bottles of water to the back of his neck in an attempt to keep him cool until the guy we'd gotten a ride with came out of the show. (The venue staff were at least kind enough to let me just buy two and swap them back into the fridge to re-chill them.) That very same boyfriend, now my husband, saw a bunch of early shows of theirs at Gorilla Gardens and similar venues and said they were incredible.

Chris Cornell recently did a show with Mike McCready, Duff McKagan, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Barrett Martin, Matt Cameron. . . and the Seattle Symphony. I wasn't there (that was my one night off from a concurrent concert series with the symphony) but by all accounts it blew the roof off of the hall. Different audience for that kind of gig, though.
posted by KathrynT at 10:48 AM on February 12, 2015


Also I didn't claim to have published a definition of music to assert any authority (or I would have cited it), merely to point out that I am deeply invested in my views on this subject and have spent many years thinking these issues through and debating them with neuro-essentialists, physics essentialists, etc. I'm apologizing for my prolix and over-nuanced additions to what is basically a "your favorite band sucks too" thread. Out of here now, because I'm not interested in turning it into a competition.
posted by spitbull at 10:48 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw Wilco at an outdoor venue years ago on one of those first days of spring when it's surprising that it's warm and still light outside after 5 PM and you can wear a dress with no tights, with one of my chillest, kindest friends - we sat on the grass and watched all kinds of people mill around, with Wilco's music kind of floating in the background.

My similar moments, all at (free!) live outdoor shows:

* B-52's, Coney Island, 2008-ish. The band has set something up where you can send tweets somewhere, and they project those tweets on a huge screen set up alongside the stage. A tweet calling for "Mesopatamia" appears, and I hear one guy next to me scoff to his buddy - "that's rare, they'll NEVER do that." Ten minutes later, the screen goes out and the band comes out....and starts playing "Mesopatamia." I join in with the guy's buddy at mocking him.

* Same concert - a half hour later, the band is RIPPING into "Your Own Private Idaho" and I am just about to explode, but the people around me are too staid so I'm self-conscious - but then I see that about ten feet back in the crowd is a group of college-age kids all on their feet and dancing wildly. I pick up my folding chair and all my other stuff and go back to where they are, dropping them all and jumping in next to them just in time for a girl I've never met before to grab me and pull me in to join them, both of us bellowing "you're livin' in YOUR OWN PRIVATE IDAHO!" at the top of our lungs.

* 2010 - Dr. John, Prospect Park. I am there with a gang of people, including my two best male friends - both of whom also happen to be exes. During "Such a Night", I can't take it any more and grab one of their hands and drag him over to an open patch of grass to dance with him - just as the other guy is doing the same with his current girlfriend, and we are gliding along and singing "If I don't do it, somebody else will, for it's such a night...."

* 2010 - Swell Season, Prospect Park. I don't remember what song opened the show - I just remember it was Glen Hansard all on his own, and towards the end he was playing his guitar with such intensity it stopped sounding like music - instead it sounded like it was this holy thunder he was driving out across the audience and up into the trees.

* 2012 - The Waterboys, Prospect Park. Again with a group of friends. Midway through "Fisherman's Blues" I notice that further ahead in the crowd a ceili seems to have broken out - a ring of people line dancing, jigging, whatever struck their fancy. I jump up, abandon my friends, and go join them, and even when I actually stomp on a guy's foot he doesn't care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah, I thought "trif" was an acronym meaning something like "to read it fairly" or the like.

I have a sore spot around people defining what music is and is not due to a lifetime of musical education in which people made such assertions on an infuriatingly regular basis, such assertions being mainly aesthetic, cultural or just conservative judgments based on no sound facts. I have spent my adult years un-learning a lot of stuff and my ability to compose and enjoy music has expanded enormously.

