"We've lost our way."
I use this phrase a lot when I talk about national politics. But I'm using it now regarding the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss show on Mud Island last week. I'm a recording engineer and former rock-star wannabe. It takes an act of Congress to get me out and see a concert anymore. But the lure of this once-in-a-lifetime show did the trick.
As I sat in my fifth-row center seat, I was reminded yet again why Memphis has lost its way. At about the fourth song, I realized that most people around me thought this was a double-bill and that Krauss was opening for Plant. They were sure they'd hear "Tall Cool One." They were in for a rude awakening.
A lady next to me tugged on my shirt and asked, "Did Zeppelin sing 'Stairway to Heaven'?" I first said, "Huh?" in disbelief. She repeated the question, and I said, "Uh, YES!" I knew then I was in for a long night.
Much of the Raising Sand album is airy, dark, and moody. Plenty of space in the music. Yet, I was surrounded by folks who insisted on polluting these pure sounds with idle conversation. I kept thinking the band was going to stop and make sure the conversations were over so they could continue.
Then there was the "electronics brigade": people who insist on filming the show with digital cameras and cell phones. When did this vile fungus become an accepted behavior?
In front of me sat three people who somehow found the time between drinking beer and lengthy discussions to hold up their cell phones to record video. One guy even had his small digital camera videotaping chunks of songs, not even a full song.
Several things came to mind, one of which was: "You honestly believe that you're going to go home and enjoy the cell phone footage?" The other was: "You're watching the concert on a cruddy cell phone screen. You have one of the premier voices in rock history no more than 150 feet from you, one of the world's greatest producers playing guitar, and the voice of an angel singing her heart out ... and you're gonna watch it through your cheap technology?"
It was disgraceful. And to think Memphis is held in such high esteem in the global music community (as Plant told us during the show).
Besides that, it's just plain rude. Three people in front of me were blaring light into my eyes with their tiny, backlit LCD screens while I was trying to enjoy the show. I couldn't avoid them, since they were holding their devices right at my eye level.
It reminded me of Pixar's new film, Wall-E. If you haven't seen the movie, it features a world where former citizens of the now-polluted Earth live on a huge spacecraft. Each person gets around in an individual hovercraft with a computer screen in front of their face. They never see anything beyond the screen in front of them and miss the life that's going on all around them.
When did the disconnect happen? When did it become a good idea to enjoy a concert through the lens of a cell phone camera? Why do folks feel entitled to get loud and chatty during a band's performance? Why is it in vogue to be so boldly rude?
I managed to enjoy the show despite all the idiots around me. Plant sounded better than he ever has. Krauss hypnotized me with her voice and beauty. Then there was the band — the best touring band this year. Too bad most of the folks near me missed a great show.
Dennis Cupp is a Memphis recording engineer.
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