Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Old 97's are not on my camera phone

Telling people you're going to see the Old 97's (yes, their name has an apostrophe), even after it's been 17 years since their first album and they've been on Leno multiple times (most recently last November 11) and they were the band that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn go see in the movie The Break-Up (which featured several shots focused on the band) still involves getting blank stares and having to explain who they are (which may be limited to only "They're a band I like").

For the uninitiated, you can stream some of their songs on their MySpace page, or here's a video of them live I found on YouTube:

And while I certainly believe they're deserving of better recognition, if I'm being completely honest, I kind of prefer that they're not household names. They have a devoted fan base that supports them well enough for them to continue touring and making albums, but (at least out here in Southern California) they still play clubs where it's easy to get tickets even on the night of the show. (However, for last Friday's show in Hollywood, at the Music Box, my wife had gotten the tickets well in advance, as a Xmas/birthday present; this was no last-minute whim.)

That their shows are filled pretty much only with people who know who they are, who are familiar with their catalog and not just some song that was a hit on the radio, who actively sing along with the songs, is far better than playing to bigger crowds in larger venues.

Case in point: Years ago my wife and I saw the White Stripes at the Greek Theater. Obviously, by the time Jack and Meg White were a big enough draw that they were playing a several-thousand seat amphitheater. My wife knew about them from their early days there, and we both were fans before they had a popular radio hit. Anyway, the band put on a great show, mostly because Jack was a phenomenal performer (or at least he was the two times we saw them in concert). However, the crowd clearly was not made up of entirely people with the same level of interest that my wife and I had, as during Jack's extend blues jamming (which, personally, I enjoyed) the energy of the crowd dropped exponentially. But the worst part was this: For most of the concert, between every song, this guy a few rows ahead of us kept yelling out (not that he was remotely within Jack's earshot) "Seven Nation Army!"—which, it became evident, was the only song of theirs he really wanted to hear. That had become a hit on the radio, and that was the reason this guy was in the crowd.

That's certainly his prerogative to spend his money on a ticket as he sees fit.

However, he was so relentlessly annoying about it, that to this day when I hear that song I think of him. It was never my favorite WS track, but being in his proximity for that concert ruined it for me.

That never happens at Old 97's shows. And thanks to that WS concert, I appreciate how important that is.

While the band is playing the same sort of venues as twelve years ago (when first I saw them), and many of the fans are probably the same ones that were at shows back then, there was something new about this show (and I'm not speaking of the inclusion of material from the latest album by the band in their set list). Or rather, something that used to be negligible and this time was practically ubiquitous: People taking pictures with the cameras on their phones.

I grasp that phones with the ability to take photos (or even video) is nothing new, and now they've progressed to the point where the lenses are almost comparable to a little digital camera (in certain circumstances), and that we now live in an era when virtually every moment seems worthy of capturing for posterity (and the convenience to do so fits in one's pocket). I am not oblivious to all that.

To what the people with the phones seem oblivious is that those little lenses, for all their advancements, by and large are not shooting at a speed to capture action—especially not performers in motion on a stage. Even with the meager flash new phones have, the shots will mostly be blurs.

And hey, if that's what you're going for, then you got it.

I didn't take any pictures, myself, despite having a phone on my person that was capable of what are pretty decent for a phone. The reasons were:

1. I was there to enjoy the music, to get caught up in the experience.

2. When I want to take pictures, I bring a camera. (I did that back at a show in 2005, noted in this post.)

3. I knew very well the pictures wouldn't come out. (As seen in that post, even with an actual camera, most of the shots were blurry.) 

I don't mean to sound overly snooty here, but I have enough respect for photography now not to delude myself with the notion it was even worth bothering to pull the phone from my pocket and try.

I want to say I held no active judgment against all the people who were doing that; it's a free country and whatnot. However, if I'm being brutally honest, I did think It's not going to come out over and over as I watched them. And sometimes their raised hands (as they attempted to "shoot" over the people in front of them) were a bit distracting, so that was a bit of a bother, but I have been to shows in my younger days where slam pits were commonplace, so I can get past pretty much anything. Still, observing the folks around me fumbling to try to get their shots, any impulse I may have felt to see how my phone would fare was squashed by another reason:

4. I didn't want to be one of them.

To be clear: I'm not knocking people with good cameras taking pictures if the venue allows it (or at least doesn't enforce the rules against it). If you take photography even semi-seriously, you can get decent shots in that environment. And sure, it may be that some phones are capable of getting some action shots; I concede it may be possible. It wasn't happening amongst those around me (because I could see on their screens the still image snapped).

And it's not that were there just a few of them, or if they were only doing it for a minute and then stopped, that it would have been that bad. But the extent to which they were so numerous, and more important, because they just would not relent (despite all the evidence that their efforts were not achieving the desired results), it sort of turned them into the "Seven Nation Army" guy; they didn't turn me off to the band, or to concerts, but to pointing any sort of lens at a stage.

I'm not saying I wish a pit broke out (and during the first set-closer "Four Leaf Clover" my wife and I almost turned into a tiny one with our enthusiastic dancing), but it would have been interesting to see how the camera phone folks would have fared with such a fracas.

But hey, maybe my loud and off-key singing during some songs was ruining the show for others around me, so I probably shouldn't be too critical.

With my voice hoarse at the end of the night (and continuing through the weekend) I was reminded that I'm not the young pup I once was, but I'm not too old to get down there by the stage and have a grand time.

But I should stretch beforehand next time…

And I'll still need to explain who the band is to people who won't be at the concert, as we prefer it. Just don't expect any camera photos.

1 comment:

So, what do you think?