Only If We’re There to Catch It

Eleven years ago, I attended a Switchfoot concert in Pasig City as part of their Hello Hurricane Tour.  It was their second time in the Philippines, but it was my first time seeing them live.  Even though I still didn’t know many of their songs then, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is in fact, one of the most special ones I’ve ever attended.  Aside from the great tunes they performed and the positive atmosphere it had, there was this moment that happened that made the night even more memorable.  At one point, vocalist Jon Foreman requested the tech guys to turn down all the lights (even the spotlight on him) and asked the audience to take a picture at the same time. I obliged because I wanted to be part of it, and at the same time have a souvenir of this slice of time, which I felt was going to be extra special.  However, I encountered a bit of a difficulty with my camera, and so my attention was directed to it instead of what was happening around me.  Eventually, I got the camera to work, and I was able to see what Jon wanted to witness: a scene that resembled a night sky dotted with flickering stars.  My companion at the time who wasn’t really into Switchfoot saw everything as she just sat in her seat unbothered, and as a matter of factly she said: “Well, that was nice.”  It did look beautiful, and I regretted immediately that I participated in it.  Why?  Because I got to see only a part of the event.  The picture did not turn out ok either, and honestly, I can’t remember where it is now.  I was part of that moment, yes, yet I was not able to experience it fully because I was busy attempting to capture it.  Later on, when they sang one of my favorite songs, Dare You to Move, I decided not to take any photo nor record it.  Instead, I decided to sing along with them, be with them, and absorb the moment totally.  I decided to be

📸: istockphoto.com

This is definitely not the case for many especially nowadays, though.  As technology becomes more and more advanced, and the urge to share practically everything on social media is ever present, taking pictures and videos at concerts is now the norm.  The moment the general lighting is dimmed, camera flashes will start to go off and the lit screens of smart phones will fill the venue.  It’s only natural for people to want to capture these joyous moments forever; after all, events such as these don’t happen quite often.  However, for some people, capturing moments of the concert has now become the priority, and enjoying it comes only in second.

The experience I had at Switchfoot’s concert doesn’t happen to me often.  Taking photos or recording songs isn’t really a huge part of concerts for me.  If I am with somebody, I would take a few pictures, and then just rely on their shots than to be the one to take them.  If I’m all by myself, around 15 shots would already be enough, and as for recording songs, I rarely ever do it.  I just find recording or taking photos during shows bothersome, so if I could limit the number of times I raise my arms to find a good angle to capture the scene, I would.  Besides, I know how extremely annoying and frustrating it is to attend concerts where countless smart phones block the faces of the artists and to watch full songs performed in screens in front of me, so I don’t want to be cause of another person’s irritation. 

I guess I can attribute my comparative lack of enthusiasm when it comes to taking photos at shows to my early days of attending gigs and concerts.  I started watching them when cellphones were already around but not ubiquitous nor ultra-high tech yet.  Cellphones mainly were tools of communication then, not something that could record life events.  Of course, there were real cameras, but many big concerts prohibited them inside venues, anyway.  So, I was forced to simply be at concerts, and that is why the habit of recording was really not cultivated.  I don’t have proof that I went to all of the gigs and shows I did go to (during the early years) except say for some ticket stubs. That’s it.  Even if that’s the case, they remain to be unforgettable.

Just to clarify: I’m not saying that people shouldn’t record these events, but at least they should try to refrain from recording too much.  What’s “too much”? I don’t know, maybe like for an entire performance of a song, they have 10 or so shots of it? Or even video recording each song—or worse, the entire concert? Go to YouTube and one can easily find tons of complete fan recordings of an entire show! A part of me is actually frustrated at these kinds of people especially those who are located near the stage because they’ve got an excellent spot—they’re nearer to the action, the energy—yet because they want to have a clear recording of what’s happening on stage, they just stand there motionlessly, focused on capturing good digital souvenirs instead.  Some may be livelier than others and move or jump around (still with their phones in their hands, of course) but they inconsiderately block the views of those people who went there to watch the show in person and not via a tablet.

📸: istockphoto.com

Many artists have also expressed similar sentiments about the use of phones during their shows, and some, such as Jack White and Alicia Keys, have even gone to the extent of banning the use of these devices, requiring the audience instead to use Yondr, a digital pouch where a concert goer can store her or his cell phone in and access it only when she/he goes to a designated location that allows its use.  The move is definitely restrictive, and as expected, concert goers are hugely divided on this issue.  For some, they approve of it because they get to experience everything fully; for others, they think this move just goes to show how egotistical artists are, wanting only the attention all to themselves.

