It’s indicative of the technological squalor we live in when multi-act concert titles begin to incorporate twitter hashtags (#) and not-really-kidding reminders that a concerts are “special” experiences. Perhaps it isn’t generally understood these days, as I had hoped, that concerts are “special” because unlike most of our twenty-first century musical “experiences” (virtual, online experiences, that is), real-life concerts and their nominal markers of tickets, beer, sweat, and sound systems, are of the few music-involved experiences that remain outside the tightly encircling realm of virtual reality.
You would think that sobering fact alone would be enough to keep the concert tradition alive and well, but evidently the youth needs a lesson and the know-betters need a reminder. To counter the internet monopoly, concert promoters have begun to outwardly react to an important consequence of our post-virtual consumptive consciousness: it is no longer enough to sell a concert on the fact it is a “live” experience.
Before we address exactly how promoters have reacted to this situation, let’s consider why “live” is no longer enough. Instead of beating around the bush, I’ll keep it succinct and summarize a mass realization that got us into this mess: “live” sucks. Why pay for a concert when you can stream the “live” bootleg from a blog, twitter, or facebook– all on our very own couches! And why experience one concert in a night, when you can watch 15 best-of’s in the same amount of time, in your sweatpants, sitting down (standing…ugh), with your favorite beer in hand? What beats that kind of convenience?
Not a lot, but the case for concerts isn’t a case of convenience. Concerts have more to do with what virtual music cannot offer (yet): the spectacle of human interaction. Consider the Pitchfork #Offline concert series, which strikes me as a perfectly current and influential example. Concerts are beginning to be advertised on the pitch that they offer an alternative way to experience your favorite musicians. The twitterfied title #Offline suggests that “#Online” is now not only the primary way of consuming music, but also the preferred way. But the clever and righteous Pitchfork promoters have flipped the situation by insinuating that in today’s virtual world, concerts offer a rare (read: valuable) chance to see your favorite artists in the “other” real life. More than that, they are a chance to brush up against humanity. They are a chance, in short, to get offline.
#Offline? Real life? What awesomeness does that have to offer?
I don’t mean to get metaphysical on you, but in Pitchfork’s presentation of it, even “real life” is far larger than real life, because their #Offline festival– a three-day Brooklyn Bowl event that, as promised, showcased real musicians and their sound wave emanating instruments–managed to poof Kanye and GZA out of thin air yesterday, on Saturday Oct. 23. During a live MPC set and showcase by the label Fools Gold, which is run by A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs, CyHi Da Prynce was performing “So Appalled” when Kanye appeared, wearing a knee-length black jacket and his mammoth sized Horus chain. Wham. Out of no-where and just as unexpectedly as an mouse click or two gone pleasantly awry might turn up, Kanye appeared. But this time he was live in the flesh. Oooohhhhh WEE!
Surprising as it was, Kanye’s appearance was entirely well sequenced and certainly not random. CyHi Da Prynce is affiliated with Kanye’s label, G.O.O.D Music, but the most important connection is with Montreal’s A-Trak, who was Kanye’s tour DJ for several years. After treading through “Appalled,” West deliberated with A-Trak, then proceeded to perform several other tracks from the free online G.O.O.D friday release series, including a verse from “Monster,” “Devil In a New Dress,” “Power,” and “Runaway.” Avid Kanye followers in attendance would surely have been hyped by the fact his 40 minute short, “Runaway” was also premiering that same evening.
If surprise Kanye West visits remind us that getting #offline guarantees something special, unique, and surprising, then there’s likely to be centuries of offline concert experiences in the future. But we’re already in a vicious circle, because getting #offline already means–in fact it presumes–getting back #online. And you know what that means. The “live” is the only place to Runaway left.