In my composer's forum I was presenting Brian Eno's Music For Airports and one of the graduate students opined that "real music [was] composed, not programmed." The high irony there is that if you have ever had one of your pieces performed by a contemporary ensemble you learn quickly that you have to tell them exactly what to do for each note thanks to the soul-sucking exactitude of 20th-century chamber compositions. My first reading, absent that information, sounded like a Finale score being played through a Proteus.

The point being that making a statement like "Recorded music is *not* music" - no matter how specific the context or how well-backed by academic literature - it going to ruffle feathers.

I am curious - in a non-combative, friendly way - what you mean when you say that the music in my head is a social product.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Butthole Surfers recorded several masterpieces, and I used to listen to them constantly, but they are nothing compared to their live shows.

For example, 1987-88, old 930 Club. The two opening bands were awful. I suspect this was on purpose, causing the crowd to become a tightly-wound ball of seething anger. When they finally took the stage, we all just exploded in a frenzy.

Primal. Religious. Magic.
posted by whuppy at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2015


I have lots of stories and no time to type them out, but I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for bringing my cop buddies to the Tokyo Paradise Ska Orchestra show at Irving Plaza in October. The show was great but those guys do not know how to pit.
posted by nicwolff at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2015


You wouldn't catch me dead in a show where everyone just stands there and stares reverently at the stage in silence, but some people like to see music performed where that's the expectation.

In the early days, that's how the band Low's shows always were. People would literally sit cross-legged on the floor in complete silence leaning in to catch every last note. It was really a beautiful experience for me, but I wouldn't criticize anyone else for finding it creepy or boring. Played a few shows where people were really paying close attention to our band myself, and it's enormously gratifying, but then, as a performing artist, you also eventually learn to make peace with the fact that it's not your show, but the audience's, for whatever that's worth.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eric Clapton says he played gigs in the late 60s at which he was so high on acid that he could change the audience into angels or devils according to the licks he played.
posted by colie at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2015


My alienation goes up to 11.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:01 PM on February 12, 2015


In about 1998 or so I saw Dan Bern at the Univ. of Penn. in Philadelphia, in a 2000 seat type auditorium. This was electric Dan Bern, with a drummer and a bassist. About a third of the way in, there was a thunderstorm outside, and the power went out. Totally out. It was twilight-dark (just some emergency exit lights on) and there was no amplification. They were flummoxed for a moment, and then Dan said, "how about everybody just come up here," gesturing the audience to join him on the stage. Everybody got out of their seat and came up and sat around the feet of the band and on the steps and in the aisles of the first couple rows, and we had a little hootenanny of singing along. Dan switched to acoustic, the drummer took off his snare, held it between his knees and played brushes, and the bassist kind of just coped. One of my best concert memories ever, such closeness and collaboration.

At a Springsteen concert in 2003, I had a life-changing moment. I was in a lousy job and really unhappy and feeling stuck. During "Badlands," I decided (at a visceral level) that I just needed to get the hell out of there. I started searching when I got home and within six months had a new job and moved.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in Northampton one snowy January: the whole audience sat down on the floor, so quiet, and you just heard that sweet guitar.

While reviewing bands for our local arts rag, I ran across too many really great, small-time musicians and bands to count. Then there were the years of singing sea chanteys and English drinking songs every week in multipart harmony at a local pub. And the years of playing old-time sessions Monday night and getting totally carried away reeling along in the 12th minute of a tune, and it wasn't just the sippin' whiskey. There were the summer town concerts on the grass in which life seems to stand still for a moment. There was the joy of hearing my close friends' bands on black-painted, crappy bar stages one summer in Michigan. There were ethereal, transporting moments at the indie-folk Monday night series at the upstairs lounge in winter. Thinking about live music memories, just too many, too much to count, and all so rich and rewarding.

