Why I Don't Like Going to Shows
I'm guessing a lot of you are recovering from a long weekend spent at Outside Lands. So, with live music still ringing in your ears and overpriced alcohol still traceable in your bloodstream, it seems a good time to talk about a subject several people have brought up to me since last week's column: why I don't go to shows.
Now, I know people who live for gigs. The very act of buying tickets to see a favorite band can become the highlight of these people's day -- the thing that gets them through whatever work or familial or academic drudgery that makes up the greater portion of their waking hours. These people will email (or, more likely, tweet) me to sound out their triumph: "got our tickets to Beach House for November!!!" And I get very excited with them. Wow! Beach House! Live! No way!
But then some facts about show-going begin to settle in. Slowly, but steadily.
From August's perspective, making plans to watch Beach House in November is a perfectly fine idea. In August, the only thing I see in my mind's eye is the band themselves. I can even conjure up the warm, epidermis-caressing vibrations which will surely start at the band members' fingers and lips and -- magically, it seems -- envelope me in that space we'll share, for as long as two hours. In August, any fantasy that filters through my head centers upon me and the band and, at most, a murky wash of color surrounding us.
But something funny happens on our way to November. By the time I arrive at the venue, the murky wash of color that for months had framed my daydreams begins to vivify. Through the murk, I start to distinguish the faces and clothes of other concertgoers. I start to read signs: apparently, there are t-shirts for sale; there are burritos for sale, too. I hear snatches of banal conversation -- the usual mix you hear when you go "out": of gossip, loud sarcasm, and complaints about what other people posted on their Facebook wall. I'm confronted by an endless variety of human behavior, all of it very interesting in isolation, but much of it too self-consciously performed en masse to be anything but overwhelming and off-putting.
It begins to dawn on me that the sacred exchange I bargained for in August -- between me and the band -- has been reduced to just another night out. Which in itself is fine, because it's fun to have fun. But fun is so much less than what seemed possible just a couple months ago, when in my imagination it was just me, the band, and their noise.
Also, fun seems to have its price, and that price comes with a sales tax. In last week's column, I said the live music experience is often more like going to a shopping mall than it is a cathedral. But what I didn't mention was how much shopping malls depress me. And the same can be said for gigs, with the ubiquity of band logos on concert t-shirts, hats, and bags -- the corniness of a kind of fanaticism that is desperate to make itself known to the world. And the exploitation of said fanaticism by the vendors.
I'm not going to pretend to have the surest grasp of gig economics. I imagine some of the proceeds of things sold and consumed at shows go straight to the band, or at the very least, make it more feasible for the concert venue and promoters to bring the band to town.
But what I am sure of is this: there's something gravely tacky about band merch. All of it. The corniness is a symptom of the clumsy ways we have invented for commemorating our brushes with beauty. This desperation concertgoers have, of preemptively proving to the world they took part in this spectacle that -- holy shit! -- is happening right now: it becomes the real focus of the spectacle. I guess that's called being a fan. And it's embarrassing.