Close Up, Far Away: A Different Kind of Concert

By Hannah Wisterman
Music Journalist

The year is 2013. Like any self-respecting indie teen of the time, I’m going through a heavy The xx obsession. My greatest, never-to-be-fulfilled dream is to go to Coachella, a veritable playground of all the best bands (as I was so convinced). As a night owl who also happened to more or less live on the internet, I was doing my usual routine of diving into a YouTube rabbit hole late in the evening, when something caught my eye: it appeared as though YouTube was livestreaming Coachella, and that—glory of glories—The xx was performing. One click took me to one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

I was curled up in my pajamas, just a 15-year-old-girl alone in her bedroom, and there was Romy Madley Croft, strong jaw and cool haircut and black blazer and all. I swear I felt a little spark of magic in my heart. In that moment, I was connected to her, and to the band, even from thousands of miles away. Of course I had known The xx was good, but watching them live was so much more organic and captivating than listening to them on my iPod Nano. I stayed right where I was, entranced, for the entire set, not moving a muscle–except maybe the ones in my face as my eyes got wider and wider. I cherished that experience, and I cherish that memory still. It was one of the best gifts 15-year-old me could have received.

Yeah, writer, that’s the power of live music. Except it went beyond that. For years, I suffered from what I called “live music anxiety”, and even now I have an aversion to it. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like spending money, I don’t like worrying about parking or lines—it’s a long list. Beyond that, there are some musicians that you literally can’t see live. Kurt Cobain’s dead, Kate Bush hasn’t performed live since the ‘80s, My Chemical Romance… well, we’re all still heartbroken over that split. Maybe you’ve found a super underground Malaysian metal band—they’re likely not coming to your area anytime soon. Maybe you’re a full-time student who works two jobs and can barely pay the bills. For you, concerts and festivals are hard to get to. Let’s make it clear: seeing artists live is a privilege not everyone has. To be fair, internet access is the same way, but the latter is at least a little easier to get to than concerts downtown or festivals five states over.

There’s another great advantage to watching live performances remotely: the intimacy. If I go to a Daughter concert, for example, I’m almost certainly going to be squashed in a giant crowd, likely at the worst possible vantage point in the venue, and while I can hold on to the abstract concept that I’m sharing a space with the band, let’s be real, I’m sharing much more space with Sweaty Indie Bro #24. This is where livestreamed or after-the-fact video comes into play. Now, I’m not denying the magic of a concert, of feeling the raw energy of your favorite band and knowing that they’re right there, but I’ve also found a similar magic at home. When I turn out the lights, queue up a YouTube video of Daughter at Glastonbury, make some tea and clear my head, I’m settling in for a different but equally wonderful experience. It’s just me, only me and the performance. Particularly for larger bands and festivals, these performances are often professionally recorded and edited, so I’m not just getting the shadow of the show. I’m getting the show as it can best be presented: close ups, ambient b-roll, jib shots, the cleanest audio and visuals. Of course, that’s not a luxury afforded to every artist, but as such, full length professional recordings are something I indulge in.

To even more offset the magic you lose by not really being there, you gain some magic in things that are exclusive to a high-end recording. You can listen to “Mojo Pin” on a Jeff Buckley live album, and it’ll sound great, but you can also watch his 1995 Glastonbury performance, and believe me, it’s a different experience. To see the delicate expressions on his face, his unassuming demeanor, the way his eyebrows tremble when he hits a big note… I mean, you can see the music taking him over, and that’s something you wouldn’t get from just the audio, or even from being in the actual original audience. Same thing with artists that are known for visual presentations, like concept bands such as the Viking group Heilung, infamous prop-users Purity Ring, or the aesthetically indulgent Sufjan Stevens, to name a few. For those who can’t (or don’t want to) go to an actual concert, it’s a great alternative that highlights what for many is the best part: seeing the band.

You can get pretty far just by searching “(band) live” on YouTube, but some great resources include Audiotree and KEXP, who do something similar to our own (excellent) Studio C sessions. The camera shots are mostly close and intimate, and the quality is top-notch, and since they’re filmed in-studio, there’s no audience interference, if that’s something that bothers you. You can absolutely make an evening (or night, or midnight-to-five-a.m.) of it.

We at KTSW want to connect music to an audience. In fact, that’s also the goal of most musicians: to find and make a bond with listeners. Archived live performances are an underutilized resource to achieve that end, and I encourage you to find your own treasured jewel of an immortalized performance. You may be surprised how much you, like me, cherish the experience.

Featured image by Hannah Wisterman.

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