Indie

Ask A Music Critic: Is It Weird To Go To Concerts Alone?

Welcome to another installment of Ask A Music Critic! And thanks to everyone who has sent me questions. Please keep them coming at steve.hyden@uproxx.com.

I go to movies by myself all the time, which never seemed like an issue to me. I usually had more time, and was more interested in movies, and that’s more of a solitary, quiet activity anyway. Concerts on the other hand always struck me as more social, and it hadn’t occurred to me that going solo might be an option. Have you ever gone to a show by yourself? Not talking about meeting people you might know at a show, but just buying one ticket, going to the venue, catching the show, maybe grabbing a t-shirt, and going home. Is this common, or is this actually incredibly sad? — Kevin from Carol Stream, Ill.

Do I go to concerts by myself? All the time! This is partly due, of course, to my vocation as a music critic taking me to more concerts than the average person. But even if I was a civilian, I would relish my solo concert experiences.

Is this “actually incredibly sad”? You can take my answer with a grain of salt but: No! In fact, it’s awesome. And it’s also necessary. If you happen to be a big music fan, you will likely encounter situations where nobody in your friend group wants to see a concert that you want to see. But you shouldn’t look at this as a setback. It is, rather, an opportunity. If you have never experienced the pleasures of solitary concert-going, well, I envy you. Because you are about to enter a whole new world, my friend.

You say you go to the movies by yourself. What is the advantage of going to a movie by yourself? You have the freedom to see what you want, when you want. You aren’t beholden to another person’s whims or opinions. You don’t have to talk another person into seeing what you want to see if that person happens to not share your tastes or interests. Is there anything worse than successfully persuading a person who doesn’t care about the film you care about into going along, and then having to worry about whether this other person is enjoying the experience as much you are, which inevitably influences your experience? God forbid this hypothetical killjoy despises a film that you love. Now, instead of simply enjoying a great cinematic experience, you now have to contend with the terrible thoughts of Debby Downer over here in a neighboring seat.

All of this translates to attending a concert by yourself. Actually, I would say it applies even more to concert-going. Let’s say a band you love is playing a club downtown on a Tuesday night. Who in the world is going to agree to tag along to see a concert on a Tuesday night by a band they might not know or like? Talk about a big ask. That’s a way bigger commitment than simply agreeing to see a movie. And there’s a very good chance you won’t find anyone to go with you.

But why should this prevent you from doing something you want to do? Because you’re worried about looking “sad” or violating some unwritten social contract? This is ludicrous. Even if you are able to successfully to persuade a friend to tag along to that Tuesday night show, you are now adding unneeded stress to a situation that should just be pure fun. Because it’s now your responsibility if your friend has a boring night. You have put that burden on yourself for no good reason!

How do you handle this? Unless you’re a sociopath, you will want to make the night more entertaining for your friend. You’ll offer to buy a round of beers. If he wants to talk over the music, you’ll let him. All the while, your friend will be pulling you away from the music and toward him. Which is exactly what you don’t want, because you can hang out with this dude anytime. But this band might not come back to town for another two or three years. And here you are, yapping through a conversation you don’t want to have while spending money you’d rather not spend instead of simply enjoying the music.

I’ll say it again: This is ludicrous!

Have I made my point yet? It’s one thing if you and your guest are equally engaged in the music. This will undoubtedly enhance the experience. But if you’re dragging someone along purely for the sake of companionship, it will likely detract from the experience. You’re better off going alone and commiserating with strangers in the audience — some of whom will also be there by themselves — and achieving a more organic and amenable communal experience. Or you can decide to not do that and focus entirely on the band! When you go home after the show — or you can leave during the encore if you wish, because again you are entirely in control of your own destiny here — you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much less money you have spent on compensatory booze.

Here’s the thing about concerts as “social” events: I think this is mainly true for people who don’t really care about the band on stage. It’s true that hanging out before the show is social. And certainly there are conversations to be had between bands on a multiple act bill. But the individuals who talk during the music are — no exaggeration — the worst people in the world. They should be tried, convicted, and jailed for being supreme irritants. What this means is that the social aspect of concerts is overrated, to the point of actively hurting the enjoyment of the music. So, I support any and all efforts to reduce the number of “chompers” at any given show, including not dragging along disinterested parties in a misguided attempt to preserve the “social” aspect.

I was delighted to hear you air out your arguments for the shortcomings of accruing a vinyl collection on a recent episode of Indiecast. This is something I can relate to as I just sold my record collection a couple weeks ago for similar reasons. Moreover, the concept of “CD albums” is fascinating to me; it’s such unrealized territory that I feel like it deserves its own discussion. What are some albums you consider CDs first and foremost? A few that come to mind for me Weezer’s Pinkerton, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, and Kanye West’s Yeezus. — Brent from North Brunswick, New Jersey

First I get to talk about the joys of attending concerts alone. And now I get to talk about compact discs? What a day!

First some context: On Indiecast, my co-host Ian Cohen and I were discussing the recent vinyl backlog, and how it is fueled partly by how vinyl has been romanticized beyond all common sense as the “ideal” or “authentic” way to listen to music. The example I used to counter this was the late, great James Gandolfini supposedly listening to Dookie by Green Day on vinyl while on set for The Sopranos. Now, Tony Soprano can listen to pop-punk in any format he likes. But Dookie was a product of the CD era in the 1990s, a period when vinyl was all but extinct. If the idea is to listen to Dookie “authentically,” then listening to it on CD seems most “authentic” to me. (Actually, a burned CD-R is probably most authentic of all.)

Now, regarding your question about “CD albums,” I have actually written about this before. Back in 2014, I came up with five categories of albums that are best suited for the CD format.

1. Albums that make 79 minutes feel like a (mostly enjoyable) eternity

What this means is really long albums that were constructed to max out the technical capabilities of a compact disc. The most obvious example to me is Lateralus, the 2001 album by Tool, which clocks in at 78 minutes and 58 seconds, exactly one minute and two seconds below the full capacity of a single disc. While you can stream Lateralus, you will probably not finish it, because you’ll have access to millions of other songs that will eventually seem “easier” than a convoluted prog-metal opus. On vinyl, a long album is typically split into two or three-song blocks over the course of several sides, which can make an already long album feel even longer. On CD, however, you are more likely to go along with the (tiresome!) (but also cool!) experience.

2. Albums that utilize sketches, between-song musical interludes, or other interstitial material

Also known as the “W-Balls on Doggystyle” category. It’s simply too easy to skip “W-Balls” on Spotify. But on CD, you can’t avoid it. Nor should you want to miss it.

3. Albums with hidden tracks

You can’t hide a track on a streaming service. And there’s not enough space on a vinyl record to make hidden tracks worthwhile. On CD, however, “Endless Nameless” really comes to life at the end of Nevermind.

4. Albums that go meta and reference being played on CD

You remember how Tom Petty does his little “Hello CD listeners” bit in the middle of Full Moon Fever? You can’t do that on vinyl or on Spotify.

5. Albums that are Zaireeka

Honestly, this infamous Flaming Lips record — originally four CDs with different tracks designed to be played on four separate CD players simultaneously — was already impractical in its initial form. But the idea of listening to it on vinyl is — I’m sorry — really, really dumb.

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