The typical, maligned vision of the indie music fan revolves around not their cultivated taste, but the seemingly-unavoidable musical elitism that that cultivated taste induces. They know too damn much. And they knew it before you did, which is why they got upset when Wilco got big and Modest Mouse started licensing their songs in video games. Humans have a natural tendency to eschew sharing, and indie music fans are no exception. In their view, the modern music climate is vapid and cutthroat, and bands are endorsed insofar as they remain financially relevant. It sounds like hogwash, and mostly because it is. These arguments tend not to consider the artists themselves. Getting big means bands can quit their day jobs. That means more records. How can that be a bad thing?
The answer lies in simple economics. When a band gets big, when their records start appearing high on the Billboard charts and their faces start appearing on Rolling Stone right before they release that big record and go on that big tour, they lose something significant: They stop being affordable for many fans to see live. Arcade Fire has become one of these bands. Since the release of Funeral, Arcade Fire has bloomed from an esoteric indie darling to a band sharing a stage with U2 and David Bowie. Significant, sure – but for many that rapid assent was accompanied by a prohibitive increase in the cost to see the band play. This may not inspire much sympathy in comparison to famines and oil spills, certainly. For one, its especially selfish, and, secondly its just kind of silly. And yet, watching Arcade Fire play on my screen on Thursday night, it was hard not to get the sense that the world was righting itself.
Mostly. Watching a live event online in tandem with countless other people has a way of sullying the purity of the experience. The inadequacy of the medium and my internet connection was made clear many, many times. The show “STREAMS” and “BUFFERS” and periodic plumes of squares roll over the screen and blur the image. The sound fades in and out, sometimes disappearing entirely. Win Butler here, awkward and charming, sings on, and the hordes of dancing onlookers don’t even notice. But the Internet Viewers do. It’s our entire reality. And it makes us intensely jealous.
Watching a band play in this configuration is an entirely modern affair. Technology enables us to vicariously experience the world. We can experience events and visit places we would have been forced previously to only dream about. And it feels awful, largely because its in being “there” that we are confronted with the reality of our absence. Which really just means that watching the Arcade Fire play live made me feel worse than not seeing them play at all. Absent, I could only speculate, but because I was metaphorically “there” I was forced to recognize how comparatively inadequate my experience actually was. Whereas the actual concert-goers were surrounded by the immensity of their collective fandom, my only accompaniment came in the form of the echoes of my sing-along and the taps of my fingers. Where a front-row viewer, only feet from the stage, was offered an unencumbered view of Regine Chassagne’s bare legs, internet viewers were forced to settle for a close up and slow pan upwards.
These realizations might effortlessly support the claim that life isn’t fair. And its hard not to agree that that’s the case. But if being broke has taught me anything, its that being broke has a lot to teach me. It’s taught me to do more with less, to settle for what my cash can afford me, and to say thanks whenever possible. So, thank you, Arcade Fire, for playing a good show, and thank you YouTube for putting it on for free, and thank you me for taking the time to watch it all. It’s you whom I have the most to thank.
Images courtesy of tammylo