Why do you like live music?
April 23, 2018 10:10 AM   Subscribe

It's overly loud, less than studio quality, usually crowded. You have to sit through the bad songs. Most musicians are only barely performance artists. I just don't get the appeal.

I feel like everyone exaggerates how much they enjoy it, or they're not being honest about why they enjoy it. I see that I'm out of touch here, but can you explain to me why? Note that I don't understand live sports either. But I love theater.
posted by pot suppeck to Media & Arts (75 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think for me it's the "energy," of the crowd. It's not about the artists, or the songs, though old favorites are always delightful. THere's something about being in a group of several hundred people all cheering and enjoying the same spectacle you are. Clearly, YMMV, and no one is obligated to like the same things, but those are my reasons :)
posted by Alensin at 10:17 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Most musicians are only barely performance artists

This is not the case for most/all bands that I see live. Sure there are plenty of terrible musicians that tour to promote a heavily produced studio album, but there are many, many talented musicians who can accomplish something totally new and organic on the stage. Sharing that experience with other fans of the work is something special and, to me, one of life's great pleasures.
posted by stinkfoot at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2018 [24 favorites]

You don't say genre, but the shows I go to are 100% performance artists. Funk, rock afrobeat, ska, etc, I've seen great live acts in all these genres, but I've never had that good of a time at a giant stadium concert for a nationally famous act.

The venues are small and not that crowded, yes it is often too loud but I wear ear plugs. Everyone should wear ear protection at shows, the bands do, the sound guys do, they pretty much expect you to do so too.

Anyway, I love the feel of excitement of the crowd, the improvisations, the instrumental chops, the feeling of crowd interaction, the better sound systems than I have at home, and lots of other things about live shows. (And lest I give the wrong impression, I'm no live music super fan, I've averaged about 1-2 shows a year for the past decade.)

TLDR: I think you need to go see different shows. Maybe smaller/lesser known acts, maybe a different genre, maybe pick better venues. Or maybe you just don't like live music, that's ok too.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2018 [13 favorites]

"I feel like everyone exaggerates ... or they're not being honest ..." Well that's not a very promising way to ask a question of other people, or a very promising suggestion that you will take their answers seriously. And maybe PERHAPS the things about you that make you start that way, are ALSO related to the reasons you don't like live music ...

Nonetheless for me the things about seeing live music are mostly related to the humanity and shared-ness of it, as well as the multi-sensory experiences. It is completely different from listening to a record. I love it because I am not alone and can be surprised and can feel the sound waves in my body when it's loud. Maybe you just don't and that's ok.
posted by sheldman at 10:20 AM on April 23, 2018 [13 favorites]

As a counterpoint, you're not the only one. My husband is a musician and he actually loathes going to see live shows, for some of the reasons you listed here. The sound is awful, too loud, it's too crowded.

I like going to *some* live shows. If it's a band/musician I really, really like, it can be fun. Saw Ben Folds a couple years ago and it was great. It was just him and a piano, so it wasn't too loud and he's just as good live as he is recorded. I sometimes enjoy festival-type shows, depending on the type. I can wander in and out of performances and I can stay in the back where it's not too loud or too crowded. But if it's a show at a bar or a small venue, I probably won't go.

I have wondered if a person's enjoyment of shows has anything to do with extroversion/introversion. My husband, for example, is very much a strong introvert, while I am more extroverted than he is (but still very much prefer to be home, in the quiet, without a lot of people around). All the friends I have who love live shows are extreme extroverts. They get recharged by being with people; the more the merrier. I'm just not like that.
posted by cooker girl at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

Some music is actually better live. It depends on the band, or the individual musician performing, and of course the musical genre.

The best live performances i have attended were by non-mainstream, niche bands, never played on the radio and not on spotify or similar. In small venues, or small festivals.

If you can sit close enough to observe the musicians interact it is fascinating how they communicate. Also these concerts wont be too loud.
posted by 15L06 at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2018 [11 favorites]

My wife got to meet a singer after the show and had great fun doing so - she's been a fan for 25 years, and he signed a photograph of teenage herself triumphantly holding a cassette tape of his.
posted by turkeybrain at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, I saw TMBG in Portsmouth NH ten or so years back and they rocked SO HARD. I had no idea, from the studio albums, that they were capable of this. To be completely honest though, this was the third or fourth time I saw them and the other shows were fun, but not in the same ballpark of awesomeness.

Also also, yes, bring earplugs
posted by turkeybrain at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

I like seeing bar bands - bluesy, funky local acts, and while I don't go much anymore, I used to go mostly for the dancing up front - generally smaller crowd - 25 to 50 people. If it's too big for a bar or small theater, then it's not worth it for the reasons you cite - too loud, too crowded, too expensive.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd say most very popular pop musicians today are more of performance artists than actual artists. They're better at putting on a show than at singing or playing, much less writing songs.

Meanwhile, you can't fully appreciate the Mountain Goats until you take in one of Darnielle's deranged-street-preacher performances.

Meanwhile meanwhile, live classical music is generally performed in excellent listening conditions and can offer significantly different interpretations of the text from night to night.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2018 [16 favorites]

I feel like the way this question was phrased might be a red flag that it's not being asked in good faith, but just in case you actually are interested in hearing from people who disagree with you... for me, getting to see musicians I like in relatively small venues, perhaps even getting to meet them, is really fun. Also, since I go to small shows, it's just fun to hang out with friends, drink beers, generally make memories. Some are even really great live performers! Not all, for sure, but either way, you have stories about when you saw soandso live.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Why do you like theater when you could just watch a movie at home? Or lots of plays have live recordings. Why would you ever watch something with someone else in the room? Why would you ever tell someone about a book you read, or read aloud to anyone? Why would anyone go to church/temple/mosque when they could read religious texts at home?

Sharing, for most people, adds to the experience of almost anything. That's why many people post pictures of relatively mundane things on social media. In the case of concerts it's often the point of the experience; like you said, the music quality is inferior and it can be loud and crowded. For many people it's worth it. Happiness and joy are contagious. I don't do drugs but I've had moments of absolute euphoria at dances/concerts that I imagine are better than any pharmaceutical I could take at home.
posted by AFABulous at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

For me it's really venue-driven. Most of the live music I experience is in smaller venues ranging from bars to medium-sized clubs that have cheap covers. The artists are often local-ish, or may be on tour but don't have a huge following yet.

I go because:

1) I know I like that venue -- because of the bar, because of the sound quality, because of what the crowd is like, etc.
2) It's a nice way to experience new music. Usually I'll never have heard of the artist in question before. I just know I'm free on X night and I'll see who is playing at the venues I like. If they sound interesting and I like the clips that often get posted, I'll go.
3) Even with a drink, it's usually not that much more expensive than going out to a movie or something, so if they turn out to not be my jam it's not a big loss.
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I saw Carrie Brownstein wailing on a guitar at a show years ago and I was forever changed. She was poetry. It was intoxicating to be that close to that level of raw talent and energy.
posted by mochapickle at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

On top of everything else listed, live experiences are unique. There is usually one studio version of a song but each performance is different. Even for artists that do playback, dancing or MC patter will differ - the live experience from this particular place and angle is yours alone. It's like film versus theatre.

And a good concert can be an experience akin to medieval religious festivals - unified emotions, unified movement, shared pleasure and the feeling of community. Freddie Mercury may be dead, but in a stadium full of three generations of people who know every Queen song by heart you can forget it for an hour.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2018 [11 favorites]

Live music isn't static. Every time I hear the recording, it's the same. Live, musicians can play a little, improvise, and even subtle changes pique my interest. In smaller settings, musicians interact with the audience. There is an energy to live music that I don't get from recorded music. I like learning which instruments are in use to make certain music. I have an ordinary sound system, live has a richness my speakers don't reproduce, especially if the sound engineers are good.

