The Rant

| July 17, 2008
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

"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.

Comments (17)

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I am embarrassed to admit that I belong to this generation of fools that think this kind of rude behavior is acceptable. When I finally purchased a cell phone (just about the only mechanical device that I own) I told the sales person that I was not interested in bells and whistles, just phone service... just 911 in emergencies,just a phone. She looked at me like I was crazy. What has happened to really experiencing live music? We live in Memphis, come on. You have to hear the music and feel it. You have to understand that live music ( especiall classic and legendary live music) should be respected and appriciated, NOT recorded on a 2x2 inch screen and put on YouTube. I have had several almost ruined musical experiences and agree that this is horrible. It makes me sad that live music is not truly enjoyed or honored anymore.

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Posted by Chelsea on 07/17/2008 at 2:56 PM

I actually roadtripped to Birmingham and Nashville to catch the Plant/Krauss shows and saw the phenomena you're speaking of at both. In B-ham, I was in the 9th row and while some were recording on cameras, generally the crowd was having too much of a good time for it to bother people. In Nashville, the crowd was a little different - more subdued. I was going to bring a camera to take a pic of both concerts but foolish me, I actually called to see what the policy was and both venues had no camera policies. Unfortunately, neither venue enforced them so I'm stuck without a photo but did have the great experience of seeing all the flashes go off. Maybe if a venue actually enforced it's "no camera" policy that would crack down on some of the distraction. Cell phones are here to stay and as much as I hate the glow from the screens, its something I'll have to accept.

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Posted by Anne on 07/22/2008 at 10:59 AM

Same kind of crap went on at Earth Wind & Fire. People seem to think that, if they're outdoors, it's OK to be loud and obnoxious at a concert.

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Posted by Barbara Burch on 07/22/2008 at 11:24 AM

If you think this only goes on in Memphis, you haven't spent much time at shows outside of Memphis.

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Posted by Chad Graddy on 07/22/2008 at 11:58 AM

So, if we go out to a concert in Memphis, we are supposed to be totally quiet and stare in wonder at the performers? Everyone isn't a music snob, but enjoy concerts just the same. Obviously cell phones are obnoxious, but chatting is something people do when they are out enjoying themselves. Maybe Plant was looking at you and wondering why that guy won't lighten up?

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Posted by Mark Orndorff on 07/22/2008 at 12:12 PM

This is ludicrous. Boring and old, much like Robert Plant himself. Tell you what, I'll tell the kids to get off your lawn for you. did it occur to you that this concert wasn't for "the kids" and mainly for "old people"? which is fine, but you use this as an argument as to where greater society is going..Actually it's what the older generation has become. These are many of the same people you thought where so awesome before. Where you wrong then or are you wrong now? I don't know, but if you want to determine the state of music fans today, I'd suggest seeing a musician who's done something that young people are interested in.

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Posted by Ed Arnold on 07/22/2008 at 1:10 PM

The lack of respect for the people around them and their experience speaks to those obnoxious concert-goers maturity. Concerts tickets COST - I went to a Donald Fagan concert in Philly and had a drunken double date in front of me talking so loudly that I couldn't enjoy the music - and they had no idea what they were listening to (I could tell that one of the women couldn't understand anything that didn't have a driving dance beat.) It's fine to be raucous at a loud at an appropriate event (heck, even in most small venue rock and blues clubs I can't hear anything but the music no matter WHAT anyone does) but if the music is more subtle and being played on a level that doesn't use every last molecule in the air, then just SHUT THE FUCK UP (I mean, would you talk at a play or an orchestral concert or a speech or even a Movie? - oh wait, I'm sorry, the world is your living room...my mistake.) The problem is the large venue owners and managers don't have the BALLS anymore to keep order.

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Posted by James Sposto on 07/22/2008 at 1:58 PM

I have trouble getting off my duff and going to a concert. It is like a box of chocolates, you never know........ I really enjoy Todd Snider, but he is someone you really need to listen to in order to enjoy it. A lot of his venues are social places by nature and the yapping will make me fighting mad. One of the best I saw was the White Stripes at Snowden Grove. I knew that would be good, and no one could talk over those 2 badasses. When I went to see Damien Rice I was pretty nervous. I didn't want anyone to screw with the quality of the show. Luckily the place was packed with others just as entranced as I was. Best musical performance I have had the pleasure of seeing. Moral of the story? Venue is everything. Outside or someplace like the Gibson, the band better be a rocking. You want to hear the music, see who is out at GPAC, the season ticket holders out there barely make a peep.

