The band takes the stage. Chatter moves to a hush, anticipation swells in the room like a physical presence, like dozens of extra people filtering into the crowd. Smoke billows, and a hazy purple light bursts through the din, silhouetting the lead singer. Fingers wrap around a microphone, tremble readily over strings, hover above keys. A note is hit, a chord is struck, the show begins. The crowd moves. It is alive.
And you can’t see a damned thing, because the moron directly in front of you is holding their iPad up, over the crowd, a great matte-grey blockade of idiocy.
There is a disturbing trend in concert-going that is widespread in its prevalence, an epidemic of douchery virulent in infectiousness, and vicious in how it desolates enjoyment. A striking number of individuals at concerts these days feel compelled to document every second of the show in photo and video, in tweet and update, on every shimmering electric rectangle they have on their person. Every second must be captured. Every note must be recorded. Every line of sight must be blocked, because if anyone needs to see this show, it is the unwashed masses of youtube rather than the paying customers currently present.
Underlying this is an air of grasping at coolness, a need to stake claim to the concert. Embedded in the dopey scowl of every face illuminated by the back of an iPhone are the creases of worry. Will this be enough? Will the others believe them now, will they be afforded the respect they so richly deserve and desperately crave? How else will people know that they attended this concert? How will the screaming, vacuous hordes of the internet and their facebook network be sure that this person is as rad as they claim? How best can one gain that elusive, effervescent material of credibility, so nebulous and difficult to harvest, if not through cold, critical video proof?
And in turn, it begins to feel like no one at the concert is actually there to enjoy the concert, but to enjoy the swollen ego they will gain later by telling everyone what an amazing show it was. That most precious of statements, “I liked the band when they were underground” becomes unsaid, a badge stitched into ones soul, an emblem shared on the internet for time immemorial. It is a shibboleth in carriage rather than in words, an inroad to the central hub of cool. I was there, man, back when it all started, and I have hard evidence in the form of digital and physical recordings, ticket stubs, eyewitness testimony to my presence, as well as combined blood and urine samples of every band member.
Of course, the evidence itself sucks: blurry, out-of-focus, poorly rendered captures from a smoky basement are all that emerges from most shows. I know this for a fact because I usually am forced to stand behind one or another goon taking hundreds of individual shots of the band, each a gauzy wash of pink and blue light, illuminating an ephemeral wraith cloaked in a shroud of fog. A guitar neck protrudes here or there, a snatch of a drumstick. If there is video, it is just as wretched, buoyed only by the presence of sound, which is tinny and over-loud and garbage.
There are a number of annoying people at modern concerts that I have learned to tolerate. Stoic Tall Guy, who is stone-faced, and has never felt a rhythm pass through his body, to the point that maybe he has a condition. Exceedingly Drunk Girl, who is slam-dancing and throwing her fists to the roof, and maybe occasionally shadowboxing right next to your eyeball. The Whoo-er, who says “whoo,” and says it so often you wonder if maybe all of their teeth are missing. But these concert mainstays are tolerable in that they seem to actually be enjoying themselves, and in their own ways engage in showing their appreciation, through shouts and sways and occasional nods.
I have never seen a person smiling while recording a show on their tablet or iPhone or Blackberry. In the brutal, gun-metal grey glow of their device, I see a face strained and bitter, arcing around neighbours, trying their best to capture the incapturable. And while I ultimately have little qualms with people ruining something for themselves by being stupid, when enormous, blisteringly-shiny rectangles occlude my view, when a sea of arms each ending in some cybernetic phalange erupt from the crowd to claw at the band, when I am staring at three dozen Apple logos rather than my favourite singer, I grow somewhat dismayed.
Because ultimately, nothing is gained through this ocean of amateur concert photography, and much is lost. No one at the show, the stalwart photographers themselves or the dozens of strangers they enrage, get to enjoy the concert. The people who record the videos and the songs will not enjoy them later, because if they didn’t enjoy it live, why would they enjoy it some other time? The people of the internet will find no solace either, because whatever meagre, low-res fragments of live music ferret their way online are wretched and if they wanted to see the concert, they would have gone in the first place.
It is a future-orientation, a desperate need to escape the present, a hand-held barrier between human and genuine experience. No one at the show is actually at the show–they are somewhere far away. Everyone is focused on how great the concert is going to look later that they forget how great the show looks now with their ears and their eyeballs.