December 5, 2010
Authentic, humanistic, gracious, interactive, connected, transformational, expansive, evolutionary, thought-provoking, confrontational, empowering, generational, revolutionary, honest. Roger Waters: The Wall.
I took a break from writing about live music and here’s why: earlier this year, as part of a streak of amazing shows, I experienced one of the best live shows to date: Atoms For Peace (Thom Yorke), in Oakland.
After that, there was Coachella (which included highlights: Phoenix and Jonsi), JazzFest (highlights: My Morning Jacket at Preservation Jazz Hall – capacity of 100ish; and a lot of bloody marys), Imogen Heap (who definitely deserves her own write-up), David Gray and Ray Lamontagne (that was outstanding), Jonsi at The Wiltern (“When was the last time you experienced something like that?” my friend Heather inquired. “Atoms For Peace in Oakland,” I responded), The Eels (inspired me to purchase one of everything they were selling at the merch booth), The Frames (d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n), and several others.
Among the “others” was a Miike Snow show. My experience of that show was the epitome of everything that is resulting in things such as promoters and ticket retailers posting large revenue losses, quarter after quarter. I don’t recall specifically the exact mark-up, but it was something like 42% of the total per ticket cost was service charges (possibly even more than that). Then, what do you get inside? You find yourself experiencing a show, surrounded by people who are there almost as some kind of status symbol or fashion statement. They could afford tickets, they were able to get tickets to “the hottest show” that night – they exuded superiority. It didn’t feel like it was about the music; it felt like it was about ego. Not everyone embodied this attitude, of course, but plenty did.
In my opinion, music should be accessible, democratic, accepting, and connecting. What I found disheartening about that show is that, for the most part, it was the opposite of all those things. The live music business (artists included) let their egos take the wheel because, for a moment, live music was the cash-positive side of the music business. In an attempt to exploit that momentum, they lost sight of the most important thing — the experience.
At the point you lose my friends and me – people who have been seeing live music (sometimes multiple shows per night), every night of the week, for more than a decade, you should consider examining your business. We are the “super fans,” the ones who will travel around the world to see a great show, and if you’re not engaging us, how do you expect to engage the “casual fan”?
At about the same time I became disillusioned with the experience of live music, my camera (which previously allowed me to capture exceptional quality videos) broke. So, for the past several months, I’ve been experiencing live music without concern about capturing the experience for those who couldn’t be there. Instead, I was more grounded in the experience, with the people who could be there. Ironically, my inability to document the experience greatly supported my resurfacing to document the experience. Which is where I am now, after they tore down The Wall.
When Roger Waters announced he’d be touring The Wall, it made the top of my list of “shows to see”. Then, there was that incident of defacing the Elliott Smith memorial tribute wall in Silverlake to promote Roger Waters: The Wall. Once I heard that, I decided not to attend the show. I do not believe you need to compromise the art or memorial of another in order to promote your own. Nor do I believe you should record a shitty cover song, for the same reasons (but that’s a topic for another day). Waters later apologized, by the way.
Monday came around and my Twitter stream was full of accolades about The Wall. I had plans Monday night and would not have been able to attend the show anyway. Tuesday rolled around – same thing. Wednesday morning I was kicking myself for missing this show. Based on what everybody was saying, this was a fully immersive live music experience like the ones I’d been missing (especially since Nine Inch Nails stopped touring and Radiohead had been quiet).
Wednesday night I had dinner with a friend of mine who is also a manager at Redlight Management. He’s been seeing live music for decades and, like me, has traveled around the world for music. “Roger Waters The Wall is the best show I’ve ever seen! Not just a music show – a real SHOW!” he exclaimed. . . Shit.
“I can’t believe I missed it!!” I replied, defeated.
“He’s playing again Sunday and tickets are available,” my friend informed me. That’s all it took. I resolved to go to the show Sunday, no matter what.
Saturday I saw my friend, Deborah. If there is a handful of people who have been to more live shows than I, Deborah is one of them. “You have to go see The Wall! It’s the best show I’ve seen. . . ”
Ok, ok, I get it, I’m going.
Sunday, following an amazing day of philosophizing, relaxing, and spending time with friends, I headed to Staples Center to experience this highly-anticipated show. Now, my expectations were set very high, so it would be easy to fall short, but that didn’t happen.
Everything – the inefficient system of getting people through metal detectors and into the show, the pre-show music, long lines for the men’s bathroom and no lines for the women’s room, amazing pastrami sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, generations of families in attendance – was part of the experience. It felt less like a concert and more like a pilgrimage to a festival or any shared experience with a heightened level of consciousness among everyone in attendance. People knew they were in for something special.
The show began, and as the band played “The Wall” front to back (because that’s how it was with vinyl), a wall was literally built in front of the audience. Bricks were added with intention, one by one, and then images were projected on The Wall. At one point, you could almost feel the dirty breeze of the train rushing by. There was a plane crash. There were larger-than-life puppets that danced and hovered over the crowd. An intricate story was told and no matter where you were sitting, you were enveloped in the experience.
The experience was expansive, the vibe unifying and community-building. There was a set break between “side A” and “side B,” during which we were invited into the ABC corporate box seats. The “walls” of exclusivity were truly torn down and we watched a good portion of the second set from this upgraded vantage point.
Was Roger Waters: The Wall an expensive ticket? Yes. Was the experience worth it? Yes.
Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend is back (with a new camera).
More soon. . .