Spent part of the weekend dancing and listening to talented musicians; it was excellent. I'm an extrovert.
posted by theora55 at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I kind of agree with you, except I also like the night out of the house.

But when it’s great, it’s great.

Imperfection great: I saw Tori Amos live in a big venue, and she completely flubbed the opening piano to Precious Things, stopped, laughed...and I can’t describe it really but for me it made the night. Because if you can’t f-up one of the songs on Little Earthquakes, laugh, and keep on doing your thing Then you’ve kinda missed the whole point, in a way. And that point came across, in person her-to-us.

Perfection great: I was at a fundraiser where k.d lang sang Hallelujah (which she has owned since the Calgary Olympics) and it was so reverent, painful, round...her voice so soulful but herself also, so present, barefooted, giving each word sound and weight, and the acoustics were so amazing that I was in tears. I do not believe a recording could touch the experience. I’ve heard that song covered so often, heard the original and hers 100s of times, performed it myself and...she /schooled/ me on what it’s about.

Do what makes you happy but I hope you have this experience sometime.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:41 AM on April 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I agree that "I feel like everyone exaggerates how much they enjoy it, or they're not being honest about why they enjoy it" is shitty. Fixing that is the goal of my question - I don't want to feel badly about other people, I want to understand them. Please assume good faith. :)
posted by pot suppeck at 10:43 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Because "Weird Al" Fucking Yankovic and his band have a certain genius that can only be appreciated live.
posted by bondcliff at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Taking what you jsut wrote at face value, this isn't really a question about theatre versus music versus sports. You're talking about a lack of empathy and perhaps a bit of self-centeredness.

All people do all different things and most people think, "Hey, that person is really into see the Red Sox and then going to the House of Blues. That must be really fun for them."

But you're asking for concrete evidence to understand them. There's nothing to understand other than different people like different things and that's totally normal and fun.

I can't tell if this is a good faith question or just awkwardly worded, because to me, it's sort of obvious that all people like different things.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have heard some annoying/enjoyment-reducing changes to songs at live shows, but I've also heard live show changes (e.g. addition of harmonies) that took songs I merely "liked" on an album to transcendent versions of themselves.

I'm more introverted than not, so I don't think that's the answer here. But I wonder--what is your general experience with listening to music? I'm the sort of person who can fall in love with the way a particular chord resolves in a song, and I think my enjoyment of live music comes from a similar place (though I wouldn't generalize that same motivation to everyone who enjoys live music!). I love the way the sound fills the space, and the way I can feel the music instead of just hearing it. And I love seeing the passion the musicians put into playing and signing; maybe in some cases you can get that from the studio recorded version, but I don't think it's the norm.
posted by pinwheel spark at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have friends who are in bands. I've gone out to see them perform live a lot, in tiny venues. I've seen them perform the same songs live a lot. It's never the same twice. They always bring something new to it.

Some artists have great banter between songs that can be half the fun. Chris Isaac, Webb Wilder, the late Warren Zevon are/were all great at this. Sometimes you get a little insight into who they are as a person or an artist. Sometimes they're trying out new material that you're never going to hear in quite that form again.

I saw Sade in a stadium. Every second of the show was intricately choreographed, everything was perfect, and everything sounded exactly the way it sounded on her records. It was boring. Live music should have spontaneity.
posted by adamrice at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is a broad question with some broad and incorrect assumptions. Without knowing what sort of music you enjoy and what you get out of it, it’s going to be hard to sway you.

Perhaps you aren’t considering venues that do have good sound, genres of music that sound great in certain venues, performers who are theatrical, interactive, or otherwise come alive on stage, or music that is more impressive live than in a studio where they have unlimited takes to get it right, etc.

Your comment about “sitting through the bad songs” leads me to think you aren’t very passionate about music. I’m passionate about music and if I’m going to a show, I want to see them play all their songs. I’m a musician myself and I like to see how the music is made as well as witness the skill level and band cohesion, which are easy to fake in a studio but less so live. A complex freestyle, a difficult high note, an attitude, etc.

I also like to dance and drink and bond with others who like what I like. I also like loud.

However, there are bad, boring, too-loud, uninspiring, uncomfortable concerts. If I’d only been to those, I wouldn’t see the point either.
posted by kapers at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love the energy of the crowd. I love singing along to favorites with everyone else. I love being present when the performer is making something new (every performance is new!). Even at shows when I've wanted to clock the buttheads near me who talk through a whole fucking set, I still love it.

The second Patti Smith show I ever saw was as close to a religious experience as I'm likely to get.

If you don't love it, that's okay. I don't really understand, but I believe you.

Janelle Monae is coming to my city! ON MY BIRTHDAY! I cannot WAIT!
posted by rtha at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Get to a George Clinton Funkadelic show, just crazy insane enthusiasm, the only time for me was at a tech conference so the list of minuses could go on and on but still an experience different than any recording.

Where it really counts is string quartets, there is just some element that is incredibly hard to put a finger on but just a different thing than the very highest recording quality on amazing sound system, just different and in a deeply subtle way better.
posted by sammyo at 10:57 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love some live shows and will not go to others, and it is 1000% dependent on the musician in question and the types of shows they put on. My personal breakdown is:

- Can the musician actually *sing*? As a musician myself with perfect pitch, if they can't reasonably stay on key, it's actively painful to me, so I'm not going to bother with going to a show for them. Official live recordings and YouTube bootlegs are good sources for me to determine this ahead of time.
- Am I likely to need earplugs? If so, why the hell would I waste my money just because the production in question doesn't respect me enough to tune the sound to an *appropriate* volume that's not going to cause hearing damage? The shows I go to and enjoy don't inflict that crap on me, and though I don't see a lot of classical music (ht praemunire), they respect me as a listener in that same way.
- Will I be able to see the musician while sitting in my seat, or is this going to be one of those bullshit awful "general admission" things that expects me to stand and "dance" and not see a goddamn thing because I'm f*cking short? If the latter, it's going to just piss me off no matter how catchy their music may be or how hyped the crowd is about it, so I'm not going to bother.

All of my snowflakey snobby-ass criteria aside, going to a live show for a musician I love is utterly transcendent, even if it's just them and their instrument. It's being in a crowd of others who love their music as much as I do. It's getting to see them do their thing in person, action and reaction and a conversation, and comparison to the static, fixed form of the studio interpretation. I mean, Tori Amos is a popular example - yes, I know every note and flourish of her early studio recordings, but she changes them in her live performances, improvs, tweaks, harmonizes, experiments, refines. Involves the audience in call-and-returns. It's magic. And it's getting to thank them in person for doing their thing.

But yeah, all of the above are reasons why when it comes to live music, I stick to singer-songwriters playing their own instruments with minimal amplification in tiny-AF venues, most with either theatre or cafe-style seating, none of which expect you to stand. I rarely bother with shows at bars because they're way too loud and there's a booze minimum I can never meet. And I honestly can't see myself spending the money for a stadium/arena show ever again. But there are plenty of people who love those kinds of shows because of the vibe.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:59 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't go out to see live shows now as much as I used to, but the main draw is some combination of:

1.) Attending a show really focuses you on the music and the performers. When I listen to recorded music (at home or in the car or at a party), I'm usually also doing something else. It's rare for me to put on an album and just sit down and listen to it. But at a concert, your senses are focused on the music and the show. (Sometimes the louder volumes help with this too, making it hard to have a conversation with your friend, and social norms discourage you from looking at your phone too much.)

2.) The unpredictability of a live event. What songs will this artist play, and will they switch up the arrangements a bit? Some artists do fairly similar sets night to night on a national tour, but other artists make every show have a different set list. (I was never a Grateful Dead fan, but unpredictability was a big draw to their fans. Bob Dylan also did unique sets almost every night. The band I'm a fan of that does this a lot is Yo La Tengo.)

