BNL Concert

February 16th, 2007 by Potato

I’m not usually a concert-going guy: I typically figure that the added experience of seeing a band live, once, along with the between-song banter and special live-only covers/ditties/version is usually not worth the hassle of sitting in a packed hall/stadium with lots of screaming people and the very high admission. I’d rather have the CD and listen to it a number of times all by myself in the car, thanks. Nonetheless, I’ve heard that the Barenaked Ladies are a fun band to see live (and I like almost every song out of their catalog, so there won’t be embarrassing moments like when Robert Smith tried to pass off his newest song list as worthy of playing in front of people) so I decided to go. Plus it made for an awesome you-know-what-day present for Wayfare. (No modesty needed).

Now, we had tried to see BNL in concert once before, a few summers ago at the Molson Ampitheatre for their day-long “Barenaked circus” concert. That, my friends, was not a very good concert. It was basically Mama Page going up and smacking Stephen over the head and forcing him to let his whiney kid brother do an opening set for the now wildly popular BNL (though to be fair, his kid brother was one of the best of the acts). And of course, once that happened everyone wanted to let their cousins, friends, or people who play in the subway station on their morning commute do a set. It could have worked, if they had tightened up the set changes a bit lot more — it was pretty ridiculous, since we could see the stage hands wheel everything out pretty much preassembled on the rolling platforms, then take 40-45 minutes connecting stuff up and doing sound checks. I really thought a professional group of stage hands sould have been able to do that in less than say, 10 minutes. I think they did too, since Sean Cullen, who was entertaining us between groups, only had about 10 minutes of material at a time, then lots of dead air. It was also a little unfair that they didn’t really tell anyone that was the way the concert was going to go: we were not prepared to spend nearly 8 hours in our seat in the sun. Also, the actual BNL set (while fairly good) was really short, due in part to the crazy noise restrictions at Molson/Ontario Place (why they don’t just start concerts an hour earlier on a summer saturday afternoon, I don’t know). Of course, that concert did give us “Wood, Cheese, and Children” so not all was lost.

This concert was better. One opening act, as the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the good doctor Funkenstein intended. It wasn’t just that they had a curling song (though, really, that was the highlight of the whole affair, right up there with Lovers in a Dangerous Time for you-know-what day), it just seemed like a better concert. They were a little… cold at first, and there were some issues in getting the volume balanced between the instruments and the vocals. But it was smooth with very little downtime.

It’s much nicer seeing concerts in London. For one thing, the tickets are (a bit) cheaper. We were in the cheap seats, up in the nosebleeds, and we were about as close as the sort of second price tier seats would be in Toronto (for the Molson Ampitheatre, about where the seats turn to grass). It was also a breeze to get there: if the weather had been even remotely decent, we would have walked. Instead, we took a cab for $8, and afterwards walked like 4 blocks to get on a bus to come home — all in all, a much more enjoyable experience IMHO.

The record companies (or more properly, the artists) really haven’t seemed to see some of the strengths of digital music with respect to their concerts. There are almost always unique one-off moments in a concert: a different version of a song (even if it’s just more vibrant with cheering fans), or a new cover, or some little throwaway ditty that didn’t seem worth putting on an album. But there are quite often fans who would like to have that song: the BNL live version of “Brian Wilson” is now the definitive version of that song; personally, I’d love to have a copy of “Canada Curling Stone” that they played tonight, or “Bounce to This“, a really good, catchy song at the George Clinton concert that I’ve never heard before or since. Sometimes, they’ll release a concert CD or DVD, but it’s often of a representative night of a particular tour, and still misses some of the jokes, local flavour, and audience reaction. So, my point is: wouldn’t it be great if bands sold recordings of each stop of their concert tour? Of all their songs, in all their many flavours? It seems like it should be trivially easy to record and sell MP3s once you already have the infrastructure to do so for full studio album versions. Plus it would be a great way to extort more money from the die-hard fan who has to have everything, and cut down on the desire to record performances: if you knew you could go and buy any particular song you really liked live afterwards, why even bring the tape recorder? (And I think I like Pinch Me better when the line is “take a drink right from the hose, and change into my sister’s clothes”). This is the kind of way that digital media scales: it’s just as easy and profitable to sell a thousand different songs/versions as it is to sell 26 off two albums. Shelf space is no longer a concern: the only issue remaining is the customers’ ability to sort through it, find what they want, and absorb it.

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