Tuesday, March 06, 2012

this is fact not fiction: death cab for cutie

All concerts start out the same way: you wait in the queue with your tickets in your hand. Usually, you're with friends, or friends who are with friends, or friends who flew in from another part of the country so they could catch the band. Sometimes you know the band's discography like the back of your hand; sometimes you're only familiar with their older stuff; sometimes you just crammed the knowledge in your head the night before. There are people in various stages of dress - from the "just rolled out of bed and jumped into my pants" to the "I have planned my outfit since last week" looks, with a great variety in between. There are people eating an early dinner from the pizza truck, people doing silly dances to impress a girl, people saying hello and waving goodbye to other people. You know how it goes.

You know that they're letting in people when the queue starts shuffling forward, shoes scraping the rough concrete sidewalk where empty cigarette butts and half-consumed cans of Coke spill across the pavement. You hand your ticket to one usher, let another paw through your bag for contrabands, and allow a third to brand your forearm with a watery stamp telling the world that you're clear and you can go through. You wait for your friends.

Looking for the perfect spot is important, especially when the venue does not provide seats and expects you to jostle with eleventy thousand other concert-goers. You stake a spot near the railing, near another group of twentysomethings in their band shirts and jeggings, wedge heels and bright red lipstick, and sit down. The airconditioning is approaching Antarctic levels of cold, but as people trickle into the venue, the temperature rises and you're suddenly thankful for a carpeted floor and a comfortable atmosphere. The sound system plays 90s music and you sing along to Oasis and Radiohead.

And then you get a call - some friends couldn't get it because they had contrabands in their bags. (In this case, it's a DSLR.) You borrow your friend's car keys and ask if they could stow their stuff in his vehicle. He agrees, and you troop out and make your way to the parking lot with the DSLR in question. The camera is stowed and locked away, and your friends can get into the venue. Good Samaritan activity of the evening, done.

The crowd is getting restless, and it's ten minutes before the show starts. You stand up from the makeshift circle you've created on the floor, and lean against the railing. You're about two rows deep, when a gargantuan boy is a gray hoodie squeezes his way past the crowd to look for his girlfriend, and plants himself firmly in front of everyone else. "He's bigger than the rest of us combined!" you exclaim in a voice loud enough for him to hear. Your other friends shush you. You think about Voltron and Power Rangers, and think that even if you and your friends combine to form a giant mecha robot, the guy will still tower over you and you will never see the stage. Sadly, you let the idea go.

The lights dim and the stage lights blink into existence. Whites and purples and blues bathe the room, and from the shadows emerge figures with instruments. The crowd lets out a roar... only to fall silent as they realize that it's the front act coming forward, and not the band itself. They start up their first song and the lead singer wails into the microphone while banging his fingers against the piano. You look at your friends in confusion. "Who are they?" you mouth. "No clue," answers one, while the other shrugs, not knowing where they're from. They introduce themselves as Never The Strangers, which you find rather ironic given that most of the crowd had no idea who they were.

They sing three songs, and blessedly, the crowd is enthusiastic enough to applaud when they're done. And then the main act finally comes on stage and the first chords of their first song fills the air amidst screams and cheers and a million and one cameras held up against the blackness like tiny little digital stars. You and your friends decide that there must be a better view at the back, and hand in hand, you slip in the spaces between bodies and make your way to the back, where you can see Bed Gibbard cranking it up as he strums his guitar and sings into the microphone.

See, here's the thing about concerts: when it's good, it's really GOOD. When the bass and drums reverberate beneath your shoes and you can feel the rhythm traveling up your body and reside in your chest like your very own beatbox, where you can feel your limbs vibrate in time to every word of every song that you know, and you feel like you don't belong within the boundaries of your body anymore but within each note and each riff and each word of the song and you're possibly as close to the universe as you could be.

And also, you cried when they sang "I Will Follow You Into the Dark".

And you think about music and performance and being in the moment, and maybe that's why you don't like taking pictures or videos during concerts, in much the same way you don't bring a camera to a play or to a musical or to the movies. Because these things should be experienced, and to see a performance through the lens of a camera or camera phone somehow removes you from the experience, like you are a step behind. Because you don't think you need to capture the experience on an external memory drive; your mind is all you need to soak up each and every nuance of the performance and the experience, down to the soles of your aching feet. And while you don't fault people who videotape concerts - you've watched a lot of concerts that way, which you wouldn't have been able to - somehow you feel a bit sorry for them as well, because they weren't 100% into the performance.

And when you stumble back home at two in the morning, your belly full of burgers and your brain full of songs, you think about the euphoria of being part of something bigger and wilder and brighter than yourself, and you think to yourself, "Man, this is pretty awesome."

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