3.) The energy of being in a room with lots of people, plus being right there with artists whom you may personally admire, adds a lot to the experience. It can be fun to go either with friends or on your own. As an introvert, this is the type of crowd experience I do like, since there's little expectation of making small talk with other random people you encounter, unless you want to.

Of course all this varies with the individual artist, the type of music they play, the size of the venue, how the artist is feeling that night, and how I'm feeling, too.
posted by lisa g at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been to a couple specific live music performances that were the closest I've ever come to what I imagine a religious or spiritual experience feels like for some people. Those two occasions involved very crowded rooms, but crowded with people I knew in my small community; really outstanding music; exceptional energy between audience and musicians; and in one of the cases, a frenetic final dance line led by the band that snaked around and caught everyone up in it. Related details: I'm the sort of person who can find music (and dancing) emotionally moving in the first place, and I'm more inclined to be happy about physical contact with others except in coercive, sexist, or creepy circumstances rather than not wanting physical contact except for exceptional circumstances.

I've been to many, many live music events that I have thoroughly enjoyed. My small town and rural region has a strong local music scene, with many quite good musicians yet still small venues, small crowds, and very accessible. Sometimes the sound mixing is too loud, but our local sound folks seem to mostly be able to keep things to reasonable levels (not where I can easily hold a conversation, since I'm not great at filtering out background noise, but also not hurting my ears or screwing with my balance). I've also been to a lot of quite enjoyable house concerts and after-party jams. In those cases, I often know a significant number of people there, and there is generally comfortable seating (and not infrequently a wood stove making a cozy atmosphere in the winter), like a couch where I can snuggle in and get a similar sort of feeling as falling asleep with my cousin's in the lift of my grandparents' camp when I was little, with the murmur of adults talking below. In other words, often the live music I see locally is pleasurable in part because it's tied up with warm and fuzzy community feels for me.

I've been to some great larger shows to, in concert halls/auditoriums with good sound mixing and levels, comfortable (and not too crowded) seats, and musicians who put on a good performance. I've been to some with uncomfortable seating, that were too loud, or where the show was of worse quality than listening to the studio album, but that has been rare in my experience.

Summary: some emotional connection to live music stuff simply may not apply to you, but also it sounds like you're going to the wrong shows.
posted by eviemath at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Both my husband and I are introverts, but we both enjoy going to rock shows. He geeks out on setlists and looks forward to stuff the band rarely plays (difficult in larger, more choreographed shows, which makes it even more special). I love the people watching. Someone who is wearing the band's first t-shirt and who looks like they haven't changed since 1996, 1984, or 1975 (somewhat random numbers but it depends on who you're seeing). The folks who came from work and are still in their business-casual standing next to the relics. The different shirts from other groups - 'I was at that show too' is a great conversation-starter.

If someone else is in town the same night, it's fun to see them pop up on stage. The spectacle if it's that kind of show. The reverent hush if it's a quiet show. The energy of performer and crowd when everything is just right. A deviation from the album that makes the performance unique.

I get it's not all a good experience. I'm short and in standing-room-only shows, I'm always behind some tall dude. I don't like being around bad drunks. Drinks are expensive. Tickets are expensive. But the good stuff outweighs the bad for sure.
posted by melissa at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I tend to feel the way you do about seeing live music myself and so now I avoid concerts most of the time, but from my observations the people who love seeing live music enjoy it for different reasons from why I would go to see it. Like others have already said, they like the energy and "specialness" (for lack of a better word) of a live performance, and the feeling of being in the same room as the artist and with a bunch of other excited fans.

I'm guessing you enjoy live theater at least partially because usually the audience is not belting along with the actors (a pet peeve of mine as someone who paid to hear the singer perform live, not the audience - but obviously a lot of people don't share that sentiment), and usually the sound is pretty clear rather than just being really loud.

In the rare event I see a live concert these days, I tend to like live music most when I'm in a place where the sound quality is good and the audience listens quietly, and the artist puts on a compelling performance. I saw Tori Amos live a few months ago and it was a great experience all around.
posted by bananana at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2018

I was going to say something more or less like praemunire did about classical music. Live is so consistently more interesting than studio that I've been in discussions about what rare studio recordings capture the energy of a live performance.
posted by Smearcase at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love live music. It's genuinely one of my favorite things in the world.

For me there’s something about being inside an experience in a way that I'm not when listening to a recording. The live part of it is this - at a concert or a show, there’s often a thread of consciousness running through my mind that I’m here, this emotional and aesthetic experience is happening and I’m in it. I get to be alive right now, in this dark, too-hot room. It’s late at night and I’m in this city, feeling the vibrations on this sticky floor, while this particular cellist together with this exact guitarist is making this gorgeous sound flare and whorl and there are fifty other people here with me and we all just caught our breath at the same moment this singer’s voice arced over it all. This precise series of moments are unrepeatable, even if I were to see the same band at the same bar ten more times (and I just might, if I love them.) It’s the presence in those moments that I’m after. And that’s when it’s really, really good.

When it’s perfect, I forget everything and I’m just in it, not thinking about anything else. I’m immersed.

This is not even getting in to how the variations are often the point – how great it is to see a certain band or musician perform the same piece in a way they never did in studio, (or never did at all - some songs you hear for the first or only time; some artists never record,) to hear how a musician’s range has grown or how the band has gelled and improved over time. It’s getting to watch how they communicate. (I’m not a musician but I take a lot of pleasure in observing these things. I can’t even imagine how much a fan might enjoy listening and watching if they actually knew what was going on!) And the music doesn't have to be perfect. Sometimes the screw up just makes the night, as warriorqueen observed above. It's the crack in the plate that reminds you it's real.

I love recorded music too! I’ll buy the CD at the merch table and listen to it over and over again, and sometime it’s better than the band was on that particular night. Recorded music can envelop and ground me in my environment too. The recording is always there for me, and I love that. But the experiences are different.

(And as someone who loves live music, I could gripe endlessly about all the things that detract from those ideal moments. Poorly planned venues, bad audio, shows where you have to stand when you should sit, shows where you sit when you should dance, dancers with no sense of personal space omg, people in general with no sense of personal space, people who talk or have their cell phones out through the whole damn show…I get it! It’s not for everyone.)
posted by prewar lemonade at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

I like live non-classical music pretty much exactly the same way I enjoy theater and classical music (and sports, for that matter; I vastly prefer seeing small local teams live than Big Games on TV). Mostly, it boils down to loving to see enthusiasm. If the musicians are enthusiastic, and the audience is full of fans, it feels good to be there and share the moment and spend money on the people making that moment. It's okay if it's not your thing, or if the negatives outweigh the positives (I avoid loud shows because my hearing already sucks, I'm not a fan of all the non-music parts of music festivals so I avoid them). I also grew up with a musician for a parent, so that may color my emotional attachment to live music as a thing I experienced just about daily for my whole childhood.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:17 AM on April 23, 2018

Live music is in no way necessarily "less than studio quality" except by certain very particular measures which you don't specify and which are neither universal nor the most important ones to many (though they do exist -- undesirable background noise, mainly, though not all ambient noise is undesirable.) the other way live music is reliably lower quality than studio recordings is if the musicians aren't very good and need a lot of producing to cover up their incapacity. but this is genuinely rare; lots of roughness is an aesthetic choice or a plus to fans even if the performers themselves don't like it.

this can be seen easily by the long history of passionately collecting bootlegs, even by fans who don't enjoy actually being at shows what with the other human beings and all, but want to hear them anyhow, often in preference to official releases.

enjoyment of the other aspects of live shows -- dressing up, getting drunk, hearing everything much louder than you could at home, in the dark, with strangers -- is a real thing too, but you can enjoy live music for the musical qualities alone even if you only tolerate the rest of it. this applies across all genres and styles, for classical as well as popular music.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:18 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the appeal of concerts can vary wildly from person to person depending on what kinds of music they love, what kinds of artists are their favorites, what they enjoy about the concert-going experience, etc.

