Blair's Golden Road Blog - Instant Gratification
I just got off YouTube, where I was watching a sharp video of Furthur doing their version of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” last night (3/11/11) at the Best Buy Theater in NYC. I’d followed the progress of the show in the “Furthur” conference on DeadNetCentral.com while it was happening Friday night—one of the site’s administrators, whose nom de web is Dire Wolf, faithfully reports the name of each song as it’s played. So when I went to bed I knew the band had played that Abbey Road gem (not exactly a surprise if you’d been following the tour — they unveiled a different song from AR each night in the same sequence and song position as the album; and then did the whole big Side Two medley on Phil's birthday). But at that point we didn’t have any info on who had sung it; all we had was the title. Thanks to the YouTube video, I learned that Bob sang it; really good version, too. Much better than “Oh, Darling,” for sure.
Now, had this been a few nights earlier, during Furthur’s three-night run at Boston’s intimate Orpheum Theater, I could have heard it live as it happened. You see, there was a guy inside the Orpheum with little shotgun microphones and a Sound Devices 744 digital recorder (the same kind used by film sound effects and production recordists; top-of-the line stuff), and somehow he was able to discreetly transmit the show live over a cell phone to a site that uploaded the signal and let us listen to it on the Internet. The quality wasn’t fantastic, but after a lifetime of listening to some really poor-quality tapes of really good Dead and Jerry Band shows, I’ve trained my ears to listen through noise, distortion, echo, whatever, and hear what’s actually going on in the music. So, sitting at my computer, taking care of some work needs, I was blasting those Boston shows, all the while conversing with other folks doing the same on DNC. Good times! And when it was dinnertime and I had to retreat to the kitchen for a spell, I just cranked it up louder. My computer speakers don’t quite manage “concert volume,” as we call it, but they’re decent; I didn’t miss much.
Then, the following day, in late morning here on the Left Coast, word suddenly spread on the Internet that gdradio.net was broadcasting a soundboard recording from the previous night’s show (as they had the day after other concerts on the tour). Schweeet! Between those kinds of sources and Archive.org, where fine audience recordings are often available to stream (or download) by the next day, it’s never been easier to follow a tour as it happens. (And people who attend a show can buy an official recording before they leave the venue and listen to it on the ride home, if they like.)
Then, too, I always get an email alert either the day after a show, or a day later, alerting me that I can buy soundboard downloads from Livedownloads.com. I’ve bought a number of Furthur FLAC downloads the last couple of years — sometimes after first listening to audience versions of the show on Archive, but more often just based on the song list. I like to be surprised, and I have yet to be disappointed with one of my purchases.
(This just in: As I’m writing this on Saturday morning (3/12) around 11 a.m., last night’s Best Buy show has just started streaming on gdradio.net: “Greatest Story”; nice! Thank you, Furthur!)
Needless to say, things are a bit different today than they were in the Grateful Dead era. Back when we were putting out The Golden Road magazine (’84-’93), we relied on the kindness of friends who were on tour following the band to call us from the road, either late at night after a show or the next day, to run down the set list from a pay phone or hotel room. It was something we really looked forward to because it had an intimacy and immediacy — we could hear the excitement in our friend’s voice, we could relive it with him as he recalled the show (or struggled to: “Wait, there was a ‘Me & My Uncle’ in there after ‘Far From Me,’ before the ‘Bird Song’!”), and if he was high enough, it was often hilarious. Even second-hand accounts (“I just got the call from Sundance — wait till you hear this list!”) were thrilling.
Mr. Jackson, your fall tour
tapes have arrived!"
As for actually hearing the show, well, we always had to wait for the end of the tour and for another kind Head to send us audience tapes via the good ol’ U.S. Mail. Sometimes it would be weeks before certain shows arrived. Ah, but what a wonder to find that parcel in our mailbox!
By the Dead’s later days, the Internet was well-established, and you could usually find set lists on Well.com or Rec.music.gdead and probably other places, too, but as a troglodyte in good standing, I didn’t even have the Internet at home until after Jerry died. I was late getting a cell phone, too, and was totally mystified the first couple of times I took my then-young kids to concerts of what was then “their” music and all their peers would be crowded around the stage holding cell phones aloft taking pictures of the stage or, as likely, holding their cell cameras at arm’s length and taking shots of themselves with the band a blur in the background. I remember seeing the Black Eyed Peas at an arena with my daughter and will.i.am asked everyone to turn on their cell phones and wave them in the air—it was quite a sight; I guess it’s the 21st century equivalent of my generation lighting matches of approval.
