Sunday, April 17, 2016

Couch Concerts and Sofa Setlists

    One of the things that my generation of Dead Heads is blessed with is the prevalence of live streaming.  On any given week there’s probably at least one show being streamed online, and certain venues like the Capitol Theater and Brooklyn Bowl seem to stream every show they put on.  While I think we’re all lucky this technology is so prevalent and accessible, there are some down sides, or at least issues, worth discussing.  It’s still not a perfect medium, but the issues it does have are mostly surmountable.

    Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way first: buffering!  It’s hard to tell which is worse, if the feed suddenly stops dead (ha), or if it constantly starts and stops, only a few seconds at a time.  There is nothing worse than having the concert that you planned to watch, and maybe even paid money for, grind to a halt before your eyes when you know that the band is still playing hundreds of miles away!  It’s a jarring experience, especially if you’re in some kind of State of Mind.  It raises feelings of uncertainty because you don’t know where the problem is actually coming from; is it my computer?  Is it the internet connection?  Is it the streaming service?  Is it all just in my head??

    Needless to say, this drastically diminishes the enjoyability of the streaming experience.  I think when this happens it is mostly due to the streaming service not allocating enough bandwidth for the amount of people watching the stream.  Which is something they should stop doing!  It’s like the organization of Fare Thee Well, where they drastically underestimated the amount of interest in the shows; as Phil said “Who knew??”  We knew, Phil!  At this point there is no reasonable excuse for being unprepared for the amount of traffic a Dead show will get, because we are everywhere!

    Another issue is being at the whim of the director.  When you’re at a concert you can see everything at once and choose where to look at any given time.  Watching a stream, however, means you can only look at what the director wants you to look at.  Typically the director knows what he or she is doing, but it can be a real nuisance when they are unfamiliar with the band or their repertoire.  For example, picture a concert where the Dead just finished “Truckin’,” and are now heading into what is very obviously “The Other One.”  We all know that you want to keep one eye on Phil just in case he does his intro run into the song, but a cameraman or director who knows nothing about the Dead will inevitably keep the camera on the lead guitar or drums.  Equally annoying is when they can’t figure out who is singing or soloing at a given time, and you’re just sitting there screaming at your TV “It’s Kadlecik playing, not Bobby!”

    A prime example of this was the webcast of the Phil & Friends show from 10-31-2015.  My parents and I saw this and the night before live down in Port Chester, and Phil had guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan playing with him (full review to come).  In the second set they did the incredible segue of “Dark Star > Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) > Dark Star,” which not only featured some of the most incredible playing I’ve ever seen but also include the 56 year old Jordan doing a goddam somersault on stage while soloing on “Voodoo Chile;” we couldn’t believe it!  We bought the livestream and official recording ahead of time so we could watch the video of the show when we got home, and we were appalled to see (or not see) that the cameras had no idea what he was doing and didn’t catch any of the somersault or the jumping about that led up to it.  If we hadn’t gone and only watched the live stream, we never would have even known about this!

    During a live stream, I also find myself weighing the pros and cons of being at the concert vs. being on my couch.  When I’m on my couch, I can just get up and pour myself another drink without having to wait in line and pay a fortune for a beer.  When I’m at the show I’m constantly dancing and there is a feeling that I am contributing to the concert, but from my couch I’m only a spectator, and to get up and dance seems a little forced.  There’s also a chance of falling asleep if I’m sitting on a couch and it’s a late show from California (three hour time difference) or a New Year’s Show that’s bound to go past midnight; how embarrassing!  Another difference is the sound mix; when you’re live streaming you’re getting just the pure soundboard and you miss out on the actual acoustics of the venue.  On the other hand, you don’t have to deal with people having conversations during the show.

    Finally, as mentioned before, you have no control over the camera, and for some reason directors and cameramen are fascinated by shots of the crowd.  I think that can sometimes be a good thing, but all too often they’ll find a member of the crowd (typically an attractive girl) and linger on her for a long time.  The worst thing about this is that the person typically knows they’re being filmed because there’s a camera in their face and getting in the way of the dancing, and they are visibly uncomfortable -- move the camera!  The streaming of the show should not get in the way of the show itself, either by distracting the performers or by distracting the crowd trying to enjoy the show live.

    So those are the issues, and it may sound like I feel mostly bad about live streaming, but as I said at the beginning, it’s honestly a blessing.  While it of course doesn’t measure up to seeing the show live, and doesn’t always work out the way you plan, live streaming is the only way most people can see all the shows they want without traveling across the country and shelling out thousands of dollars.  The Lockn’ Festival typically offers streams of their entire festival, and while they do have some serious buffering issues at times, it’s incredible to be able to pay just a fraction of the ticket price and still be able to catch every act in the lineup!  It’s a great way to spend the weekend while listening to new and different music that you know is being performed live.  Live streams also give you the chance to have listening parties, where you invite your friends over and all watch the show together from the comfort of your home.  Again, being at the show is better, but if there’s no possibility of getting to the show or getting all your friends there, this is a great compromise.

    Well that’s about all I have to say.  Do any of you have streaming stories that you want to share?  Terrible experiences?  Great experiences?  Shows you saw live that you’re glad to have recordings of for the future?  Let me know in the comments below, and let me know if you have any requests or suggestions for my next post!  Also, you can follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter, both @21stCenturyDead, where sometimes I’ll have small supplements to the blog, questions, and teases for what’s coming up!

1 comment:

  1. In last year's Meet Up At the Movies (1989-07-19), the camera work was really bad! Part of this was that camera technology was much worse in 1989. All through the film they would regularly: zoom in, zoom out, pan left, pan right, and repeat. And their close-ups were bothersome ... we don't really need to be able to count Jerry's nose hairs, IMO.

    I'm curious why streaming sites like only offer streaming, and not the ability to actually purchase a download and watch it on your own schedule (if you fall asleep, start it over) without buffering issues.