Not every show is great, but most of the ones I go to are worth it in some way or another. Sure, some concert and club experiences suck. I just don't do it that way any more.
posted by Miko at 12:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


For me the quality of a show comes down to three things:

1. How viscerally positive the audience's reaction is
2. Whether or not I want to get off the stage at the end
3. How much I sweat

I can't overstate how much getting really, really sweaty is crucial to my show barometer.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:15 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The quality of a show I have just performed in, to be more specific.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:16 PM on February 12, 2015


There's a transfer of energy that occurs in a live show (audience <> performer) that usually does not take place when listening to music on ones own. That transfer of energy can be amazing in and of itself. Here's a very recent example of a musician and her band creating something extremely beautiful and powerful that I would have liked to experience live.

Here's an older example where the crowd transforms the song into something larger than itself.

posted by nikoniko at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2015


In the early days, that's how the band Low's shows always were. People would literally sit cross-legged on the floor in complete silence leaning in to catch every last note. It was really a beautiful experience for me, but I wouldn't criticize anyone else for finding it creepy or boring

Oh, ha ha, I think I saw a couple of those early Low shows. I had a friend who was super into them.

I was not mature enough to appreciate the experience, although I found the shows pleasant.
posted by Frowner at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2015


ReeMonster: “Then finally The XX came out, the guy and the girl stood there with guitars, sort of playing them but obviously complete amateurs technically. The other guy stood behind a table dicking around with a laptop and slapping a drum machine with his fingers. Seriously, they couldn't hire a drummer?”

You don't slap a drum machine; you slap an MPC. And it's just a guess, but I imagine that "other guy" was probably AraabMuzik, who is much more talented and much more expensive than most drummers.
posted by koeselitz at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2015


The xx have a guy who plays MPC. If it were AraabMusik I imagine it would have been a more impressive experience.
posted by atoxyl at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2015


The musicians you love will disappoint you.

Tell that to the fans that followed the Grateful Dead around the country for decades.

Let's superficially split 'live music' performances into two parts. One part is the classical repertoire experience where you (traditionally) enjoy a seldom-heard work (obviously modern recording has changed that) with a community you interact with very little. At best, it's like a lecture from the gods, but a "left-brained" one.

The other part is the pop music experience where hanging out with your peers, usually ripped on something, you swing sway dance mingle and basically get tribal. The band is the shaman energizing the rites, and the lecture is a right-brained one.

In either event it's not supposed to be about you, you twit.

Live music endangers that relationship by introducing unstable factors: artists, and an audience that isn’t just you.

Maybe the author should consider leaving his selfie-stick at home. He's clearly in a very VERY small minority of crabby appletons.
posted by Twang at 1:07 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The live vs. recorded music debate is almost as silly as sincerely arguing about whether "live music sucks" so I'll just say I've always liked the model of (underground, electronic) dance music, where the music is "properly" experienced as part of a public event, presented by a DJ who is there with you in the moment, but is ultimately meticulously crafted for maximum effect in the studio, possibly by ancient aliens. I know there are those who will tell you it was all better when the music itself was not meticulous but rather thrown together the previous evening by a guy with one sampler and a 303 from the pawn shop, but due to my personal biases as an (amateur) studio recluse I'm going to say the real problem begins with the expectation that one person be producer, DJ, and rock star all at the same time.

Also, live music and sex is a pretty strong analogy because in both cases there are, in the moment, way more little things that don't go perfectly than people usually talk about. But if it's good at all it will still take fewer than 24 hours before you remember it being 100 percent awesome and want to do it again.
posted by atoxyl at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm flying to SF from LA next week so I can see the Screaming Females live again.

Getting so close that Marissa's guitar hits you as she launches in to a frenzy.
Being at a live rendition of Brahms' German Requiem and realizing tears are streaming down and you don't even realize why.
Watching the Soweto Gospel Choir at Walt Disney Concert Hall and watching the arena rock with people jumping (a rarity for the venue in all the concerts I've been to there)
Going to Coachella with your sister and rocking to the Stone Roses, Blur and Nick Cave
Losing it at a RATM show with the crowd going wild.
Singing along to Hey Jude at a McCartney show.
And amazingly reliving old memories dancing along to Kitty by PUSA.