Cell phone photos are so 2007, though. Now, everyone (except me) has a smart phone with high quality video capabilities and more memory, allowing same-day or next-day uploading of entire songs onto YouTube or Facebook or wherever. There’s a video of “The Other One” from the 3/10 Best Buy concert that went up on YouTube the following morning that blew my mind: it was mostly astonishingly clear closeups of the guitarists’ hands, and the audio quality was excellent to boot. Trust me, if the Grateful Dead was still touring, every minute of every song (in varying degrees of quality) would be on YouTube the next morning.
Is that a good thing? I guess. I’m sure I’d be right there watching every clip (in order, of course). But I also can’t help thinking that something — some amount of connectivity — is lost when so many people in the crowd are distracted by the incessant cell phone activity (photos/video/Internet searching/phone calls) that is evident at every show by almost any band these days. But I suppose it’s just par for the course in this distracted, multitasking age.
What do you think? Has the avalanche of new technologies and new ways to listen to and see bands affected your overall enjoyment of music in any way? Does access to so much free music make you less inclined to buy music or go see bands live? Or are you discovering cool new things on the Web?
Thanks for the thoughts, Blair. I was at the opening show at the Orpheum on 3/4 and was often brought back to the magical experiences of dead shows. At one point, though, a kid probably in his early twenties was holding his phone up to record "Other One," and it was right in front of my face. I mean, I could see the band through his little cell phone screen better than I could see that actual band with my blocked view. I finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he knew how annoying it was. He replied, "I just want to put it on YouTube, man. There are more than just 2,000 people who like the Dead." Sigh. I must say that I was thrilled to be able to download a crisp audience recording of the show from etree.org the next morning, so technology is by no means all bad, but I don't think the experience is the same when people are so distracted by their phones.
"May the 4 winds blow you safely home."
First of all, THANK YOU Blair for bringing this up. I'm only 33, but am beginning to feel like a grumpy old man when it comes to this subject. Personally, I think the use of "smart" phones and other digital devices at shows has gotten out of hand in the last few years. I find the lit up screens around me to be extremely distracting, let alone when a person lifts it up, blocking my view of the band that I paid probably too much money to see. And its not just teenagers and twentysomethings. I've seen just as many 50 year olds that just can't seem to enjoy themselves and leave the damn thing alone. Whatever happened to the no photography/video policies that most venues had? I mostly blame them for allowing it to get so bad. Okay, 'nuff ranting. Time to get a pre-full moon buzz on. I'm gonna record it on my phone and post it on YouTube! That'll be so sick - I bet no one else has thought of it ;)
Although I think technology has been great for music, it has made my profession an awful lot harder. I'm an English teacher, and I can say that today's average teen has the attention span of a house fly. Part of this is simple teenage development, but another part of it has to do with kids and their DEMAND to be connected to their friends via facebook and texting all the time. You wouldn't believe the confrontations I've had with students when I gently (and other times not-so-gently) 'suggest' that they shut their devices off. I wish you could see the stress on some of their faces when they are unaware of what's "going on" with their peers for even as little as five or ten minutes, and this is while school is in session. The constant 'need' to have access to their friends has altered their learning patterns. Of course, there are many wonderful young students, but the past ten years have shown me that the current group of America's teens see connectivity much, much differently than adults. In my opinion, they see technology and connectivity as some kind of human right. This kind of thinking and behavior has led to an overall deterioration of student learning, especially when it comes to doing anything over a sustained period of time. The idea of spending an hour or two doing sustained reading is not only repellent, it is almost completely impossible to fathom for a lot of kids. To be sure, I always have a handful of great readers, but asking a group of kids to read and understand a novel has changed dramatically in as little as ten years. I know I probably sound like a cranky old jerk, but if you spent a week at work with me you'd be shocked at what passes for an attention span in the average, middle class high schooler. I will say most kids I know are kind, friendly people, but often their need to be connected baffles me. I guess society is evolving faster than I am.
I went back to college in the late 90's and discovered it was a necessity! I sometimes think the technology is taking over our lives a bit too much. That said, I have found that the internet has enabled me to connect to some amazing people I would never have known otherwise. This sight and Facebook have allowed to me to connect with some really cool Deadheads all over the U.S. and Europe, for example. The music available on the internet has definitely reduced the number of CD's I buy. At the same time, it has increased my attendance at live shows. I have discovered many bands on line and then gone to see them live. It has also made it easier for me to find out when bands are appearing near me and made it easier to purchase tickets. In the end all technology is a tool. We need to use it and not let it use us!
