The Mystery of Indie Rock Show-Goers

25 03 2010

I went to two shows this week as part of my life campaign to be a cooler person.  A disproportionate number of my friends go to shows all the time, multiple nights a week, alone or with others.  They love indie music so much that they will stand at a music venue alone for 5 straight hours on a worknight watching some obscure band perform.  I can usually be found running loads of laundry, making popcorn and watching Jeopardy on worknights, which isn’t nearly as cool, so I decided it was time to test my mettle and see some weeknight concerts.

So Monday night, I had a ticket to see Joanna Newsom at the 6th and I Synagogue, a pretty neat venue.   I get off work at 6.  It’s cold and raining pretty hard.  By the time I get home I’m soaked, and very tired from a crappy day at work.  The idea of putting on my pajamas, making myself some dinner and watching Jeopardy sounds really glorious at this point, but I already had a ticket to the show and a hot date, so I pushed myself to motivate.

Joanna Newsom

I arrive at the Synagogue and slip into a pew.  About 20 minutes later, these two dorky brothers with scruffy beards take the stage with one guitar.  For the next hour or so, they play some of the worst, most excruciating music I’ve ever heard.  One brother would play the guitar and sing a song with really dumb lyrics while the other one tried to harmonize.  I mean, the harmonies themselves were fine, but a harmony does not a good song make!

Torture.  I honestly spent their whole set trying to figure out whether they were joking or not.

So their set finally ends, and then we have to wait another hour while Joanna and her back-up band scurry around the stage “tuning their instruments,” like they couldn’t have done that before the show.  So far, I’ve been sitting in a pew in a Synagogue for two hours with no quality entertainment.

Finally, Joanna begins.  She’s really cool– hair down to her butt, long, flowy dress, excellent harp skills and a beautiful, interesting voice.  So for her first couple of songs, I’m placated.  This is entertaining.

Then she plays a fourth song, and a fifth  song, and a sixth song, each like 8-10 minutes long.  Her voice starts to become a little grating.  If this were a CD, I would change it to a different artist to take a break from her for a little while, but it’s not a CD, so I have to listen to the same voice singing long-form, un-rhyming poetry for hours.  I recognize that what she’s doing is very cool and interesting, but my ears are just tired of hearing it, I’m squirming in my pew and my bedtime is quickly approaching.

Joanna ends with a song that I swear lasts about 13 minutes, and by the time she plucks the final string on her harp, I am nearly passed out on my date’s shoulder.  She walks off stage, and I’m pretty relieved to get to go home, but then– get this– the audience decides to clap and clap until she agrees to come back on stage for more.  Really, guys? I mean, she’s great, I really like her. But we’ve already heard her sing very similar-sounding songs for over an hour, and it’s 11:30.  Do we need more Joanna?

Anyway, we finally leave the show to find a parking ticket on my windshield.  Perfect.

So Tuesday happens.  I have a ticket to see Spoon at the 9:30 club.  I really like Spoon– I only know a few of their songs, but I figure that I know enough to make the show enjoyable.  Learning a lesson from the night before, I decide to skip the opening act and show up around 9:30, hoping to get there just in time for the real mccoy.

Spoon

I arrive at 9:30 and elbow my way through the thick crowd to find my three friends in the middle, who have already been standing still in the same spot for over an hour.  (For you out-of-towners, the 9:30 Club has no place to sit, at all, so when you see shows there you have to stand still for extremely long periods of time.)

So Spoon takes the stage a little after 10 and plays til midnight.  They mostly play their “new stuff,” as all bands do because they’re sick of playing their “old stuff” even though that’s what everyone wants to hear.  I’m not really enjoying their new stuff, mostly because I’ve never heard it before, but everyone around me is bopping their heads so I instinctively bop my head as well to prove that I am a fan.