For me, going to live shows is about getting to see and hear musicians you genuinely love in person, DESPITE the expense and occasional downsides of concert-going. Because "seeing my faves" is the thing I like about live shows, you're not going to catch me shelling out $$ to go see bands I only casually like. (Unless it's a rad local band; I'm all about supporting that local music scene when I can.)

On the flip side, there is a lady my boyfriend works with who basically goes to every mid- to large-sized rock concert she can get tickets to, regardless of if she knows the band well or not. If I had to guess, she probably just genuinely likes the vibe and energy and sound of a rock concert and doesn't split hairs as much about the specifics of who is playing. I don't personally understand this, but I do understand that there's no way she'd keep doing this if she wasn't having a blast.

There's no rule that says you have to enjoy live music. Honestly, you have a lot of good reasons already as to why it can occasionally suck. I've definitely been to a couple of shows for bands I didn't know really well and, despite their obvious talent and energy, been kind of bored just because I don't tend to love live music for its own sake. But as far as understanding why it is people like it, I think the biggest thing is just knowing that there is no one answer (as evidenced by the other answers in this thread) because there are loads of different reasons why people love live music.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2018

I am not actually a big fan of most concerts (so loud, omg), but I will go when it is for an artist I ADORE, and here are a few reasons:

-to support them! The ability to sell tickets impacts their ability to keep making records. When a not-well-known artist comes to town, I try to be a data point of “this person should keep making music professionally”
-do you enjoy unexpected covers? A lot of artists will experiment with those live. Hearing a song you’ve listened to on an album hundreds of times performed in an entirely new way can be incredible.
-The live instrument mix can make old music sound totally new— I went to a concert a few months ago, and there was a song that was excellent on the album that was TRANSCENDENT live because the drums and the guitar went so much harder irl (not louder, just grittier? I don’t know the right terms). I still think about that performance of the song when I hear the album version
-I used to sing publicly in a few different settings (musical theater, choirs), and when a professional musician hits a note perfectly in the moment, it is just such a thrill. The note is hard to reach! It takes training and expertise and sometimes luck (not to catch a cold), and when they get it, man. I get a vicarious thrill from it, even though my performing days are over.
-Have you ever gone to a choral concert? If you hate loud performances, they are often a capella, and it is all harmonies and clarity of sound. There is a physical element to it, to being in the room where the sound waves are happening, that is hard to explain but very amazing.
-Acoustics! Some places are built to make sounds sound better. Hearing music in those spaces can be worth it, just because those songs won’t sound that good anywhere else. No, not even a recording studio.

I think of myself as not a big fan of live music, but when I go to a really good performance, I often end up sort of silently crying with joy through the whole thing. So I guess I’m just picky.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't see live shows very often, because they are loud and late and inconvenient and I don't like standing around so much; there's a part of me that feels like going to a couple shows a week would be a really positive experience but a bigger part of me overrules that because of all the things that make me go ugh. So I sort of feel you there!

And yet! I very rarely, when I do get out to a show, come away feeling other than pretty happy that I went. Usually I'm going to a show I'm excited about, by a band I'm into enough to push me past my ugh instincts, and that helps a lot. But even rando shows I end up at by chance (invite from a friend, etc), I end up having a pretty good time at.

And for me, most of that comes down to the chance and atmosphere of a live show: there are things you can't get from listening to an album or watching a music video, and that's what the appeal is for a live show. Stuff like:

- the sound of a band playing in 3D space nearby: no stereo mix on a record can capture the complicated vectors of drummer there, singer yonder, guitarist to the left, sound banking off the ceiling, the sense of movement to the mix as you move through the room, the sound of a crowd reacting around you cheering and clapping and singing along as a participatory element
- the physical sensation of loud music in a live space: wear earplugs and then enjoy that chest-thumping feeling of bass amps, guitar amps, kick drum coming through the PA)
- the one-off moments of a show which is a live, unedited event: the variations, the fuckups, the little tweaks, the old song pulled back into rotation from a deep bench, the stage banter and the tuning and the sense of real-time intimacy
- the shared social context: having been at a show with a friend, having hung out before or after with the show as a locus of a memory, having "oh shit you were there?" conversations where you put two and two together with someone down the line when talking about this or that band

Different shows are different; some will have more or fewer of these things going on, and I tend to like a smaller show with an attentive, excited crowd to get more of the specific things I like out of the live experience. And that's probably part of it: find the kind of show you like, or from an understanding-other-people perspective try to get a sense of what they are aiming for in their live music/performance experiences and how that differs from your own preference or your assumptions about what's attracting them to it.

To put it in further context: I'm a musician myself, and I go off and on being in bands partly because the act of gigging as a local no-name band is basically all the most ugh bits of seeing live music, plus a couple extra hours of inconvenience and labor ladled over the top, and as much as I love making music I don't always have the enthusiasm to put up with that. But, that's me: there's no shortage of bands playing underattended, underpaid gigs because for all the ugh bits it's still got a lot going for it. People play gigs because all that ugh stuff is overpowered by the parts they like.

It's the same thing for live music. You're not wrong to think that there's some stuff that sucks about seeing music live. But people are going in throngs every single night because they still, to greater or lesser extent and for a wide variety of personal reasons, get more out of it than the negative stuff can cancel out.

That may not be how the arithmetic works out for you, though, and that's okay! Deciding live shows are too much of a hassle or a bummer for you is a completely legitimate personal choice to make. Just don't make the mistake of feeling you need to justify that choice by second-guessing other people's choices. The much simpler answer is that other people just enjoy a thing you don't enjoy, and so it goes!
posted by cortex at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Far too many years ago I was super duper into Phish at a time when they were actively touring, but I had actually never seen a live show before absorbing everything they'd released up to that point. Everyone raved about how transformative a live show was and I finally got to one, already knowing their catalog intimately. I was extremely excited. And ... I hated the show.

I hated the crowd - being around a thick mass of drugged out jerks was no fun. The sound quality was terrible. They noodled on endlessly. Where were the songs I loved so much? I just wanted it to end. In a weird way I always felt a little bit of a shame about all this because, hey man, it's Phish! Who doesn't love them live? (I mean, not *that* much shame - it's just a concert.)

In the years since I have been to some really great live performances. But like many here are saying, it depends a lot on the act, the nature of their music, and the venue. The best live music I've been to has typically been smaller venues and smaller acts, though not necessarily unknowns. It also tends not to be "hard" music, if that makes sense, or heavily produced music.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those types of music - I listen to lots of hard rock at home but the chances I would attend a live hard rock concert are virtually zero. Because I already know the sound will suck, the performers will basically scream and make noise, and the crowd will be full of jerks. No thanks. I like my hard rock well produced. Same for EDM stuff - I don't need the venue experience to enjoy the music production.

But yeah, singer-songwriter stuff and smaller bands that aren't heavily produced seems to be the sweet spot and can definitely be a great experience. So ... I do agree that many people "enjoy" live music for "different" (eg wrong!) reasons, but there are also genuinely great experiences to be had when the elements are right.
posted by thebordella at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2018

I mostly watched bands at medium venues (500-1000) or small festivals. Around 90% of the bands I've saw over the years would be classified as "indie" in some form, of varying levels of popularity, almost always as close to the stage as possible. I don't like the idea of mega gigs where the stage is like 20 meters away and 5 above from the security fences, and if it involves choirs, a troupe of dancers, flamethrowers, props and moving platforms... yeah, not for me. I'm all less about the rehearsed on-stage spectacle than actually feeding on the energy of the crowd and giving it back, and I don't think you can do it in those conditions.

