Gutelle: Are live music concerts really worth attending?

Sam Gutelle

As I watched thousands of Northwestern students waving their arms and cheering wildly during last Friday’s A&O Fall Blowout concert, I felt confused. What was the great allure? Why had so many of my fellow students collectively decided that this was the best way to spend a Friday night? Nothing against Lupe or Matt and Kim, who are both talented and high-energy acts, but I have still yet to see what it is about live music that everyone seems to love.

I have been to many concerts in my life, so many that I have lost count of the exact number. I go for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, it’s cheap and I have nothing better to do, as was the case last Friday. On the contrary, I occasionally seek out one of my favorite acts, ready to sing and dance to songs I’ve heard a thousand times. No matter what brings me to a concert, the same thought is always there in the back of my head: this will be the show that finally makes me understand what gets so many people to flock to live music performances time and time again.

The creation of a live-music venue often involves removing all of the seats from an old, dilapidated theater, allowing hundreds of sweaty fans to be packed together like sardines. I don’t think anyone would claim these venues are at all comfortable, but people seem willing to forgive this because they love seeing live music. Why? In my mind, live music is of poor quality, more distorted and scratchy than recorded tracks. Artists could always make up for this by changing the way they play their songs during live shows, but this seems to be a rarity, with artists preferring to talk and talk and talk instead of making interesting adjustments. When my friends who missed Lupe asked me how he was, what could I say? “He played louder, lower quality versions of his songs, and the most innovation he had was to break down the chorus of his most famous song, one rendition for each class.”

From my perch in the Welsh-Ryan bleachers, I tried to comprehend why everyone was here. If even half of these people showed up for the arena’s normal function, Northwestern basketball would have one of the most raucous home-court advantages in the country. There is something about this event, however, that makes it somehow more worthy of the purchase of a ticket, of the long trek to and from the arena, and the sectioning off of three hours on a Friday night. Music does have a certain universal appeal, and I’m sure a lot of people attend these events looking to forge some sort of emotional connection, but even that doesn’t quite do it all for me. After all, most people seem to have an emotional bond with film as well, and yet the A&O Films screenings I’ve been to are often marked by sparse attendance. There must be something else, something that I’m missing inside the minds of concertgoers. For me, a live musical performance is no better, if not worse, than the experience of listening to a meticulously produced album by the same band.

Lupe Fiasco is talented and I must reiterate that I am not trying to bash him. But when it’s a choice between feeling achy and sweaty on the floor in front of the stage and sitting in safety far away, where the only discernible noise is a distorted wall of sound, isn’t it time for me to re-evaluate if I’m making good use of my time and money?

Still, I keep going to concerts, and I don’t know why. The fact that I can’t stay away does make me a hypocrite of sorts. I, however, feel the need to defend myself. I am a social creature, and I felt that the reasonable cost of last Friday’s ticket justified my attendance. After all, I could be with most of my friends while giving the concert one more chance to redeem itself.

I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks this way about concerts, but I also don’t believe many people are willing to admit it. Until they do, I will have to reluctantly accept the low-quality buzz of live music as a part of my life.

Sam Gutelle is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]