There was a beautiful tweet written by Japanese-American artist Mitski, which she posted back in February 24 about phones at shows.  It was both a reflection of a common sentiment shared by many artists these days and a gentle invitation to her audience to be more present, to share with her a special moment.  I will be sharing an excerpt of that tweet, which, unfortunately, has been deleted since. 

A note from Mitski:

Hello! I wanted to speak with you about phones at shows.  They’re part of our reality.  I have mine on me all the time, and I’m not against taking photos at shows (Though please no flash lol)  But sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together.  This goes for both when I’m on stage, and when I’m an audience member at shows.  I love shows for the feeling of connection, of sharing a dream, and remembering that we have a brief miraculous moment of being alive at the same time, before we part ways.  I feel I’m part of something bigger.  When I’m on stage and look to you but you are gazing into a screen, it makes me feel as though those of us on stage are being taken from and consumed as content, instead of getting to share a moment with you.  Ultimately it’s your night, and I want you to enjoy it as you like. I don’t want to be greedy, I’m fortunate to get to play!  Just putting out there that sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can experience magic at a show.  But only if we’re there to catch it.

But only if we’re there to catch it—this is my favorite part of her note, and I couldn’t agree with her more.  People may have loads of photos and recordings of a show to prove that they were there, but were they really?  When done too much, people disengage from the moment and become mere observers of what’s unfolding in front of them.  Yes, photos can help in reliving that particular moment later on, but some studies have shown that taking too many photos of an event, especially when done without much care, can actually make the brain forget it.

The next time you’re at a show, click away as often as you’d like, but just keep in mind the words of Mitski and even Jon Foreman himself:

In spite of our best attempts to capture these moments and save them for later, joy can only happen in the present tense. The euphoria of the now cannot be taken prisoner — it is only available to us in this one instance alone and then it is gone.

[…] Yes, the joys that we experience in the present are beautiful and certainly worth holding onto. But if recording is the art of forgetting, then maybe the art of life is found in your present attention to the moment. Maybe you and I are the painting, the poem, the tape machine. Waves of light and sound wash over us, and our canvas responds with actions of our own: Experiencing this joy and giving it away. So take pictures of the waves of color sweeping over you. Write it down. Record the moment as best you can. But know that these waves can never be fully tamed by the pen, or the lens or the tape machine. No, the waves that break on your shores cannot be captured by human hands, but they beckon us to come out to the deep waters and ride them.

P.S. Jon Foreman has written a handful of other blogs for Huffington Post. Check them out here.

Stealing My Attention: On Earworms, Live Streams, and Nothing But Thieves

The sound of guitars in Nothing But Thieves’ (NBT) Futureproof, accompanied by its heavy drums and bass, recently inserted itself in between the threads of my dreaming and waking self one morning; it was like a lullaby and an alarm clock going off at the same time.  After a while, it became louder and started to mingle with the other noises around me—it was time to get up.  The song kept on playing in my head even when I was already fully awake, and it continued to do so a few days after that.  I think I had seen this before.

It was almost this way, too, that another track of theirs became an earworm for me for a good couple of weeks.  This time, it was Real Love Song off the initial release of their album, Moral Panic, in 2020.  I had passively heard the track a few times, but the guitar part between 00:39-00:45 often began to pop in my head later on.  More bits of the song eventually embedded themselves in my brain moments before I woke up and continued to play throughout the day. 

In the hopes of getting rid of this tune, I decided to get to know it more: listen more attentively, watch its video, and look up its lyrics.  After all, one of the effective ways to remove stuck songs is to listen to them entirely (well, at least that is what Harvard says).  But none of what I did helped; in fact, these things only cemented the song’s presence in my head.  I was able to memorize the lyrics and sing the whole tune now!  But something else happened, too: I realized that despite its somewhat cheesy lyrics, the music itself was not that bad.  Real Love Song actually became one of the reasons why I watched the band’s live stream in October of the same year.

I already knew NBT years before their songs invaded my head.  It was around 2015 or 2016, and I was at the time (still am despite their ghosting of their fans) a fan of Twin Wild, another English band.  Twin Wild supported NBT on some of their shows, and it was through them that I got know the guys from Essex.   The first song that I checked out from them was Ban All the Music.  Unfortunately, I found the song and the video bland.  I would, later on, go and introduce the band to my sister, who was likewise not captivated by their sound.  It would take her a while and a cover of Jeff Buckley’s Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, though, to like NBT.