Battles was one of my favourite gigs ever. While the venue was sitting only, nobody was policing that strictly and we could be right on top of the stage. I ended up within high-fiving distance from Dave Konopka, and could see the absolute monster John Stanier is on drums and his high ride cymbal. The place had incredible energy and the floor was literally shaking. Same thing with Peter Hook playing Joy Division at the same venue. Chrome Hoof, at the end of a delayed set that finished at 4 in the morning, told us to climb to the stage with the band, since there were like... 40 still on attendance, and half of us took the offer. That was a night for the ages, because I've also had a quick chat with Geoff Barrow while he was taking a break from packing his gear and also saw Cluster. Or when Ida No noticed three of us were waiting for Glass Candy instead of moving to another stage and she came down for a hug during the gig and invited the girl to dance on the stage. Kings of Convenience stage banter. M83 bringing a sax guy at the end of Midnight City (he didn't weeks before on the solo tour). Einar Örn bringing his oddball experimental-everything, climbing the stage (to the bemusement of security) and then leaving the stage via the stage fences. Lee Ranaldo when he was still fiddling around with Between the Times and the Tides and his setlist was literally the songsheets with lyrics. Then there's the "never expected to see this": Slowdive perform Machine Gun, Suede doing all the classics. Pulp playing Sorted for E's & Wizz in front of 20000 people in a field (well, less, but it was in a field somewhere). My Bloody Valentine unleashing their closing assault, not just loud, but loud to the point you feel your bones vibrating (and yes, I had been using plugs for a while then).

I've seen a lot of passable gigs that didn't make an impression or lasting memories for one reason or another - poor sound, band just going through the motions or not having enough experience (or chemistry) to do more than play songs one after the other, being one mile away from the stage, etc .

Those that do, it's exactly why I went, and why I miss going as frequently.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2018

I don't think this is an unreasonable question. I avoid a lot of shows, even for bands I like. But when I do find myself at a venue with a performer, I'm usually entranced. A big part of both sides (why I like random coffeehouse shows, but not bands whose music I enjoy) is because, as a (supremely untalented) musician myself, I'm interested in how the musicians I'm watching are actually playing. I'm not concentrating on the music as much. I watch the guitarists to see what chords they're playing, the drummers to see how they're coordinating their limbs, and, if the show is big enough to have such things, the techs to see how they're setting things up.

I also think, as someone who grew up in the lo-fi 90s, that certain things sound better live. I'm specifically referring to drums here, because most recorded drums are heavily compressed and I think that sounds really strange.

The live-vs.-recorded music debate always makes me think of Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. If you're interested in that aspect, it's worth a read.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2018

I don't want to feel badly about other people, I want to understand them. Please assume good faith. :)

One of the things I've learned the hard way over time is - you don't need to validate people's preferences. This is one of those insidious toxic masculinity tests that many of us were conditioned to perform to determine who can truly critique the world around us and whom to follow. The good news - people's stated preferences are valid and most people are self-actualized enough to not lie to themselves about what they like or what their experience in the world is.

Personally - I like actual live performances a lot less than I used to. Way back when, I really loved festivals in particular - disconnecting from the entire world, seeing band after band, exploring substances and being part of a whole energy really resonated. Dancing to Daft Punk live with 30,000 other people left me speechless in terms of how it felt. If I'm honest with you, I also really enjoyed that shows self-selected for people with at least one thing in common which made it a lot easier to talk to girls than in "real" life. Many of the girlfriends of my life I met at shows of some kind.

When I stopped drinking too much or using other substances, I found packed bars and festivals difficult to deal with - people are closer and pushier than I like. I hate waiting for a drink or to get in anywhere. I'm aware of how fucked people are in an emergency in a crowd. I get up early so I hate being up late. I hate things being so loud that my ears ring afterwards.

I now pretty exclusively see whichever acts play theatres, house shows, or afternoon, casual festivals. In addition to the playfulness of a live show (you never know what song will be played, if it will be arranged differently live, or who might show up) I really dig artists who banter with the crowd well.

That said, I really dig recorded live rock shows - adding some distortion, some unexpectedness and whimsy, at a reasonable volume and without strangers and you've got a recipe for success in my books.
posted by notorious medium at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Because FLAC doesn't capture Atsuo standing tall through the fog and throwing up the horns at the end of an incredible hour of music.

Because, as good a producer as Jack Shirley is, you just can't completely commit to audio the bone-chilling majesty of Caro Tanghe transitioning from "10:56" to "Second Son of R."

Because it's the only way to be certain that Dave Turncrantz is, in fact, human.

Because the full, glorious weirdness of Inter Arma must be seen to be believed.

Put another way, I've never been to a good show and left without having an insatiable urge to go home and pick up my guitar and fucking shred until the sun comes up.
posted by sinfony at 12:09 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sometimes a live performance just makes the music feel more real. Especially if a musician's work or music has been very important to you then it can be very touching and emotional to see them actually performing it. I've been emotionally overwhelmed to tears at several gigs. I also love recorded live shows and while that is nice because you don't have to go out and deal with crowds, a recorded live show has never brought me to tears.

Smaller gigs or live music nights with unsigned bands where you might not be that familiar with the musicians are also great because it's a good way to hear new music, they usually aren't that crowded, you can be right up with everyone there including the musicians and usually even chat or have a drink with them afterwards. I really enjoy seeing people performing this way because it's like, hey, they made this, and while some bands might not be great there are enough that are that make this fun and worthwhile for me.

Some gigs are crowded and hot and have poor sound and you can't see anything and the performers are just touring for money because they can because of their name and yeah, I don't get much out of those. I suppose there probably are some people who go to things because of name recognition and like a couple singles and they want something "cool" to post on social media, but I also suppose people with that sort of attitude won't limit it to just live music.
posted by Polychrome at 12:12 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

When you're in a venue of, say 500 to 1,500 capacity, and a band plays a song that everyone loves, and everyone sings every word together even though they are strangers to one another, well, ten mediocre concerts are worth that one song.
posted by kensington314 at 12:17 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

My favorite show last year was Laura Stevenson, playing solo (without her band), with an acoustic guitar. There was maybe 75 people there. Before she performed I got to hang out with her and talk about her grandmother's journal she found that inspired some of her songs. During the show she told cool stories about the music that I would otherwise never have know. I cried several times. She is an absolutely breathtaking singer, and I was standing maybe 10 feet away from her.

But I also sometimes like the big loud crowded shows. I like the energy. I like making friends that basically go from complete strangers to bust buddies immediately, and only last about 6 hours. I love the end of the night when you're exiting the venue and everyone else is chanting and whooping and you get to join in. I love the parking lot singalongs. It's fun. (And I say this as someone who absolutely cannot stand waiting and also standing and the breaks between performers)
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2018

1. I bring earplugs.
2. I see mostly small venue acts because I enjoy seats and not getting beer spilled on me.
3. I see people who are actually damn good musicians and who appear to enjoy performing live.
4. I enjoy seeing the slight variations and changes that the musicians have made to their songs over time; I also love seeing a live performance so I can actually see what instrument everyone is playing, who's singing the high harmony, when someone else comes in, etc.
5. I enjoy the randomness of banter, mistakes, explanation of songs, discussions of the tour, etc. Possibly my favorite moment from the concert I went to last week (aside from a new arrangement to a song I like) from a band I've seen dozens of times was the band cracking themselves up because their printer had broken and they'd had to handwrite their setlists and, well, they didn't exactly match up. Again, I love live shows for the reminder that there are actual humans collaborating and creating and sharing this music that I love.
posted by TwoStride at 12:37 PM on April 23, 2018

Like a lot of people here, I don't generally bother with stadium shows anymore, although there are exceptions. But it can be really fun to see a group or singer in a small venue; the person will be very close to you (physically, I mean) and it's fun to see them up close. And as someone noted above, a lot of the time you can talk to them when they play the smaller venues. A friend of mine does that, and he's actually become pretty good friends with some of the singers and bands that way. (Obviously, this probably isn't going to work with someone like, say, Bob Mould, but the drummer for Hockey Dad? Absolutely.)