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Posted by Ryan on 07/22/2008 at 4:08 PM

In a world where karaoke is considered real music, and lip synching and sampling makes celebrities, why would anyone be surprised that people come out to shows just to be obnoxious? ...if they wanted to actually listen to weird people playing weird instruments, they'd go to YouTube.

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Posted by Paul Edwards on 07/22/2008 at 6:18 PM

Agreed. There aren't many people keeping real music alive - and few people who really appreciate and respect true music and musicians. We live in an age where sampling, rapping & synths are the fashion. But remember that fashions fade - STYLE is timeless. Music will make a comeback, and people will miss these legends when they are gone. It's too bad that Memphis does not fully embrace the fact that the world views it with such high esteem because of its Soul & Rock roots. People think of Memphis as this mythical, mystical place, like a musical Mecca. Yet, it is so taken for granted here.

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Posted by Pam Decker on 07/22/2008 at 7:25 PM

Two years ago, I went to see the Drive-by Truckers at the New Daisy. They have a tendency to be a rowdy band, but their fan base are pretty cool people and the shows are almost always great. The Drams were opening for them, and I happen to really like the Drams, so I was excited to see them play too. However, the douchebag standing next to me apparently thought that the opening act was there to provide background noise while he picked up on women and waited for the Truckers to come out. He would be absolutely silent between songs, but the second they would start up again he'd start laying into me, "So uh... you like this band? Have you seen them play before? You a big Truckers fan? This is my second time seeing them. You from Memphis? You go to bars a lot? Maybe I'll see you out sometime. Maybe we could even make plans to be in the same place at the same time..." I eventually got mad enough to go off on the guy, and the security guard next to me thought it was funny enough to physically remove the guy when he didn't take the hint after I cussed him out. So, thank you, nameless New Daisy bouncer, for attempting to let someone actually enjoy a show. Seriously, if the guy had kept the conversation between songs, I wouldn't have cared and he would've just been that guy that tried to pick me up at a Truckers show. But nope, moron crossed the line.

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Posted by Kate on 07/23/2008 at 9:48 AM

In European clubs, even small pubs, they do not allow televisions to be on during live music and the crowds are more discerning. We used to play (and hear)some very concert-like gigs on Beale Street until the advent of loud outdoor speakers and outdoor bars at which time the focus shifted from a music experience to a generic alcohol experience. When the loudspeakers across the street precluded the bands hearing themselves perform, even indoors in the clubs, that was the death knell. The club owners desiring higher volume of sales and the public which ostensibly does not seem to care what type of music they get as long as it is free have seriously lowered the common denominator. Many of my peers have been reduced to playing for tips and most barbacks make a better wage than the average working musician. Ever wonder what happened to the fine cadre of world class musicians for which Memphis has been famous? They have been forgotten and supplanted with big 300 million dollar basketball forums that rarely feature any music. The remaining big rooms (Pyramid, et cetera)have been negated by Mr. Heisley's right of first refusal, sending conventioneers and entertainers to Desoto County, Tunica or Little Rock. We just talk about music but rarely invest anything, even an honest "listen" to our local talent. There are literally thousands of fine musicians still living here who are too disgusted to play under these circumstances. You may see some of us leaving the airport headed for destinations where they are appreciated and paid. I play in a band that rarely plays in its own home town. In Memphis, we have lost most of our full time professional musicians by starving them out. The average pay for a band member for a night's work is about ten dollars less per night than it was when I played here in the 1970's and 80's. The fact is that a preponderance of local listeners neither give a damn about preserving our musical heritage nor will they pay a cover charge of a few bucks. Outside of Shelby County they pay $20 a seat or more to hear my band and have done so for the 18 years I have been in this band. No sour grapes...I am not blaming anyone, but just attempting to offer an explanation. It is indeed a cultural phenomenon that has taken place and perhaps it will revert again. My words are not intended to be hurtful to anyone, particularly our fine music fans(I know you are still out there). I am one of the lucky ones, one of a mere handful of individuals who can actually ply their trade and get enough work to survive and keep up their chops. Don't believe me? How many wealthy musicians live in Memphis? It is a much smaller number than the number of millionaire bar owners/convention shills I assure you. My heartfelt thanks to those listeners who have encouraged us. I will always do my best to entertain you as long as God gives me breath, and He knows that I play not for the money or the glamor but for the love of the music. I hope you have a good musical experience in my home town, but if you don't, please don't judge your musicians too harshly.