I could go on an on...

I know it's each to his own, but to just dismiss live shows so blithely is pretty stupid.
posted by viramamunivar at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm more thinking of the guy who lazily fiddles with the knobs a few minutes then wanders away to smoke a giant spliff for the rest of the show.

Once you realize that this turd is unpolishable, you might as well enjoy the rest of the shift....
posted by mikelieman at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


atoxyl: “The xx have a guy who plays MPC. If it were AraabMusik I imagine it would have been a more impressive experience.”

I know a guy who saw them together a few years ago, but I guess maybe that was more of a one-off thing.
posted by koeselitz at 3:38 PM on February 12, 2015


But on a more serious note, if we didn't have live music, people like me would never get a chance to play a show on acid. And playing a show on acid should be on everyone's bucket list.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


A new case study shows that audiences can actually enhance an artist’s live performance.

Kate Wheeling, Pacific Standard, Feb 5, 2015
posted by mikelieman at 6:14 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


But on a more serious note, if we didn't have live music, people like me would never get a chance to play a show on acid. And playing a show on acid should be on everyone's bucket list.

That and - so one of the best shows I've been to was the semi-electronic jam band Lotus. We went for my friend's birthday and I'd never heard of them before but whew, those guys were nuts! And then a couple years later I found the exact show on Archive.org, put it on... and man, those guys are pretty tepid. Oh, did I forget to mention we were on acid?

This does work with recorded music but not to the same extent.
posted by atoxyl at 6:26 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In either event it's not supposed to be about you, you twit.

Well, my favorite club/concert experiences involved extraordinary people performing for an audience of happy weirdos dressed like glittery sex monsters. We were there to see the performers, but also to share the experience and see each other. The music was the show, but so were we. Everything was the show.

At that kind of show you are not the star, but you are part of the crowd and the crowd matters. (What's that saying? Everybody is special, and nobody is special.) I've been to other shows, great ones, where you were supposed to sit quietly in rapt attention. That can work. But sometimes a show is all about you, in the sense that you, along with the band, are part of a big noisy tribe. They're banging the drum, but everybody is hopping around and hootin' and hollerin' like the apes we never stopped being.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been to other shows, great ones, where you were supposed to sit quietly in rapt attention.

And check your phone every 10 minutes or so, of course.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:45 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


the real problem begins with the expectation that one person be producer, DJ, and rock star all at the same time.

For sure.

Unless you're PVD. He manages to do all three, and is still obviously having a ball of a time when he's behind the decks (and synths, now--he's doing for trance what Richie Hawtin was doing with his Decks/EFX/909 stuff).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:58 AM on February 13, 2015


Unless you're PVD. He manages to do all three, and is still obviously having a ball of a time when he's behind the decks (and synths, now--he's doing for trance what Richie Hawtin was doing with his Decks/EFX/909 stuff).

Well I don't mean that all of those guys necessarily suck. I mean in general people who would rather be in the studio are compelled to DJ to make money/ for the marketing machine to work, which displaces people who are truly dedicated to just being DJS, and having one person be such a name brand kind of diminishes the "we're all just here at a party" atmosphere. The last part's kind of an inevitable problem of scale, though.

I guess because DJs are also compelled to produce it creates a role for the dedicated producer - as a ghostwriter. If that were to become a more open thing - we're a duo, I do this, you do that - it would do a lot to address this situation. I respect people like Tiesto who are already somewhat open about it.
posted by atoxyl at 11:20 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been to other shows, great ones, where you were supposed to sit quietly in rapt attention.

LOL Sometime around 1985, I just happened into a piano solo concert by Philip Glass, in a small room with only about 30 people. About ten minutes in, I looked around, the entire audience had their head down and eyes closed, slumped in their chairs. I had to suppress a laugh, it looked like they were all dead.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been to other shows, great ones, where you were supposed to sit quietly in rapt attention.