You also can't get the sensation of actually feeling the music at home. It's only at the clubs that I can feel the bass in my chest. I love that feeling. And yeah, I don't go to shows without ear plugs, ever, full stop. Once I forgot them, so I went into the ladies' room and fashioned a pair out of toilet paper, but I won't be at a show without some protection in my ears.
posted by holborne at 12:56 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I could afford it I would have season tickets to the opera and the symphony and the ballet. I generally really enjoy those venues because they are specifically designed to enhance the music. And I enjoy both opera and classical music. Seeing 2Cellos in Portland a couple years ago was fantastic because they obviously love to perform. Sometimes the rapport that develops between the audience and the artist creates an experience that cannot happen any other way.

I have only been to one stadium concert. I enjoyed it immensely just for the experience of it. I also discovered that I really like the musicians who opened the event, Mumford and Sons. I have been to more shows in smaller settings and have enjoyed them for the experience. Hearing the live performances adds a dimension to my enjoyment of the studio recordings.

My most memorable experiences of live music took place 20 years ago or so when friends and I would go to the bar of some restaurant on a specific night and listen to a group of some of the best studio musicians get together and play jazz. Sometimes it seemed like the saxophone player's instrument should have melted in his hands. Almost no one recognizes his name, but I sometimes know his playing when I hear it.

Also, I was married for a time to a man who owned really high-end audio gear. Depending on the music, I can hear the difference between an analog medium and a digital one on that kind of equipment. Because of that, listening on the more mundane equipment that is within my means tends to make listening to recordings less of a mind-blowing experience.
posted by Altomentis at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2018

And yeah, I don't go to shows without ear plugs, ever, full stop.
It's gotten to the point where I keep a set of earplugs in each of my purses just so I'm never caught without...

Another reason I like live music is that it's essentially an excuse to explore the region. There are some cute towns I've discovered because I went to hear a band perform there.
posted by TwoStride at 1:01 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm an amateur musician who has played solo in public. At live performances, I'm very aware that in live performances, the musician has only one chance to do it right. It lends a certain edge sometimes. Most pros are pretty much beyond that point, i guess, but I think you see performers acknowledge each other after a piece that, yah, they've jumped over the divide safely one more time.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2018

I go to live shows because if I'm at home then

Bootsie Collins doesn't walk into the audience by stepping on everyone's armrests.
Nina Simone doesn't share stories with and reminds the audience when to clap.
Dale Watson doesn't improvise a song based on suggestions from the audience.
Suprise guest Nick Lowe doesn't come out at the end to play a few songs with Yo La Tengo.
Cecil Taylor doesn't fit his 10 piece band onto a 12 x 12 stage and proceed to improvise for 1 hour straight.
Because at home someone doesn't ask me to join them on the dance floor and do a few western swing numbers to Hot Club of Cowtown.

At a good live show there is an interaction between the audience and the performer that you just don't get listening at home. I love the opportunity to get a small window into the personality of a performer that I love. And seeing someone who is truly a virtuoso at what they do live is incredible.
posted by brookeb at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

It depends on many things. What kind of music are we talking here? What kind of venue?

I have realized that I like what I like. Which is Blues, Vocal Jazz and Opera. These things are best appreciated live, I think. When the musicians are 'feeling' it, Blues and Jazz are transcendent experiences. Opera is more restricted in that way, as there are too many moving parts for it to be as improvisational/impromptu as Blues/Jazz; but even there, just listening to a great voice live has really no comparison with recorded stuff.

The other things I go to irregularly are things like Afrobeat, Funk (especially NO 2nd line stuff), roots/country. Again, attending a live performance by Femi Kuti or Seun Kuti or Tony Allen and the like is just not the same as listening to the records. Trombone Shorty live vs. on record is not the same, I think.

The only stadium show I thoroughly enjoyed all the way through was a Stones concert about 20 years ago. They put on a great show, played some of their lesser known stuff and were genuinely interested in making sure we ALL had a good time. I don't do stadium shows anymore. I went to a Fogerty show recently, and I though I was better off listening to his recorded stuff as the show had no life.

I also go to many, many neighborhood fests during the summer in Chicago. When I do those; I am there to be with people/friends. I don't think I should expect good 'music' from this. Although I have to say I did really, really enjoy a King Khan performance. So my expectations in places like this is tempered.

It is just like sports. I enjoy going to Ball games. There are people who will never understand why I spend Saturdays watching paint dry. OTOH, I cannot understand people who watch Golf, either live or on TV. But there is an audience for that too.
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2018

It's overly loud
Sometimes, that's the perk. There is a moment at certain live shows, where the beat becomes your heartbeat and you can't resist the music in anyway. It's beautiful and it's flawless and when it happens you can't imagine how it could be any different. And it's not about loud solely, but a wall of speakers doesn't hurt when everything is clicking.

Besides the moment when the music takes your heartbeat, there is also the shared joy in being around a group or a singer who is doing something they deeply love. The satisfied smile an artist has after the last note fades, the blissed out moment when everyone is in time, and those truly special times when the artist gets to hear the fans take the song from them and sing it back. All of those are the reasons I go to live shows.
posted by teleri025 at 1:57 PM on April 23, 2018

tl;dr but I understand completely. It's why I stopped going to concerts a long time ago. They just get louder and worse. The recording is always superior, and it's safe.
posted by Rash at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2018

I mean...it's basically that all of your negatives, and even a lot of the additional negatives people have posted, are positives for me? I like it loud, crowded, weird, imperfect, up-close.

When I listen to recorded music I can be lazy and distracted. I skip anything that makes me work too hard; I'm reading at the same time, or internetting, or working. When I see a band live and I can't skip their "bad" songs I usually realize that I like the bad songs better than I thought. I pay closer attention to the changes in the songs and to the lyrics.

Yeah I wear earplugs, because I'm not 20 and an idiot anymore. And I might (but not always) forego an 11pm show on a work night because ... well, because I'm not 20 and an idiot anymore. But apart from those fairly practical concessions the thing I like about going to live music is that it's a truly kind of bonkers thing to do.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

When you're in a venue of, say 500 to 1,500 capacity, and a band plays a song that everyone loves, and everyone sings every word together even though they are strangers to one another, well, ten mediocre concerts are worth that one song.

I submit as supplementary evidence Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, watching their audience sing the entire first part of Breakdown (and on key, too!) after Tom sings just one line
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:07 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Most musicians are only barely performance artists.

I've been put off singers entirely because they were godawful live. Some couldn't carry a tune if their life depended on it, some just came on stage, sang their songs (and only the ones from their newest album), didn't interact with the audience at all, and then walked off, and that was it. And some were very obviously just lipsyncing, very poorly.

And then there's the good ones. The ones who are even better live than they are on the album, who aren't afraid of their back catalog, who interact with the audience and make the show about that, who encourage the audience to sing along by outright pointing their microphone at the crowd.

Those are the ones I will go see live. Those are the ones I will travel to another country for a few days, with associated hotel and flight costs, to go see live. Doing it with friends who love the same artist as much as I do makes it better, but I will do it alone if I have to, because anyway I will be in an entire audience who feels the same.

