Come Together: Why We Need Concerts
Dispatch's show at Millenium Park reminded me why live music is more important than ever.
Look at the picture accompanying this article and find the person wearing a grey shirt and a questionable-looking pair of red sunglasses. That's me; the straight-faced, closed mouth look-- useful during the Braces Era-- makes a nostalgic appearance from time to time. But I was only a tiny speck in the whole sea of people who'd gathered in Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion to see the band Dispatch perform.
We'd chanced upon a really perfect afternoon, the weather locked into that balance of sunshine and breeze you always hope summer serves up every once in a while. The skyscrapers of Chicago stood proudly behind the stage, a dynamic backdrop against the stage's signature metal-ribbon top.
Dispatch, a popular indie/roots band, had just started touring again after a decade-long hiatus. You'd never have guessed the band had just dusted off its instruments, however; Dispatch crushed song after song, playing fan favorites like "The General", "Two Coins", and "Elias."
The band even launched into a medley including throwbacks like Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." The acoustics in the pavilion were incredible, but there was something else, something more significant, that I noticed as the band played: each word sung by front-man Brad Corrigan was echoed by thousands of ecstatic fans, creating one crashing voice that filled Millennium Park with a warm, breaking rumble. I guess I just haven't been to too many concerts, but I'm still not used to that.
Maybe it's just become unusual to feel that sense of unification brought about by music. The way technology has evolved, obtaining and listening to music has become an incredibly private experience; songs are downloaded straight to the computer, and even if for some bizarre reason one has the moral decency to support artists monetarily, there's no need to venture into record stores. After all, iTunes is just a click away (and even that hasn't satisfied everybody; Bon Jovi once lamented that "Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.")
Headphones clamped over ears, we drown out the world and listen to our songs without having to share them with anyone. On planes, trains, or any public place, people are constantly using music to isolate themselves as opposed to socialize.
It seems today that concerts are one of the sole remaining ways fans can appreciate their favorite artists together. So it's no surprise that kids like me take advantage of the numerous concerts in and around the Chicago area, in particular during the summer. If you like music, any kind of music at all, there's someone you'd enjoy seeing this summer. Even my parents, whose live music preferences are usually limited to the "picnic with a soundtrack" atmosphere of Ravinia Festival, will be seeing Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field later this June.
I really love music, but for some reason I've been to barely any concerts. So it's a big deal for me that I just bought my tickets to Lollapalooza, Chicago's three-day music extravaganza. I've never been so excited for anything. The headlining acts are primarily stadium rockers like Coldplay, Muse, and Foo Fighters, but I'm most looking forward to seeing Eminem perform. Being one of the major artists active during my childhood, I grew up with the Detroit rapper's music (keep your psychological analyses to yourself.)
The experience of hearing the crowd keep up with Eminem's every lyric will be a sort of revelation, a reminder that the songs I'd listened to in my room were not mine alone but instead shared by millions.
Some adults might scoff at the notion of such homophobic and violent lyrics being the foundation for such togetherness, and believe me, I'd choose a Jimi Hendrix concert over an Eminem concert in a heartbeat. It's just that I was born a couple decades too late, and also my mom probably wouldn't have let me go to Woodstock. I'm just working with what I got.
Be it rock, rap, or the bleepy electronic stuff distantly related to that noise made as your dial-up internet connected, concerts are truly an experience to be had and cherished.
"A live concert to me is exciting because of all the electricity that is generated in the crowd and on stage," Elvis Presley once said. "It's my favorite part of the business, live concerts." The special kind of energy Presley speaks of, shared by musicians and fans alike, is what packs stadiums and fills lawns time and time again. That electricity isn't something you'll experience anywhere else.
Singing along as one of thousands lets you become a part of something larger than yourself, significant because of and not in spite of your insignificance. It wasn't Millenium Park's acoustics that made the band sound great; Screaming along to the end of Dispatch's very last song, I was a tiny but essential piece of any band's most powerful instrument-- the roar of the fans.