An hour in, my back is hurting, and I’ve only heard one song that is vaguely familiar to me.  By 11:30, I can barely stand up anymore my back hurts so badly, but there is no place to sit or crouch because I’m squished in between a bunch of dudes.  So I elbow my way back through the crowd and sit against the wall in the very back of the club until the show ends.  The three people I was there with, who had all been there long before I did, toughed it out and stood in that same spot all the way through the encore.  It was truly commendable.

Now, here’s what I want to know. I realize that going to shows sounds a lot cooler than hanging out in the comfort of your room and listening to those same bands on a CD or record.  But is the former really that much more enjoyable for everyone?  I mean, do most people really, really enjoy these shows, or is it more to be able to tell people that you saw X obscure band last night?   I mean, it’s a novelty getting to see some famous people perform that song that you like, but is it really worth all the effort?

All I know is that after my 2-show stretch this week, I really gained a new respect for show-goers.  They buy tickets, traverse the city on a Monday night, sit through terrible opening acts, stand in the same spot for hours upon hours and then demand an encore.  The mental and physical energy required to do all that, alone, multiple times a week, just boggles my mind.

So the answer to the original question I posed to myself is no, I’ll never be one of those cool people that goes to see indie rock shows all the time.  But I am seriously impressed by people who do.

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15 responses

25 03 2010
rockymtnhigh

LB…
I recently had that experience with my fiance this past Monday. Monday must be the only day an unknown indy band can get a booking. We drove an hour away to BR after work and caught XX on their first show of their U.S. tour.

The show unexpected starts with this guy from L.A., who we presume is the opener JJ. Nope. It’s this guy who mixes live electronica. Well the first 30 minutes was good then the crowd waited for XX to come on next. Well the show took a turn for the worst. The real opener, JJ came on. Which was this girl who kind of looked like a chunky Stevie Nicks meets Fiona from Shreck. She sang while her ‘backup band’ played the music from a lap top. Needless to say this carried on for another 45 minutes.

The saving grace of driving 3 hours and standing in an excessively smokey bar for 3 1/2 hours was seeing XX. The trio put on a really good show and the crowd’s energy level returned from the dead. Yeah they only have one album, they might never make another and fade away. But then we could have spent the night watching a movie on the sofa.

Keep up the life campaign for coolness. I won’t reach “cool” until I’m dead…then I’ll just be cold.

25 03 2010
Edward Dandyhands

I bet there were yards upon yards of flannel at both these shows…

25 03 2010
Hagana

I’m a die hard music lover and musician, but I don’t care for most concerts. Musicians tend to have huge egos about their playing – kind of like those douche bag couples who like to pretend that their love is so much more important than anything else in the world. They become exhibitionist performers, lost in their own world, expecting everyone to be overwhelmed by the passion and artistry that they convince themselves they’re displaying to everyone present.

But truly great performers are really special, and what sets them apart is their understanding of the concert dynamic. A concert should first and foremost be a show, an experience for the audience that they can’t get from listening to a cd. The great performance artists understand that what they have to deliver is an exhibition and a personal connection that you can’t get from listening to a recorded track. I was really struck by how authentically Michael Jackson understood this when I was watching “This is it.”

That said, even some of the best musical acts of recent note don’t really add much in their concerts to what you could get from listening to a cd. Acts I’ve been disappointed with – Weezer, The Roots, Yo-Yo Ma, Lauryn Hill, Outkast. But I’ve also had wonderful experiences with some lesser known musicians – MAE was fantastic, and so were the Black Eyed Peas (I guess they’re pretty well known now).

My guess is that those show goers that you admire are really full of shit, and that they’re mostly standing around at the front so that they can tell you about it afterwards.

25 03 2010
geof

Rambler, you’ve uncovered the one of the pitfalls of complex civilization. We’re forced to specialize, taught to become good at one thing and taught to suck at everything else.

I’m not impressed by people who go to shows all the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON1eRJtoOrg It’s passive, not participatory. It’s consumption without production. Making something, creating something, interacting with others is good. I think this feeds the egos that Hagana talks about. Too many artists believe they have something that others can’t produce because we believe it.

Everyone should be a producer of art as well as a consumer of it.

