A line was forming outside The Warfield for The Killers as I was biking home last night. Two nights ago they were at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, where Rachel and I went to see Death Cab for Cutie. Rachel had heard of The Killers. Apparently many many people have. I haven’t, but I haven’t really sought out new music since high school (and then only to the extent that I would listen to the new CDs my friends would buy) and my dial is almost always on NPR; so for me not to know a band is hardly surprising. I’m listening to their songs right now on Pandora to see if any songs ring any bells. But we weren’t there for them, and when they started bringing on faux palm trees, I suggested our outing had come to a close.
Three hours earlier I’m outside CCA waiting for Rachel after her last class. A man with a van pulls up and starts talking on the phone about how he had arrived and that the person on the other end of the phoneline should call “her” to tell her to come out because this guy had no way of finding her. I could only assume he was talking about our friend, who is dating a member of Death Cab for Cutie and had not only scored us free tickets but also a free ride by some dude whose job is make the bands happy. Swaeet! I went in to fetch the others, and soon we were bouncing in the backseat across Oakland’s rather rugged highway, then circumventing the $25 parking lot, slowing down but not stopping as we pass security, and finally pulling up to the North Entrance where our friend’s beau greeted us with his customary grin. It was hard to imagine that in less about an hour he would be playing in front of an audience of 12,000.
Concerts are strange. Maybe they’re only strange for people who work in the theater? Do you all find them strange? I find them strange? I just don’t know what to do with them! Or at them! Rachel is there next to me dancing to Bloc Party, the band right before Death Cab. Death Cab, I am convinced even though I have no idea what I’m talking about, are compositional geniuses with complicated songs that are actually trying to be smart and not just catchy (though most of them are); Bloc Party, by comparison, is all about making people jump around like excited monkeys. So Rachel is dancing. I am not. Our sweet free tickets were for sweet free SEATS. We weren’t in the sea of thousands of sweaty, pushy fans in front of the stage: we had comfortable seats! Better not to waste good fortune, right? So I sat there, sipping my over-prized beer, bobbing my head, enjoying myself with no idea of what to do with myself.
Bands are performing, like actors, on a stage, like actors, before an audience, like actors. Yet they are not acting. They are doing the opposite of acting: they are being themselves at their most vulnerable. If they suck up there, THEY are sucking up there. No character to hide behind. Maybe a closer comparison would be between musicians and dancers; but when you compare those two audiences you would be hard pressed to find more different demographics or reactions. If you put 12,000 hormonal teenagers in front of Alvin Ailey, do you think they would start crowd-surfing? That would be awesome. We should start a movement to get rowdier audiences at theatrical events; we should start by removing the first 10 rows and charge young ragamuffins groundling admission fees of five dollars per ticket.
I digress because I don’t know where I am going with this. I am trying to recall what my grad school seminar professor taught us about phenomenology because I am certain the answer is buried in there somewhere. But I guess the question I am really trying to ask is why, as Daniel Kramer explained when he was visiting A.C.T., theater is never quite able to achieve the immediate potency of music. Why don’t we have those 12,000 hormonal teenagers who excitedly threw down $30+ bucks to stand in a smelly crowd and get pushed around to the whims of a talented bass player?