(Well, mostly. There was one notable time when I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Laura Pausini, and my then-partner got me really good box tickets, and in the same box was a very well dressed, very British couple, who must've had season tickets or something because they spent the entire concert sitting back and looking faintly puzzled at the audience standing on their feet and roaring every song at the top of their lungs. That was funny.)
posted by sailoreagle at 3:19 PM on April 23, 2018

I go to live shows to discover new music. Several times I've seen shows where I liked the openers better than the headliners. And I've also gone to shows because I liked the person or band name and had good results. It's a risk, but I would rather try a new show than a new album. The time and money investment for me is not significantly different.
posted by mattamatic at 5:06 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

One can listen to Suicide by Suicide on record and that's fine.

But one could also see them perform the album and feel personally assaulted (the show I saw was in 2009). The bass was pounding so hard I physically felt it in my chest. The music was obnoxiously loud. My friend - who loves this band and this record more than I do - was fuming and furious at the band, flipping them off and eventually storming off. Everything was off, like, of course they knew how it was on the record, but they weren't doing it right.

This was one of those celebrate the album concerts where a band is playing their classic album all the way through. But here Martin Rev was getting the noise all wrong and Alan Vega was mumbling the lyrics and didn't seem to be giving the album the reverence... oh. Oh.

Somehow in this atmosphere of celebrating them, with a crowd of fans that (inexplicably) love their music they still managed to put on an alienating and confrontational show, much like they had been doing in the 70s. They didn't create their self-titled album to have people lock arms and sing along to every word. They have never been that kind of band. I could have listened to that album hundreds of times and never experienced anything like that concert. (Of course some may wish to never experience anything like that, but..)
posted by mountmccabe at 5:50 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

The atmosphere. Best gig I ever went to was Shihad at the Annandale. Tiny venue, but the whole crowd was into it. There was condensation dripping from the ceiling. I was covered in beer despite not drinking and got kicked in the head 3 times by crowd surfers. Normally, this wouldn't be fun, but the whole crowd was so involved in the music, you just didn't care.
For me, a really good show can be ruined by an audience who don't seem to want to be there. One NIN show I went to was like that. Trent was amazing as always, but the audience were mostly just standing there not reacting. They didn't bother with an encore, and I didn't blame them. On the other hand, I saw them at a festival where a storm cut the power to the stage just as they started Head Like A Hole. The whole audience just continued standing in the pouring rain singing the rest of the song. It was amazing.
Also, being able to feel the music in a way you can't at home without pissing off your neighbors. There definitely needs to be a decent level of bass.
posted by Kris10_b at 5:52 PM on April 23, 2018

Live music is my vice. I go to at least a show a month, sometimes two. I was just at a show last night by legendary avant-garde performance artists The Residents (which got shut down due to a noise complaint, but I'll gripe about that another time.)

There's something about seeing music be performed that is incredibly appealing to me. Even electronic music, when it's an electronic musician/act actually playing live, is fascinating. The worst show I ever attended was an industrial show where all three acts were just karaoke acts with a laptop and a microphone. Boring. I want to see people actually playing keyboards, or guitars, or drums. Even if they're faking it, it's better than karaoke.

Plus, it's a chance to lose myself in a moment of visual and auditory stimulation. It's a chance to move my ass. It's a chance to support the artists I love. It's a chance to be among like-minded people.
posted by SansPoint at 6:00 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Picking up on a comment above: I’m an off-the-charts introvert and I still love live shows. But I often go alone because that way, I can leave if I get overwhelmed and I don’t have to worry that I’m ruining someone’s evening by rushing them out. Also if I’m alone I dont worry about the other person not caring for the band or what have you.
posted by holborne at 6:31 PM on April 23, 2018

I never wanted to go to arenas or large venues because of all the reasons you mentioned. But as mentioned above, Blues is a whole different thing. It's seldom too loud and it touches the emotions. My best experience was at a dive bar in Tucson around 1980 when the Muddy Waters band played. Willie Dixon, Pinetop Perkins, et al. and I was standing about three feet from the end of Pinetop's piano. He and I exchanged a few smiles. Bliss. Trance.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:08 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Realtalk: I hate 90% of what's involved with going to concerts. From the moment I step out the door until the moment the band I'm there to see steps onstage, I am some combination of bored, annoyed, and uncomfortable. The ticket was expensive. I hate the crowds. I hate the lack of seating. I hate the inevitable cloud of pot and cigarette smoke, and the girls wearing so much perfume I can taste it. I hate the waiting, especially for those shows where the band I want to see doesn't go on until 10pm (wtf I am too old for that). I hate the overpriced crappy drinks. But once the show gets going... man! I never want to leave! I never want them to stop playing! And it's really tough to articulate why without using handwavey words like "energy" and "vibe." I'm attending a performance, which provides a very different experience from listening to the recorded music.

I do heavily curate my live show attendance, though. Going to live music just for the sake of live music doesn't do it for me--with very rare exceptions, I'll only go see artists I already love. Most of the artists I love are actually great performers who add something to the experience, and in fact I find bands who just stand on stage, play the songs exactly like they sound on the album, and then leave to be ultra-boring and not worth the time, effort, and cost to go see (because then, yes, I can just listen to the album). Because I only see artists I already love, I don't usually think they have very many "bad songs"--and you don't actually have to sit through the bad songs. Realizing this made attending events of all kinds much more bearable for me. If a song I don't love comes up (or any other time I need to), I give myself permission to go get a drink, stretch my legs in the lobby, use the restroom, etc. and I end up having a much more enjoyable experience than if I'd forced myself to endure the whole thing.

So you're not alone in finding the overall experience unpleasant. But like many other people I know, I sometimes find the good parts worth dealing with the unpleasant parts.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:09 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

You say you like theatre. Think about it this way: what would you say to someone who said “Why would I go see Hamlet onstage when I could watch the movie from my couch?” [Suppose said movie was every bit as good as a play.]

This person might say “I hate standing in line, it’s expensive, the chairs are small whereas my couch is comfy, the audience is distracting, the actors sometimes mess up whereas every line in the movie is right, you can’t fast forward through your least favorite parts, you have to sit through set changes.”

You might state that acting live onstage and acting to camera with multiple takes are different skills. You might point out that stage is a more immediate performance of the material and relies on the actors’ skills and interplay without the benefit of effects and production budgets. You might say you actually enjoy the night out— dressing up, the programs, the chatter, the intermission. You might say that’s how the material was intended to be shared. Etc.
posted by kapers at 8:06 PM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do think one weird thing about the internet era is that it lets bands get big without ever really playing live much, or even really having the ability to play live. At the same time, it's made it so that in order to capitalize on being big, you need to sell something tangible like concert tickets and merch, because people don't buy albums as much as they used to. So I think these days you have more bands than usual who are trying to make a very specific transition from being studio acts to live+studio acts, and some do it way more gracefully than others.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:22 PM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have gone to some amazing shows. I really love the surprise of not knowing what will happen next. What song? How will it sound? Will it be much changed from the album? Totally different? I think that’s the main reason I enjoy live music. The unknown in the middle of the familiar.

That said, I just can’t go anymore. I find the audiences incredibly rude now. Whether it’s people talking loudly behind me during soft numbers, or the people in front of me holding their devices up to record the entire concert. The negatives have gotten to the point where they completely outweigh the positives for me.
posted by greermahoney at 11:34 PM on April 23, 2018

I definitely loved live music for an extended period. The appeal, as someone with sensory processing issues, was being able to actually FEEL the music, which can be intense and very pleasurable. That and if the musicians are decent, humble people you can have a conversation with them about it afterwards, which I have found to be very rewarding. I've had concerts that have made me cry and I've made a few life long friendships that way.

