Friday, June 20, 2008

experiencing a concert vs. observing

I went to a Wilco concert a while back. It was excellent. Jeff Tweedy had the audience in the palm of his hand the entire time. But this post isn't necessarily about the concert so much as what happened, what I saw. I was sitting on the rail upstairs at the pageant, behind the reserved seats, and noticed a guy with his cell phone aimed at the band. I thought he was perhaps taking a photo of the band before I realized that he was holding his arm perfectly still, taping the whole thing. People cheered, they smiled and turned to friends to comment on something they enjoyed. And he sat there the whole time, never once taking his eye off the prize, never once seeming like he was enjoying the show.

Here was a person at a show, but also one that was completely removed from it. As far as I could tell, he was not experiencing anything, other than having the experience of a collector, adding a new bauble to his collection. What fun is that? What compels someone to disengage and be some distant observer? Is there some visceral feeling to be "the one" who captured the show, a piece of fame?

In some way I think we have become a society of observers, and don't get out and experience enough, sitting in front of the computer and reading about fallen celebrities and sporting events, watching music shows on Pitchfork and youtube, but not letting ourselves be caught up in the rush of excitement of the first-hand rush. It's a shame.

I wanted to tell the guy to stop. He was cheapening something special, a panoramic view condensed into a 2x2 square with sound coming out of tiny paper computer speakers.

Flash back to a few months before that. Saw Jens Lekman at Emo's in Austin, TX as part of SXSW. He comes out and the phones all go up, photos are being taken, video is being shot. He looks at all of us and says (and of course I'm paraphrasing. I didn't tape the thing) " I want to ask you to not take any pictures or video of this show. I want it to be special, just between you and me, so we, and only we, will have this special night together, just us." All the camera phones went down, and we enjoyed sharing a sublime 45 minutes of music as a community.


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