Philip Blake (bass), Dominic Craik (guitars and keyboards), Conor Mason (vocals), Joe Langridge-Brown (guitars), James Price (drums) 📸: NBT Facebook

Perhaps “like” is an understatement as she eventually fell in love with their music.  Although she didn’t really care much about the band, she consumed their work passionately.  She would often try to convince me to listen to their albums or follow them already on Spotify, but I would always decline.  “Why don’t you like them?  They’re sooo good!” she would say.  “They’re the best band I have discovered in the last few years.  You would love them!” she’d continue.  But she was not able to convert me into a fan. At the time, they simply did not resonate with me at all, and there was just something about them, too–and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was–that I didn’t quite like. I would often tell her that she shouldn’t force it, and that their music would capture me… if it was meant to. 

I must admit the cover was good.  I couldn’t think of any band at the time that could pull off that song.

This didn’t mean that I completely dismissed their existence, though.  I did listen to some of their songs, and I was, ironically, even more knowledgeable and updated about the band than my sister was as I had an online friend who was also into NBT and would often post stuff about them.  So, I knew what singles they released, where their next tour was going to be, and even the sexual harassment controversy they got involved with during the height of the MeToo era.  She also tried to convince me to check them out go to their concert, but like my sister, she too failed.

Honestly, had the concert pushed through, I would most probably go but only because either my sister would force me to accompany her or if they had gotten Twin Wild as the front act.  It’s definitely unusual to watch a concert simply because of the opener, but there I was willing to bleed money just to see them.  

They were supposed to bring their Broken Machine Tour to Manila in 2018.  “Due to unforeseen circumstances,” however, it got cancelled. I’m guessing the reason had got something to do with poor ticket sales.

But things have changed since then.  Thanks to the stuck song syndrome I experienced and the live stream, I warmed up to them eventually.  The live stream helped a lot in allowing me to explore their music further.  Free If We Want It, a song I heard for the first time through the live stream stole my attention and even made it to my personal soundtrack that year.  Amazingly, in 2021, that and Nothing But Thieves themselves even landed a spot on my Spotify Wrapped (even though I wasn’t following them), something I definitely didn’t see coming!

Fast forward to 2022, have I followed them on Spotify now?  Yes, but I still haven’t dug deep into their discography; I’ve been listening a lot to Moral Panic (Complete Edition) these past few days, though.  Will I now see them in concert in case they drop by in the future? Yes, most probably, and it’s going to be voluntary this time around! So, have I been converted to a fan?  I still don’t think I can consider myself one just yet.  In my case, anyway, many of the artists who have made a big impact on me are the ones I didn’t immediately notice or even like, so there’s no need to rush or force this.  Music is like love: you can’t force it; you have to let it happen.  (Charaught!) Besides, I’m already truly listening to Nothing But Thieves, anyway!  That’s already an excellent start, don’t you think? 

Revelling in the View

Can I legitimately count this as my sixth Incubus concert? This was the question in my head when I watched a live stream concert of Incubus last October 23.  Going back to the exact location where Morning View—the band’s most commercially successful album— was recorded 20 years ago, Incubus decided to celebrate this momentous event by performing it in full and streaming it worldwide. As a fan of the band, I, of course, didn’t want to miss it.  When the show ended an hour later, though, the said question popped into my head. 

I have been to all Incubus’ Manila shows since their 2004 debut, but this particular one is different from the rest since 1) they were not holding it to promote a new EP or LP, and 2) it was merely a live stream of a pre-recorded performance.  Having it live streamed already made it feel as if it was not a real concert; streaming a pre-recording only made it feel less real.  But in the time of a pandemic when actual physical concerts are still impossible for many countries (including the Philippines) to hold, live streams are the most logical thing to do.

A short clip of the band reminiscing the creation of Morning View kicked off the digital concert before proceeding to the show proper.  The entire gig was shot at three different times of the day, which added to the mood of the songs performed.  All performances were shot in color, too, except for some like Warning and Mexico, which also featured musician and wife of guitarist Mike Einziger, Ann Marie Simpson-Einziger, on cello.

After the show, I had a quick chat with a fellow fan, and he suggested that instead of calling it officially as my sixth concert I should qualify it as my first livestream… because that’s what he did.  I guess it’s not just me who is still not comfortable considering livestreamed concerts as a proper show, no? 

Proper or not, there is no doubt that Morning View is well-loved by many still.  20 years may have passed, but the album has only aged like fine, fine wine.  I’m grateful these songs exist and have found me and become a part of my journey.  Here’s to 20 more!