The smart phone has made us a stupid audience. I often wonder what it feels like for the artist, having to stare at the glare of 500 devices instead of into the actual eyes of fans. They must mourn the loss of that live connection. After all, isn't that the point of being there together?
Too many people are completely missing the moment by recording it, choosing to experience the shows through a peephole instead of immersing themselves in the collective awesomeness of what it is to witness a great live performance. Dude- are you really going to play that video again? C'mon.
That led me to wonder: is this a generational thing or a technological fad? Or is it due to music being merged with "celebrity" more than it is "musicianship"? Smart phones hit us all at the same time, yet some of us feel like we need to validate our experience RIGHT THEN by posting something on instagram, the social media equivalent of perceived obsolescence- if you don't announce yourself as "BEING THERE" via posting then you might as well have not been. Ridiculous. Wait till the end of the show to talk about it! Oh ohkay it might take the 'instant' out of your instagram. Someone please invent "Blastogram" that allows us to put someone's ass on public blast when they willingly disrupt the atmosphere of others in a selfish pursuit to be socially relevant.
What shed the most light on this however, was attending the live shows of two wildly divergent artists and observing the behavior of the crowds at each. What a tale that told.
The first was Kanye West. Artist, yes, but more of a celebrity now, sadly--although that didn't stop every (predominantly male, 18-22 year-old) kid around us from mouthing along to every word of the Yeezus album with full-throttle passion. Plus the obligatory cell phone held high in the air recording everything, no apologies. Maybe this show begs for it: Ye delivers spectacle on every level from the staging to graphics to messaging via that massive, 60-foot circular LED Screen that literally delayed the tour when it was damaged (its a major part of the show so I get it). But I found his costume especially curious: the assorted bejeweled Masks. This dude performed damn near the entire show with his face completely covered. A fabric wall between him and the 20,000+ camera-ready-crowd. It felt much more like an act of rebellion than some avant guard expression of fashion. Kanye pushing back against an impersonal seige of cellular hell his particular "artistic" spectacle enthusiastically invites.
But the next live show, less than a month later, could not have been more different. Ben Harper. Acoustic. 1500-seater. Not only was there not ONE cell phone visible in the (considerably older) crowd, when people did dare to take a picture-- only during the times Harper told stories in-between songs--they apologized profusely to those around and took the pic quickly, no flash. I'm not a Ben Harper super fan, I like him, but have never been to a live show of his before. Completely blown the fck away by this dynamic, I've just very, VERY rarely seen such mutual respect an artist and audience have for each other. Not to mention, musicianship is the spectacle here; a wholly different kind of awe to experience the mastery of an Asher lap steel guitar than be dazzled by a giant television flashing 60-foot abstract messages.
One show's not better than the other, they are just different-- and they invite very different reactions from the people attending them.
We're in the age of the cell phone, there's no going back. But there is this concept of getting a clue. Too few artists demand the respect of paying attention from fans. Some whine openly about this issue (Bruno Mars) some are downright enraged about it (Jack White, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and others are passive aggressive and wear masks. It's okay to say STOP and LISTEN, people. What I experienced this weekend is that this is actually possible at a live show, and boy did it give me hope.
|Kanye climbs a mountain in a mask, surrounded by a sea of cell light.|
|Ben Harper discusses his beloved Asher guitar and besides me, only one other person dared to take a picture.|