In January of 1984, I got to go see Van Halen at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, with Autograph opening up. I was (and still am) a big fan of both bands, and was thrilled to be going to my first ever concert. It was a huge experience, made even more so by having no idea what to expect going in to the show.
Back then, there was no Internet from which to download setlists or even reviews of previous night’s concerts. There were fanzines and newsletters, but those travelled by US post, and were put together with Xerox machines and typewriters. Bootleg cassettes and LPs existed, but were only available at small specialty shops and record collector conventions. Video cameras were bulky and expensive, and so pirated live shows were few and far between.
Last week, I went to see My Morning Jacket at the Alabama Theater. I’m not that familiar with the band, but I was able to listen to random selections from their discography throughout the day of the concert by searching for their material on iTunes and YouTube. Since this was their tour opener, there was no way to know what songs they would be playing — though I reviewed the show, and the next day I had emails and comments asking for setlists and clarifications. My girlfriend (a huge MMJ fan and the reason I went to the concert) had said a few times that she wanted to go back and do it all again, that the show was in her top three MMJ concert experiences (she’s a repeat attender) — and by 10 AM the next morning, I had managed to find a quality recording of the show (bootlegged by an audience member) online, downloaded it, and burned it to a couple of CDs for her listening pleasure.
It’s fascinating to me, the differences of twenty-five years, brought by technology. I remember not a decade ago waiting anxiously for CDs to hit the store shelves on Tuesdays, ready to hear the latest discs that I had been reading about and imagining for months. Fifteen years ago, I would record videos on MTV and tape radio shows because they would get songs from albums that were two or three weeks away. We would read guitar magazines and Rolling Stone and Spin and Revolver to get what scraps of news we could about albums or tours that were in the works. Even five years ago, the bandwidth wasn’t necessarily there to grab songs at a whim or find pre-releases without a little bit of luck.
Now today, release dates are a guide as to when you might start checking the BitTorrent sites for review leaks. If you’re wanting to see a band live, you can read a billion reviews from pros and fans alike the day after their first show (if not sooner), find out if they’ll be playing your favorite songs, watch videos from the current tour on YouTube and maybe download the audio (or video) from a few shows, and then purchase your tickets online before you head out the door.
Part of me is a huge fan of all of this. I’m a data junkie and patience is not my strong suit, so being able to find out anything and everything about the upcoming Pain of Salvation or Devin Townsend albums and listen to song samples is exciting and important to me. I can check out audio and video from shows I could never attend, across the country or across the world, and record those alternate versions of songs that I love to my iPod for listening anytime, any place.
But I remember those days, those days of old when we would run to the record store uphill, both ways, in 2 feet of snow and hundred degree temperatures in our shoes made of wood. The excitement that would build all day on Tuesday, as we sat through school or work, thinking about the new CDs hitting the stores, and how awesome all those songs might (or might not!) be — that would eat at us, but in the best possible way. Going to concerts having no idea what surprises might be in store, what songs might get played. Finding that bootleg recording of rare b-sides or amazing shows that you had heard whispers of but never imagined hearing was a once in a year occurrence.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m just as anxious to hear Road Salt One in a month, to see Devin Townsend when he tours later this year, as I was as a teenager. But it feels like maybe something’s lacking, like I know too much too soon now to appreciate it the way I used to. It’s not age — my passion for music has only grown as I’ve gotten older.
This isn’t meant to be a luddite rant at all — I love technology, that I can fit my entire (and rather large) music collection in a wallet-sized piece of metal that can be played at home, in the car, on the computer, or through tiny ear-bud headphones. I love that music can be recorded, bit-by-bit, as perfectly or as loosely as the musician chooses. I love the sound effects and DTS 5.1 surround.
I do feel for those that will never know the anticipation of a new release, and for those that feel that if it’s out there, they somehow deserve or are owed this music.
And I wonder what the music fan who is twelve or thirteen today will bemoan in another generation.