25 03 2010
districtramblings

My point was not to hate on people who go to shows– lots of my friends do this all the time, and they’re all great, creative people. I agree with you that everyone should be both a producer and consumer, and I believe there are plenty of creative people who produce their own art and also go to shows. Most of the friends I’m referring to are not going so that people will think they’re cool– they go because they are honestly such big fans of the music that seeing it played live is actually worth having to sit through all the surrounding crap. That’s what really amazes me. There are only a few bands I feel this way about, and most of them are dead.

25 03 2010
geof

I didn’t think you were hating. In the good old days, everyone got to dance around the fire and/or bang on drums. Today we show up and watch. Less satisfying. I question the system, not the people.

25 03 2010
Alex

Speaking of interactive social life… When is Zoo Party 3? Seriously, it’s been two years since Zoo Party 2.

26 03 2010
geof

Good call. Also, there as a Conan the Barbeque in the works.

25 03 2010
Alex

Haha, you went to see Joanna Newsom without knowing what it was. I wish I could have been there to feed off your awkwardness I thought that Joanna Newsom was the worst music I had ever heard the first time I heard, but somehow I kept on putting her on, to annoy other people at first but eventually for myself. I appreciate the fact that I like Joanna Newsom despite the fact that her music is comically grating the first time you hear it. I think that indy music somehow gets a bad name from people who loathe hipsters or who think that it is pretentious to like music that isn’t made to be instantly likeable. I wonder whether these people would prefer to watch romantic movies where the principal characters like each other from the beginning or whether all their dear friends are people that they have never had to change their first impressions about. I personally think that life feels more meaningful when you have to change your mind.

25 03 2010
Phelps

I feel you on the back situation. As someone who’s hit their 30s, I have found my favorite lean-to spots at the various bars at DC venues, or sometimes just tough it out with copious beers. I actually do enjoy the shows I go to if they radiating some energy off of the stage, new or old material. Similarly to rockymtnhigh, it engages me/the rest of the people and lends itself to a more participatory scene that Geof alluded to. As for Hagana, you must have had a front row seat to Fergie pissing herself to have enjoyed it more than a full band Roots show.

25 03 2010
Jayneyomama's friend

I never was and never shall be Cool–always hated this kind of shit. Comfort over Cool anyday.

25 03 2010
graber

can we get deeper in to this jeopardy thing? i like jeopardy.

26 03 2010
swirlz

ah, you’re just gettin’ old. Nothin’ wrong with that.

26 03 2010
OKinAK

There’s a reason that the music industry keeps belching forth “new” young musicians. It’s because the young target audiences don’t have the benefit of years of experience listening to the latest crap the music industry dumps on the musical landscape, so they lap it up like it’s got some sort of relevance or importance.

I don’t want to sound like an old asshole, but if you have seen as many shitty musicians come and go as I have, you would have a hard time getting excited about any but the most talented musicians. And the last thing you would want to do is go force yourself to endure standing up through three or four hours of mediocre, irrelevant crap. Ultimately, I think the great majority of people who go to those shows care mostly about getting laid (the reason pretty much everything happens).

Young people race down to the store to buy the latest mobile phone and think you’re lame if you don’t have the most recent version of whatever the latest marketing gimmick is. But twenty or thirty years from now, they will see it as it is. Just another in an endless line of shit designed to extract money from you.

I’m not saying that all of this is bad. It’s what drives the economy and makes the world go around. I’m just trying to introduce a little reality therapy to the group.

26 03 2010
katie

Ha! That’s exactly how I feel. My friends exchange 50+ emails before and after each show and I’m included on the emails. They don’t know (yet) that I find most live shows equivalent to toil and drudgery. Any enjoyment that might come from live music is totally ruined by the fact that my feet hurt, I wish I were reclining, I’m hungry, etc etc. And this is coming from the girl who argued that it was perfectly rational to dump someone if they had crappy taste in music.

Now give me a music festival with good weather and plenty of beer tickets…

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