We routinely send out letters to prospective clients introducing our company and the services we offer, and one of the lines in that letter says, “Whether you are interested in concert hall sound or movie theater video...” I came up with that line, and I used to love it, as it created a visual that everyone could relate to. But now as I’ve gotten a bit older and gone to several concerts and movies, I’ve come to realize that this visual might NOT be the experience that people actually want.
The truth is, what we offer people in their homes is oh-so-much better than this experience, and now nine times out of 10 I’d rather have watch the performance or film on a Blu-ray in the far greater comfort of my living room, and I imagine our clients would as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of going to concerts and movies, and when I think about going to see a show, I picture how great it will be. I mean, what is better than a live performance of a band you love? When I get there right before the show starts, I love the buzz and energy of the audience and the expectation of a great performance. And then the lights dim, the bands walks onto the stage, the sound system fires up, and my enthusiasm slowly starts to wane after those first communal cheers start to die down and over the evening it eventually drops to the point where I start thinking, “Why did I want to come here again?”*
Most concerts are insanely crowded with personal space reduced to the thin layer of cotton you and the people around you happen to be wearing. You are left standing in a crowd of questionably hygienic people, engulfed in a strange mélange of odors that makes you kind of envy third world countries, in what often feels like a protest that is about to go seriously South, as people–and I’m going to use this term in the broadest sense possible–“dance” around in a variety of contortions and convulsions. Honestly, if I wanted to feel like I’m about to be smothered to death in a crush of unwashed and what-is-that-smell? bodies, I’d opt for purchasing a subway token.
Further, I have to wonder why so many people choose to pay good money to go to a concert only to spend the majority of the show talking to the person next to them about everything BUT the show. And when I say “talking” I mean standing about a foot away and screaming into the ear hole of the unfortunate person standing next to them. “DUDE! DUUUUDE!!! I HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT THAT THING THAT HAPPENED AT THAT PLACE TO THAT GUY THAT TIME!” These are also usually the people getting so hammered on $12 Budweiser’s–actually an enthralling and engrossing mini-three-act play in itself, as you watch them carrying two hands worth of these oversized beers high in the air through a heaving crowd of people wondering just who is going to get a beer dumped on them and how they will react to the sudden golden shower–that I have to imagine the show is only a vague and hazy recollection the next day.
Also most shows seem like the guy running the soundboard feels like he has something to prove to the crowd. Almost as if he’s not-so-secretly angry at all of us for coming and he wants to punish each and every one of us under a blistering and withering wall of sound; turning all his dials and sliders to 11 and producing devastating SPLs that constantly flirt with the edge of distortion while he exacts his revenge for some unknown slight. Or perhaps he is actually a Samaritan, feeling it is his job to perform sonic lithotripsy on the audience; using massive and unrelenting overdriven bass waves to cure the population of kidney stones one show at a time. Either way, after the first few songs, I’m generally starting to worry about how much damage this “fun time” will do to my permanent hearing.
All of these feelings are temporarily forgotten, however, when the band breaks into one of your favorite songs and you are temporary swept up in the euphoric, endorphin release of the moment. This is something I imagine being akin to the emotions involved in Stockholm Syndrome. However, like all good things, that song can’t last forever, and then you’ll inevitably be treated to “the new material” or some lengthy, “I’m gonna take a quick break, so please enjoy this 10-minute guitar/drum/sax solo!” I can’t tell you how often I’m at a show thinking, “Skip. Skip. Skip,” as I mentally >>l my way through the set to get to the next tune I like.
And, bizarrely, as my enthusiasm starts to wane, I start to project my feelings on the band and wonder if they are enjoying the show. I can remember being at a They Might Be Giants concert once, standing near the front, the eldest fan amidst of sea of young, ironic T-shirt and glasses wearing fans (basically all my best nerd friends from high school) watching John Linnell playing the keyboard and thinking, “I really hope John is having fun. I mean, he looks like he is, but, you know…” Though the not-knowing is definitely better than the actual knowing. I went to a Fiona Apple show once where she was so obviously hating it and in turn so angry at the crowd that I started feeling a little guilty for being there.
This final irony is that unless you have Black Card Concierge buy your tickets, pay a small fortune to someone on StubHub, are just stratospherically lucky or possibly an attractive girl looking to “get to know the band”, you likely aren’t going to be sitting close enough to the stage to actually see the show in any real manner. When you are thinking, “Oh! I think that’s him! Wait. No. Maybe it’s that guy…” then you are too far from the stage for any meaningful viewing experience. Which means that you’ll probably end up watching the performance on a display anyhow!
You can certainly apply these same things to the modern-day movie going experience with cell phone talkers and texters, floors that would give CSI fodder for sweeps-week, and hit-or-miss sound and picture quality.
The point is, we offer our clients the way to enjoy their favorite artists and films in the comfort of their homes. If you have a showroom, you should definitely have some concert Blu-rays on hand–Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall, Rolling Stones Sweet Summer Sun–Hyde Park Live, John Mayer Where the Light Is, Lady Gaga The Monster Ball Tour, Chris Botti In Boston, Talking Heads Stop Making Sense… These are some great shows that look and sound amazing and will give them an experience far better than actually being there. With comfortable seating, pleasant aromas, no lines to use a disgusting bathroom and a refrigerator (hopefully) stocked with better-than-Bud.
* Lest you think I’m just some old curmudgeon yelling at the kids to take a shower and turn it down, here is a write-up from a terrific show that I recently went to, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers with Edie Brickell.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.