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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2007/10/21
by David Steinberg

Final Straw?

This has been my worst year for seeing music in over a decade.
Approximately 80% of the show I attended occurred in the first week of
January; thank you Jam Cruise for that at least. There are multiple reasons
why my concert attendance is down. Many of the bands I would be seeing
(e.g. Phil and Friends, Rhythm Devils, Tea Leaf Green, Perpetual Groove)
either weren’t playing this year or didn’t play within a 12 hour drive.
That distance normally would have been less of a constraint but this year
had the infamous roof purchase [1]. Not only did the sheer expense of that
purchase prevent me from traveling as much as I would like, but it also
helped to create an emotional barrier. When you find yourself allocating
that much money for something that practical, you lose any right to pretend
that you’re not some sort of adult. You can try to pass it off as a one
time expense or something, but the fact is that it turns you into a
different person than the one who poured all of their money down the drain
of maximizing the amount of live music you could see.
A lack of music was the theme of 2007. Even the shows that I enjoyed this
year were bittersweet as String Cheese Incident is breaking up and Page’s
tour is unfortunately shaping up to be a one time occurrence. It’s another
sign of aging when the bands you enjoy find reasons to disband and the
newcomers have the nerve to appeal to people younger than you. Still
though, not all would be lost. Widespread Panic were coming to the
Paramount. The Bonnaroo webcast was pretty damn hot so there was definite
hope leading up to this night. If nothing else, I figured I would be able
to hang out with my friends.
I knew immediately that this night was not going to plan when we got to the
venue. Floor seats sold out quickly for the show – although there were
plenty of rereleases after we already purchased our mid balcony tickets –
but that wasn’t going to be an issue. The Paramount had a long-standing
tradition about not caring about people stubbing their friends down to the
floor. Alas, the past tense used in the previous sentence was
foreshadowing. Apparently, they’ve grown tired of having their rules
flaunted. They now separate the crowd into floor lines and balcony lines.
If you don’t get the wristband that the former hands out, you can’t make
your way down. So much for being able to see the show with my friends.
The Paramount (and the Seattle Fire Department) does have full rights to
enforce their rules. It is understandable that they don’t want the floor
overpopulated and it’s hard to get too angry with them for finding a way of
enforcing their rule. It was largely the expectation that it wouldn’t be an
issue that caused the frustration; had we known that they would have this
new rule, we would have bought tickets on the first day that they went on
sale. At the same time though, this is part of a larger trend both in the
entertainment industry and the political world [2].
Venues are offering less and less with every passing year. It’s not just
that the Paramount doesn’t let you stub people down. They also had
advertisements strung up all over the lobby. We also had a wonderful chain
of events that nearly led to my first eviction in my many years of seeing
concerts. During the set break, we were calmly waiting in line for a soda.
The show was on a Friday night so some caffeine was needed in order to make
it through the second set. There was a scream from the inside of the venue
meaning that the band was back on. Unfortunately you can’t hear from the
lobby, so when a security guard grabbed us and told us that there was no
line downstairs, we followed his advice. That was a huge mistake. The
reason why there were no lines downstairs was because the Paramount stops
serving everything after setbreak. I understand what stopping alcohol sales
is supposed to stop, but most people would think it’s a good thing if the
driver next to them was actually awake.
As those who hang out with me know, I’m at my worst when I’m tired. Between
the new rules, being lied to by security, and the fact that I was missing
the music that I paid for because of this, I had reached my limit. I loudly
expressed my opinion of these new rules which led to a police officer being
directed to me. Finally understanding that some causes are lost, I was
talked into going back upstairs to our sets. Of course, we weren’t allowed
to go the most direct way because technically we were slightly closer to the
second floor entrance so we weren’t allowed to walk up the stairs in a spot
where we might actually hear the music. What song did all of this nonsense
cause us to miss? "Ain’t Life Grand." At least the irony gods didn’t
take
the day off.
All of this stupidity could easily have been overcome if the show were
incredible. Lord knows I’ve put up with a lot more than this to see some
concerts over the years. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s noodling wasn’t blending
well with the song based rock of Panic. He could have changed his style to
fit Panic. The rest of the band could have tried to increase their risks.
There even could have been some interesting tension between improvisation
and composition. Rather there were long stretches where Herring soloed
while everyone else stuck to the same chords over and over again. It wasn’t
horrible by any means. If it had performed on a sunny evening at Marymoor
Park [3], it would have easily been worth the money. Unfortunately, the
new, unimproved Paramount experience was a little too much to overcome.
The frustration from this experience lasted longer than just a night. My
irritation with the ever increasing number of obstacles being placed between
the attendee and a good time had been growing for a while, but this is
really the first time that I felt like screaming, "I’m too old to put up
with this crap." After twenty years of revolving my life around music,
could I finally be sick of it? While I was wondering about that, one of my
email lists forwarded me this link.
A duet
plays Widespread’s "Surprise Valley" on violin and acoustic guitar.
As I
watched it, enjoying the hell out of it, and my attitude changed.
This is music at its purist. There’s no attempt at squeezing money out of
us here. There are no weird rules preventing people from enjoying it. It’s
just two people having a blast, playing incredibly well. You can’t just live
off of past memories to keep interest; every now and then you have to
experience an epiphany if you’re going to be able to keep thinking of live
music as something transcendental. Thank you for the reminder Ann Marie
Calhoun. Hey. Langerado is playing at Big Cypress. Maybe I should go!
[1] People who read my writing regularly are probably exceedingly sick of
hearing about this. Fortunately, the work is done and is rapidly being paid
down. As 2007 recedes into the past, this will become much less of a
concern.
[2] Remember when you could get away with not paying a parking ticket from a
different state? Databases make it impossible to get away with minor
violations. Sure, no one has a right to break the law, even an unimportant
one, but there needs to be some general slack in the system to make things
work. Our government was founded under the assumption that there was a
frontier to escape to if you really got into trouble. We’ve gone from there
to a system where it’s technologically possible to have cameras recording
every intersection in a city in order to spot transgressions. Once the
technology exists, the use of it is just a matter of time.
David Brin has written books on this topic, explaining why we should give up
expectations of privacy in order that we can watch the powerful as much as
they watch us. While that sounds good on some level, the problem is that
there are laws on the book that people casually break on a daily basis. If
the enforcement level goes up before the laws can be modified (and it’s
questionable if underage drinking, drug possession or artificially low speed
limits will ever go away), many lives would be ruined without really
improving society at all.
[3] A sunny day in Seattle in 2007? Call me a dreamer!

  • Author’s Note:*

The day after I finished this 1500 word cynical column about how I just don’t care that much about music anymore, I received a phone call. It was from the Glens Falls Civic Center. For the next two hours, I found myself listening through the static and distortion, fascinated at the apparent revival of one of my favorite musicians. It took two hours to go from burnt out to wondering why I didn’t fly 2500 miles to see one concert. Amazing how that works.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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