Leslie Feist, the disinterested hoarde and the value equation of the 21st century music experience

glow show girl

Anyone who’s talked to me extensively about MP3s and song downloading knows my deep conflictions about how the Internet is changing our relationship with music. The benefits of the post-Napster era are obvious: access to music and the ability to discover/discuss it have never been so free and open. But the digital age also brings the value equation of music into question. If the entirety of recorded sound is available in an instant, without the need to exchange anything of value to acquire it, does music mean anything anymore?

Most would argue yes. After all, music has been a fundamental element of the human experience regardless of whether something of financial value is being exchanged. There is something about music that transcends simple economics and enters the mysterious realm of feeling and passion, inspiring singalong and dance in equal measure.

But is it enough? The secret catch of how the digital music experience is unfolding is that it’s not being driven by a shift towards this altruistic view of music’s worth. If anything, downloaders are holding fast to the fundamental tenants of capitalist philosophy. The mantra remains self-satisfaction and instant gratification above all else, which proves interesting when you have infinite possibility at your fingertips: why would you bother giving something a chance to grow on you when you have a zillion other experiences that are waiting for you?

I’ve been wrestling with these thoughts all weekend after my experience seeing the lovely Ms. Leslie Feist perform in Halifax on Friday night. As usual, she was in fine form, although the show wasn’t quite the revelation that her last visit to town was. Part of that might be the venue – I’m still not a fan of the Cunard Centre, a characterless, empty barn with a stage that’s not nearly high enough for its depth. But it’s also because Let it Die was an understated album that required Feist to play around with the songs to make for a dynamic concert. With The Reminder a much better fit for her live show, she didn’t tend to mess with the songs to the same degree, with the exception of a roaring, explosive version of “Sea Lion Woman” that brought the house down in the encore.

Too bad a good number of people in the crowd missed it.

The exodus at the end of the main set didn’t surprise me, actually. After all, half the night my ears were filled with the incessant white noise of conversation. Every time Feist played a song that wasn’t one of the big obvious hits – a quieter song, perhaps, like the beautiful “The Park” or “Gatekeeper” – the entire Cunard Centre sounded like a smoky, disinterested bar. I was in the middle of the crowd, maybe a hundred feet away from the stage, and it was bad enough there; my friends who stayed back in the drinking section said that it was far, far worse there.

Feist left the stage after ending her main set with the crowd-pleasing 1-2 punch of “1, 2, 3, 4” and “Mushaboom,” so she didn’t get to see the hundreds of people who fled from the venue to brave the cold night outside. Having heard all of Feist’s biggest hits, they seemingly had little interest in hearing anything else and couldn’t spare the extra minutes of concert that they had paid for. In doing so, they only missed the highlight of the entire night.

Now, I obviously know that people talking at concerts aren’t anything new, nor are people only going to a concert to hear the hits. But there was something that felt amplified on Friday night. After all, this was Feist, an international sensation whose stature has never been bigger playing a big concert that sold out quickly. This wasn’t some sad local band playing in a crowded bar full of people who are only there to drink. So why the heck did a good percentage of people who paid $30 to go to the Cunard Centre on Friday night decide to treat her like one?

Is it perhaps because our collective understanding of music has become about the listener, not the performer? Is our own entertainment – be it the concert itself or from the hundreds of conversations that were taking place all over the venue all night long – more important than what’s actually taking place on stage?

There was a cute moment when Feist noted the large number of camera flashes were going off. “Is Lindsay Lohan behind me?” she asked. One jester in the crowd yelled back, “Celine Dion,” which gave everyone – including Feist – a good laugh. But the irony is that while it wasn’t in the same ballpark as running Celine out of town, Halifax’s treatment of Feist was cut from the same cloth.

The message? In the 21st century, it doesn’t matter what you want to play – we only give a damn about what we want to hear.

…anyways, as to the show’s setlist, my memory isn’t so great on this one. It was heavy on The Reminder, with only “Past in Present” and (sadly) “Intuition” not played. Sprinkled in were Let It Die classics “Gatekeeper,” “Mushaboom,” “Let it Die,” “Inside and Out” and “When I Was a Young Girl.”

Photographic evidence?

kevin drew’s significant other

Broken Social Scene card-carrying member

self-sampling queen

Steve Jobs’ saleswoman

my secret heart

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3 responses to “Leslie Feist, the disinterested hoarde and the value equation of the 21st century music experience

  1. I concur, Mr. McNutt. This attitude has been ever-present at most of the live shows I’ve been to over the past couple of years. I remember the days (am I already a geezer complaining that the good ol’ days have passed?) when people attended a concert because it was a major event – a chance to see someone PERFORM. Nearly everyone was enthralled, and no one left until they got two encores or more.

    Now, at large, outdoor festivals (like those on the Hill), and at large stadium shows, I do expect a large amount of talkers and bro dudes and morons. But at smaller venues, like the Marquee, and, to a point, the Cunard Center, I would hope that the number of those folks would diminish. And it seems to me that in the past, these numbers WERE smaller.

    Cast in point: seeing Wintersleep two years ago was a vastly different experience than the past three times I’ve seen them. Back then, the crowd was enthralled, and unplugged singalongs were a regular occurance. At more recent shows, half the crowd is engaged in loud conversation in person or on their cell phones, another portion is busy texting, and the remainder are desperately trying to ignore these folks and enjoy the show. No small feat, considering how rude, inconsiderate, boisterous, and selfish those folks are.

    During the latest WS show at the Cunard Centre, there were two teenagers in front of me. They were dancing to the tunes and making out occasionally. No big deal. But then their two friends showed up and were literally screaming about how they all needed to go get a Cold Shot. One of them then starting making up his own words and melodies to each song, singing at full volume. They weren’t even that drunk. Nearby, a girl talked on her cell phone throughout the entire show. Another girl ahead of me held her camera up and recorded the whole thing as shitty-quality sound/video, meanwhile talking to her friends. A few crowd surfers landed on unsuspecting victims. Several people continually pushed their way forward – I would graciously move and allow them to pass, only to have them stand directly in front of me, or between my friends, with me now standing sideways and them calling me an asshole for being upset at this.

    It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to pay to go see a show. It’s changed. For the worse. I feel for the bands – they are disrespected, and so are their fans, making it hard to really enjoy putting on a show.

  2. I was initially disappointed that her show in Hamilton tonight was sold out but now I am not so sure. Hilariously, when I found out that I couldn’t get tickets I thought to myself “Shouldn’t she have extra tickets for people who liked her before Apple said that she was cool?”, and maybe that’s what they should do. Have a block of tickets for the proles, and a block for the real fans, maybe ask people which song on “Beehives” she sings, that would be hard to wiki…

    I do agree this is a very, very sad day for musicians. I was thrilled last week when I saw Stars, and everyone was involved, and singing along for damn near every song, even some of the older ones. I fear that those days may be numbered.

    But I commend you, good sir, for your rant against the masses. Keep on fighting the good fight…

  3. Pingback: …in which McNutt counts down his five favourite concerts of 2007 « McNutt Against the Music·

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