Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Concert Experience

On Friday night, I attended my 64th concert. The reason I know this number is that a month ago, I was cleaning and organizing my bedroom and came across a stack of ticket stubs. Curiosity won and I decided to count them. I'm confident that this is an accurate count because every show I go to, I make a point to hang on to the ticket. Even if I never leave with a band t-shirt, or an album, or a poster, I make sure that my ticket is secure in my wallet. As years pass, my memory will likely begin to fail me, so having a tangible object to aide my nostalgia will be incredibly helpful. Even if my memories are a just blur of light, sweaty bodies, explosions of sound, and beer, I'll be transported back to a place where my music taste alone allowed me to belong. A ticket stub is much more than ink and paper, it's a symbol that tells me I was there, in the same room as my musical idols.

My first concert experience was about ten years ago. My musical preference was in a much different state back then, so I'll bravely and shamefully admit that it was a Nickelback show. They get enough hate from the world as it is, so I won't go there, but I will tell you that as a teenager who loved generic rock music, they put on a very entertaining show. I was with my older brother and his friends, and I honestly didn't know what to expect. I remember watching the crowd much more than I did the band on stage. Trying to get a feel for the etiquette, for common behaviour, any sign of how I should be acting. It took me many years to learn that it really doesn't matter how loud you sing or how awkwardly you dance, there is always somebody in the crowd who looks like more of a jackass than you. As soon as the early concert-goer realizes this, the whole process just becomes fun.

As far as social events are concerned, a live show is my most comfortable setting. Put me in a mall, at a dinner table, even a party with recorded music, and I'll likely fade into the background. However, in the middle of a concert crowd, at my favourite venue, with a band I love working their magic on stage, I come alive. For the record, I don't dance, I rock out. There's no other social setting that I could imagine feeling so self-assured with so many other people surrounding me. This comfort comes from the realization that it's not about me at all, it's about the music.

More and more I've been simply studying the musicians who are performing, but for quite a while I found the crowd to be just as entertaining. The band is only half the story, the audience can make or break a show as well. Look around any given rock concert, you'll always see the same characters: the die-hard fans who know every word to every song and don't take their eyes off stage, the dancers who'll grind up against any warm body, the calm observers who love the music but don't need to physically show it, the jerk-offs who are screaming at people around them and trying to be the center of attention, the over-protective boyfriends holding their girls a little too tight, the party animal trying to find people to launch him for a crowd surf, the texters and talkers who aren't there for the music at all, the timid short girls who are trying to find a decent line of sight to the stage, the double-fisting drinkers who are showering everyone around them, and the list goes on.

Everyone has their own concert style and that's the beauty of music. A thousand people can appreciate the same song in a different way.  Personally, I like to create my own safe-circle to rock out within. I don't go to concerts to make friends or get attention or find a party, I go to a concert to enjoy the band, to see a spectacle, to hear songs I love either executed perfectly or played in a way I've never imagined. I appreciate being surrounded by my friends, of course, but the moments I chase are the ones where it's just me and the band and I feel like I'm part of something special. Arena shows have their place, but I'll forever be partial to the smaller venues, where I can stand 10 feet away from a musician who graces my ipod playlist every day. 

The Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver, BC), where I saw The Dandy Warhols last Friday night, is by far my favourite place to see a show, and it's the venue that I've been to the most. The design is fan-friendly, the vibe is intimate, the bartenders are plenty, the sound is amazing, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. It may just be a side-effect of growing old, but I'm still feeling wiped out from that show. Not a hangover, either. My body just couldn't handle the amount of awesome I witnessed. For that reason, I broke my pattern and didn't write a full post yesterday. Since I'm still not fully recovered, I'll save my official Dandy Warhols review for tomorrow, so check back for that.

The message I'll leave you with is this: No matter what genre of music you dig, no matter the style of venue that you prefer, no matter where you live or how much money you make, whether it's a gigantic arena, a mid-sized bar or club, or a tiny little nowhere coffee shop, there's somebody out there willing to share their talent and play you song. I suggest finding the money, finding the time, finding the ride, and go find a memory or two with some live music. Even if it ends up sucking, you'll still have a story to tell.

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