Monday, March 10, 2008

live music

I'm embarrassed about this, and can hardly believe I'm writing this here, but I just made the decision that I don't want to go see one of my favorite bands in concert, so here it goes:

I really don't like to see live music.

It makes me pheel like a philistine to write this, because - just like locally grown vegetables - live music is something that's good to like. But this winter when invited to a concert for a band that was trendy in the 90s, i had a striking realization about my relationship to this cultural pastime.

I'm saying it again: I actually don't enjoy live music.

Maybe I shouldn't say that so baldly. There are live shows that I love, for example, Zakir Hussain. But aside from vituosic instrumental/acoustic (usually "WORLD" music), I can't get into it. I don't enjoy it.


In my heart of hearts I've known that I didn't enjoy live music, and I've had a host of reasons over the years that ran through my head when I found I wasn't enjoying the show.


Too damn loud. I always prefer to be social when going out with friends, and live music is too damn loud. I'd rather be able to talk to the people I'm with when I'm out, and live music is universally too amplified. Club and bar music is also often too amplified, which I've never understood at all (why would a bar with bad speakers play music at deafening volume?), but live music is the worst for this. I always feel like I leave live music venues with a hoarse voice and ringing ears. I can never hear the music as well as I can even on a terrible recording. It's almost like the performers are scared you might do something other than listen to the show. They'd rather you lose your hearing than hold a conversation.


Lack of focus. This is the part that's most embarrassing for me - my own personal deficiency.

It has been a number of years since I felt like I could really focus for two straight hours on listening to a band. My mind starts to wander, and then the sheer discomfort of the venue (per reason one) is more of a hindrance than anything.

(I should say here, that there are times when I can focus on music for long periods, but I can't do it on command (such as at a show), and I'm usually alone when I do have that kind of focus and interest. So the combination of the ostensibly social venue and the private focus on music really just doesn't work for me.)


Awkwardness. The standing still thing that happens at some concerts doesn't agree with me. It's so awkward! I'm bad at pretending to be enjoying myself, or pretending to be interested. I'd rather sit down. Or listen to a CD in my living room. Instead I wander in and out of the hall, adjacent rooms, and the bathroom.


So, those are the standard reasons that I have had for not enjoying going to shows. Looking them over, they're not very convincing, and only do more to make me pheel like a philistine. These reasons are pretty lame, really. So there's good reason that I haven't been comfortable saying this out loud.


But then this winter, I was invited to see an old band who I didn't really like even when they were popular in the 90s. The first thing that passed through my mind was, "why are those people still on stage?"

That's when I realized why I don't like live shows. The question "why are these people on stage" gets stuck in my head as soon as I lose focus on the music. So for me, going to see a live show is exactly like going to a two hour session of pondering, in mental isolation, the nature of the cult of personality.

It's a terribly boring mental exercise: analysis of performers' manufactured image, questioning of motives, criticism of staginess and posturing, projected aspirations to fame, criticism of the stagy passivity of the crowd, internal criticism of my own stagy passivity, repeated recognition of the vampirism of cool.

Clearly, I end up in a really terrible head-space. At this point, even if I could regain interest in the music, I'd be immediately distracted by the orchestration of "the performativity of celebrity culture." It makes me even sadder in small venues, because it's such a hollow recreation of celebrity.

So, in conclusion, seeing the show actually detracts from my enjoyment of hearing the music. For a second I thought maybe I should try going to a concert blindfolded, but then I got the better of that idea. I mean, so what, I don't like live music. Why fight it?

Goodbye, attempts to enjoy live music,
...other things.

i should note here, that some types of music and performances are exempt from this analysis. notable exceptions: dance bands, some jazz, much "world", most street music.

I should also note that much theater, however, is not exempted; I find the stage of theater to be similarly distracting, though perhaps to a lesser degree.


Blogger kate said...

Dude, I am totally with you. I came to the same realization after I moved to NY and was suddenly in a city where every band comes through. After I while I had to face that I was basically disinterested in the opportunity to see many/most of my favorite bands play. People don't understand it, because I am both a music nerd and a (former, at this point) performer, but... there it is. I don't like live music either.

My reasons jive with yours but also include the following: some bands just plain suck live. Live performance doesn't always equal better performance -- some bands that can work wonders in the studio are just crap in person (and certainly the opposite applies at times -- lots of street performers, for example, lose that magic when they're plunked in front of a mic). As someone who deeply appreciates music, I usually find myself wanting to leave the concert and go back to the CD. Ah well.

8:20 PM  

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