That being said, it becomes very formulaic after a while (at least with large touring bands, I find) and depending on the scene you're in (not sure if you're referencing touring bands or local bands) the musicians and crowd can definitely ruin it for you. There is a lot of posturing and "being there just to be seen being there" by folks and other drama nonsense that, if you regularly attend, you'll maybe get sucked into without realizing (this goes on despite people's age, mind you). Shows never start on time and at my age I don't really feel like being at a bar or venue after midnight. Musicians can have huge egos and what I phrase as the "cooling down" period after a show where everyone is standing around pea-cocking as if a magazine will be taking their photo soon. It gets old.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:17 AM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a hobbyist musician, I love going to see live shows because I'm watching how bands perform - not just what it sounds like, but how they interact with each other, and how important the bass player whose name I don't even remember from album liner notes is to setting the way a song feels and making things come together. It lets me imagine what it would be like to be a performing musician, and it's interesting to see what things seem to be absolute constants across the album and every single live show, and what aspects of the music are more mood driven.
posted by aimedwander at 9:58 AM on April 24, 2018

It is difficult for me to explain how important live music has been to me. I never quite fit at school, or at home, but in the crowd at Iron Maiden, or Pantera, or White Zombie, or (as I got older) Nine Inch Nails, or Bad Religion, or whoever, I felt like I was in the right place. I usually wore earplugs, because they cut out the wash of white noise you sometimes get from large PAs, and cushioned the sound of the crowd around me. I could still hear the band, but more importantly, I could feel the music, thumping in my chest. It's like being inside the sound, and the music is a physical thing, made of the band, and me, and the people around me, and club/arena/stadium is a cauldron filled with some sort of magical alchemical mixture that leaves me exhausted and inexplicably happy.

As I've grown older, the pit is no longer really the best place for me, but I still go see live music. The sense of community is still present for me. I'm over 40, but there are new teenagers in the pit, and they like what I like, and that's awesome, and we're all a part of that momentary thing. (I don't know if anybody else there feels like that, because I don't generally actually talk to people much.) I have no patience for gatekeeping at concerts. If some oldster is giving kids shit about not being real fans I'll tell them to fuck off.

For some artists, the recorded music is a pale reflection of their live performance. The album version is embalmed, a snapshot of a particular moment in a song's evolution. Live? That's the real deal. Pearl Jam, for all that they release albums, are fundamentally a live group. Live is where you really get to see what Phish are capable of as musicians. Godspeed You! Black Emperor live is a far more profound experience than the recordings. There's a full member of that band whose job is visuals. Watching Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan build up layered guitar parts with the looper at his feet is, I think, key to understanding him as a performer.

But then I've seen people suck, too. And the disappointment of getting all the ingredients together - band, crowd, venue - and having the magic not happen is really crushing. But sometimes that happens. It makes me appreciate the good times even more.

But that's just me.
posted by curiousgene at 10:58 AM on April 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty picky about which live shows I go to. For the most part, I chose shows at mid-size venues or at smallish festivals that have excellent sound quality. Most of my preferred music is by lesser-known artists so I'm not going to arenas / stadiums or fighting through 100,000 people to hear who's on stage. That sounds truly awful to me, so I think I get where you're coming from.

Some shows are very theatrical -- the performance and visuals are an intrinsic part of the experience. Some bands are just so energetic and engaged you can't help but share in their enthusiasm. Some types of music are more immersive when the bass is something you can *feel* rather than just hear.

I'm fairly introverted and don't tend to lose myself in a crowd or in the music the way some people do. But I enjoy these experiences because they are viscerally different than the experience of listening to music alone on my stereo.
posted by ananci at 11:42 AM on April 24, 2018

I will say that crowds can actually be an excellent place for an introvert because you get to people-watch and feel the presence of other people without necessarily having to interact directly with anyone or come up with stuff to say. Combined with the sensory onslaught of loud music, that kind of anonymity can be very liberating, especially if you tend to be kind of self-conscious/self-analytical. Though a bad crowd (e.g. people sneering at each other, people who are looking for someone to start a fight with, etc.) can certainly kill this vibe for me.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:55 PM on April 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I haven't gone to many concerts, but there's really something different when you observe the expression and energies of the performers and how they are connecting with the crowd. To me as an introvert, that's the most important thing. I channel my energy by taking concert photography, and I've been able to put a few in my portfolio because it turned out really awesome, but that's because I really synced up with the artist.
posted by yueliang at 11:28 PM on April 24, 2018

I'm going to add one more thing: I was at a show (I think it was Vundabar), and Gumby showed up and crowdsurfed. Twice. (To be clear, it was a dude dressed in Gumby suit, not the actual guy who voiced Gumby or whatever.) I think it's safe to say that I will never see Gumby show up when I'm listening to Vundabar at home on my Sonos, and even if he did, he couldn't crowdsurf with just one other person in the room.
posted by holborne at 9:58 AM on April 25, 2018

I'm sorry if I am repeating stuff said elsewhere, I did not read all the answers. This is my two cents, having worked with a band/musicians/in production.

Live music generally sucks, because the musicians in charge generally do not know how to use their equipment, or how to maximize the benefits they can get from certain pieces of equipment. Speakers, for example. One is not like another. Cheap speakers tend to lack good quality mid-range tones. There are other factors that make speakers suck, and obviously there is different equipment involved, but speakers are a big reason, and serve as a good example. What happens is, if the musicians are unfamiliar with their equipment, no matter how much they turn the volume up, the sound is always wrong. To hear all the tones in cheaper speakers, such as the mids which are usually not that great, the musicians have to turn the speakers all the way up, meaning anybody near the speakers is half-deafened by the blasting roar. So, the people in the audience are not only blasted with music that is too loud, they are not hearing the mids, so when the musicians turn it down (usually grudgingly) the audience loses half of the sounds. So, as an audience member, if this is the case, you are trying to escape the crashing noise while not hearing the decent bits of the song, simply because nobody taught the musicians, or they didn't bother to learn, the advantages and limitations to their particular equipment. I know just how much of a negative effect not knowing equipment can have on an audience. I have witnessed a room full of people partying to a band that knew its equipment, only to see that same room clear out when the band finished playing and the DJ came in. The DJ had not one but two sets of speakers, and he pointed them all towards one another. As a result, the sound waves canceled one another out, and the sound came out garbled and totally unpleasant, even though he was playing popular, latest-hit songs, and the band had been playing old-school 60's, 70's, 80's music. The room emptied within ten minutes, I kid you not.

Another reason live music often sucks is because the band is deaf to the needs of the audience, or the band is interested solely in pleasing the musical tastes of the restaurant staff or whatever, as opposed to the needs of the actual audience paying for food and drinks to be in the room with live music. Bands know who is paying them and will often cater towards the restaurant staff, only to be blamed by the same staff when customers complain that they don't like the music, or for poor sales on the floor the night the band played. This is why bands often rotate in and out of restaurants and similar gigs like a revolving door. Restaurant owner pays for live music, restaurant staff hires live music, restaurant staff hates country but that's actually what the people paying for the food want to hear, restaurant staff wants Cake by the Ocean instead, the room clears out, the owner is angry and the restaurant managers blame the band, fires them and hires a new band, only to have the same thing happen again. Meanwhile all they would have to do to get sales up, is have a band that knows its equipment AND plays what the customers actually want to hear.

Playing what the customers want to hear, though, also involves overcoming the ego of the performers, and actually playing what people want to hear. This means, if a band leader hates playing Faith by George Michael, but the audience loves it, the band leader plays it anyway. By request or just by feeling out the room and knowing what people would like in a given setting. A lot, I mean a lot, of bands, simply will not put the needs of the audience ahead of their own egos.

So live music can be good and enjoyable if the band and its members know what they are about. Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that they do not, and moreover are unwilling to accept the idea that they have something to learn.
posted by Crystal Fox at 4:43 PM on April 27, 2018

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