I'm flashing back to a Queen Ida & the Bon Temps Zydeco Band concert a few decades ago at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota, where Queen Ida was mildly peeved that the very white, Scandinavian crowd was sitting quietly and politely in their seats during the numbers, instead of getting up and two-stepping in the aisles. And she told them so.
posted by gimonca at 9:54 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well I don't mean that all of those guys necessarily suck.

Apologies; I meant to say that PVD is the exception to the rule, not to dispute what you're saying.

If that were to become a more open thing - we're a duo, I do this, you do that - it would do a lot to address this situation.

I'd love to see this happen more. I'd also like to see dance music become more conscious and push up to the rest of the world and be postmodern. Not the stupid irony; I'd like to see dance music start referencing and quoting itself like jazz does.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:48 PM on February 13, 2015


I'd love to see this happen more. I'd also like to see dance music become more conscious and push up to the rest of the world and be postmodern. Not the stupid irony; I'd like to see dance music start referencing and quoting itself like jazz does.

Doesn't dance music do this every time you hear the M1 house organ or the Think break (yeah! whoo!) or the fuckin' Amen? I think maybe your problem (I'm joking) is you're into trance.
posted by atoxyl at 12:00 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be a little more serious about it I think the more traditionally sample-based genres started out fairly postmodern. When you have dozens (or hundreds) of tracks built out of the same pieces the machinery is necessarily exposed. Eventually people got tired of hearing the same old sounds and sonic distinctiveness became more prized, but many classic bits still get used pretty frequently either as up-front references or as a subtle component. In the last ten years of DnB the Amen break has been a.) pretty much a subgenre and b.) part of the producer's basic toolkit as something to layer behind your own drums to add energy and texture, in a way the uninitiated might completely miss. The 808 kick drum - or other sounds fitting the basic template - have this kind of significance both in instrumental dance music and in hip-hop. Actually there are many smaller genres over the years and right now that are defined by the use of a certain set of samples and beat patterns, like Jersey Club, or Baltimore Club, or to some extent Juke and Footwork.

And also in some genres there's something I might not describe as postmodern so much as just a strong sense of history and continuity. In DnB - again, sorry I'm not much of a four-on-the-floor guy these days - a lot of the founding DJs are still around, and when they play new stuff they'll still throw in snippets of the true old-school classics - maybe not letting them play out all the time but at least teasing them. It's not too uncommon for house and techno DJs to mix the old and new either, depending on what kind of style they're doing.

Plus the cycle of dance music trends often leaves producers looking back to the past - like after dubstep broke into the mainstream everywhere and got all electro-y and bro-y and the original UK producers got tired of it many of them "rediscovered" the roots of house and techno not to mention you get at least occasional remixes of tracks from 20 years ago but that might be more explicit than what you're getting at and man I guess I had a lot to say about this
posted by atoxyl at 12:39 AM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm totally ok with light hearted opinion pieces and "live music can be hit or miss and isn't for everyone" but this piece starts with "I am an industry insider and have a lot of credibility on this topic" and ends with "the objective truth about something lots of people have devoted their life to is stupid" so yeah, get out of the music world you tool.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:28 PM on February 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


like after dubstep broke into the mainstream everywhere and got all electro-y and bro-y and the original UK producers got tired of it many of them "rediscovered" the roots of house and techno

yeah totally, well put - Zomby is a great example of that I think. (remember this mix he put out? ughhg that 4Hero track is still so great)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:55 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well Zomby (kind of from the beginning) really went back to classic rave hardcore/early breaks stuff right? That's a thing too and great example of my general point though I think when I wrote that specific sentence what I was thinking of was the Pearson Sound remix of Hardrive's Deep Inside. Which does have breaks on it so I guess you win.
posted by atoxyl at 1:58 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


(but the original didn't so it's kind of bringing together different strands of rave history)
posted by atoxyl at 2:05 PM on February 15, 2015


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