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Posted by Robert Tooms on 07/23/2008 at 11:33 AM

I had waited for quite some time to select a concert that would serve well as my nine year-old's first show. Daddy loves music and has regaled him with many tales of the many concerts witnessed. I waited out the scalpers and got third-row Krauss/Plant tickets the morning of the show for less than face value. My son and I got there early, and got into our seats. We both enjoyed Sharon Little, but the mood drastically changed with Plant and Krauss took the stage. The rude imbiciles behind us spilled their whiskey on me twice (hey, I'm a drinker, but I don't like smelling like one when I drive) and didn't apologize. They talked, loudly, among themselves about friends, past drunkeness, etc. I didn't really notice, or get bothered, until Krauss sang an acapella, and haunting, gospel tune that really got to me, at least until the morons behind us kicked me in the back while laughing about some inane joke. The fact that they felt this behavior was acceptable was more disturbing to me than the behavior itself. It's simply a microcosm of our society, in that many people feel they are more important than anyone else. My son was hurt, as it disturbed his enjoyment of an outstanding show. And the person who argues that the idiot's behavior is acceptable? I'd say that goes back to the lack of rearing they got from their parents. Mine taught me to respect others, at least until they piss you off enough to pound them into submission.

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Posted by Jim Turpin on 07/23/2008 at 1:57 PM

I wholeheartedly agree, Mr. Cupp, and Nighthawk, that the industry has capitulated to the venue owners that cowtow to the lowest common denominator of a fan, the "HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU SEE ZZ TOP IN A ROW?" crowd. I like ZZ but once a year is plenty. I used to engineer in a venue far away in a big city that catered to this Plant/Krauss kind of show regularly and almost exclusively. I miss seeing high talent ply their trade at their "aspired to goals" instead of their "record selling schtick" which is also no joke. (some artists have both instead of one trade that satisfies both). Mud Island is not really the right venue, it's the skeeterdome. I mixed a very large tour that came through there in the eighties and the crowd was as expected, shirtless, loud, and drunk, the crowds of my youth, I thought I had escaped. Still not a perfect world nor will it be till the rest of the industry developes the kind of backbone that the engineers on lollapalooza #1 had when they outed Milli Vanilli as a sham.

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Posted by Brian Knight on 07/23/2008 at 2:03 PM

Wow... These are such insightful, honest comments. Fans of real music need to do more to support musicians. This includes showing respect during their performances, and not interfering with others' ability to enjoy the show. There are still purists out there who appreciate the people who make real music. Over the past few years, I admit that I've avoided some shows because of the anticipated rowdies who are only there to get drunk - and don't care WHAT is being played. And, I've been wrong for doing that. We need to be doing all we can to support the true artists who are keeping real music alive. And, it is absolutely revolting and shameful that Memphis does not show more respect (and support) for its homegrown talent. I also want to throw in that people shouldn't take what radio shoves down our throats. I've learned over the past 15 years or so that there is more talent out there struggling to eke out a living because they refuse to commercialize their sound for mass distribution. Because they remain true to their art and play what they feel, they're punished. This is just wrong. There is some great stuff in these small venues that is totally superior to anything on the current charts.

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Posted by Pam Decker on 07/23/2008 at 2:39 PM

Be glad the people in front of you didn't stand up the whole show. We wouldn't see this yahoo mentality much if they substituted THC and LSD for the alcohol.

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Posted by Winter Mute on 07/23/2008 at 2:46 PM

To be honest, just reading all of this: Isn't that EXACTLY how a person (or a music person) gets the Blues in Memphis? You may see people doing this cell phone thing in other places and at other concerts too, but it take a Memphian to know the difference.

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Posted by Klaudia Kroboth on 07/24/2008 at 6:22 PM
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