First of all, thank you Blair for the photo and caption! A real flashback to the kind of stuff I loved about your magazine from when it first came out and I was a young(er) head.
I am late to technological advancements (like you, Blair, I got internet after Jerry died, years after in my case, and still don't have a smartphone). I find that I don't want to spend the time learning how these new gadgets "improve" the quality of my life. When at a show I find cell phones distracting from the overall quality of the performace, although have on occasion guiltily used texting to locate friends (I try to keep it to a minimum). I find that the more these gadgets 'unite us' the more they tear us apart. I feel like a relic at the age of 42 by all of the technology that I can't (and don't want) to keep up with. I like my vinyl, my cd collection that gives me someting tangible to relate to when I listen to music. I prefer to meet people in person, or at least talk on the phone, to texting and email. Yes, I use these media to keep myself a little closer to those I know and love who use the same. But I definitely find that even with the little technology I use, I resent the time it takes out of my day and the attention it takes away from things that are more immediate. It's always a delicate balance. Without technology we would not be able to keep upt to date with what is going on in Libya and Japan right now. However, it also disperses what little attention and energy I have for life, exhausting enough at its barest.
There is a funny YouTube vid out there from U2's 2005 Vertigo tour where Bono spots a chick up front messing with her phone during the show, and he basically lectures her and tells her to put the phone away and commune with the rest of them in the moment there at the show she was actually at.
Fast forward to the current 360 Tour and the band has embraced that which they cannot fight.... they ask everyone to hold up their phones during the "Moment of Surrender" encore to create the illusion of bringing the Milky Way into the venue, and encourage Texting from the show for One.org (One Foundation charity for Africa)
There's a lesson in there somewhere
The issues here are interesting, and complex, books have been written on this! In brief, for me, new ways of mediating music have been mainly positive. First, it allows one easier access to music one might otherwise be unfamiliar with--it is all just a click away. Second, w.r.t. the Dead scene, it makes for a more egalitarian scene. In the past this post has concerned elitist heads. Back in the day of cassettes, Nak 550's and the like, access to live recordings was one of the hallmarks of ones committment to the band. Ones "cultural capital" within the scene was often a function of how many tapes you had. Now everyone can have almost everything, and it levels the playing field, so to speak. When I think about how much time I spent trying to track down that rare board recording from, well, whereever, if I only knew that archive.org was in the future I could have spent that time other ways. For me, I see more live bands than I otherwise would, as I often discover bands I like on youtube, and then go see them when they pass through town. As for everyone holding their cellphones and shooting video at a gig, well, that can be disturbing (but so was the tapers scene before the tapers section), and is actually rather odd. Since you know there will be often literally hundreds of recordings/video available the very next day, free to all on youtube, why would you want to add your smartphone feed into the mix? That so many do suggests that it has become a new way of personally connecting to the bands and the music. Whatever is the reality, one feels more connected to the event if one is recording it. And, concerning matters such as this, what one feels IS the reality. There is a reason that the term "connected" is so important in new media studies, and is/was just that state which so many Heads strived for, and achived w.r.t. the Dead.... (And hell if I had in the day equipment as small and good as what you can get now, I would have had A LOT easier time getting my gear into shows!)
I wonder if all this technology is changing how we think and critically process information. Do we now process information and ideas in sound bits without any real ability or time to seriously think and process what we are seeing around us. I now get short emails and text messages instead of hand written letter, it's all kind of sad and impersonal. I agree that balance is the key and a healthy society is one where it's citizens interact and show each other respect in a meaningful way. But I sure love in high speed interent but my cell phone feels like a ball and chain.
..the technology controls us
I have to walk around people everyday now,
who have lost all awareness of their outward
surroundings, while their thumbs are busily
at work on their devices.
On the other hand, I did catch one of those
Orpheum ustreams on my computer, and
it was sweet, alright!
balance is the key, I guess
Long ago and far away--October 11, 1983, as it happens--a friend called me on a pay phone in Madison Square Garden to tell me that the Dead had played "St. Stephen." He couldn't wait until he got home. He actually called me at my girlfriend's house in Berkeley. She was quite astonished that anyone would do this, and that it wasn't something that could be put off until the next day. Now, of course, it seems normal.