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.
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.
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.