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.”