Live Shows Were Killing My Love for Music
How taking a year off from late nights, loud bands, spilled beer, and forced conversations made me a better music fan.
In January of 2017, I trekked out to Saint Vitus in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to see Denver doom metal band Khemmis—in part because I had just moved back from Denver, and wanted to say hi to the Khemmis dudes, and in part to see the band play live, because they rule. But though I had a great time, the effort of the show was overwhelming—the commute, the cold outside, the time between sets, the venue drink prices (and Vitus’ prices really aren’t even that bad), it was all an uphill battle of exhaustion, grumbling, and hating most other people. I was relieved to go home.
After that night, I wouldn’t attend another live show for six months, my longest gap between shows in a decade. At first, it was just a matter of being old and lazy, especially in winter, when it’s brick as Hell and you have to bring a coat. But as more and more live dates passed me by, I made a choice: seeing every band that came through New York would no longer be my priority.
At first, this change felt unnatural, and made me worry that I had officially given myself over to being just some fucking dad who couldn’t handle the raw power of the live arena. On top of that, I had a whole community of friends who I only ever saw through shows—would I lose them by cutting down my show intake? Was our entire friendship based on the primacy of recency, where they like me because they remember me? Finally, there was the FOMO, the worry that I was going to miss that one-in-a-million moment where the stars aligned and my favorite underground band played a secret show while the club owner passed out free beer and Molly.
Skipping shows did affect those aspects of my life—for the better. In fact, after a year of missing shows, I think I’m a better fan of the music I love than I’ve ever been.
First off, the fear of missing out is total bullshit. Meaningful moments don’t get made, they happen, and are beautiful because of how random and clumsy they are. Sure, it’s harder for them to happen if you don’t put yourself in the right place at the right time, but if your heart’s not in it your chance of having one of those sublime live music experiences is slim. When I attended every show that came through town, I thinned my ability to recognise or care about what was going on around me. Maybe the stars had aligned in the past, but I’d been too burned out to notice them.
This also made me incredibly sensitive to how overblown the promotional apparatus of live music is. Every record label, promoter, and genre-centric music website that sponsors a tour wants you to believe that every show will be THE UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT OF THE CENTURY. They’ll surround a band with all the acclaims and hype they’ve recently accrued so that even if you’re not a fan, you wonder if you should come out for the party alone. You can’t fault these people for doing this—it’s their job, everyone’s got rent to pay—but you can stop buying into it. Is a show featuring a band you’ve never heard of, or a band you don’t like but there’s been a lot of press about, really guaranteed to blow your mind?
On the other hand, giving up shows was rough when bands I love rolled through town—but you know what those bands have? Records. When I was missing a band’s live show, I would go home, pull a couple of their albums from my shelves, and reconnect with their songs on my own time and my own terms. Maybe I wasn’t getting the sweaty, raw power of the live experience, but I was remembering just why I loved these bands in the first place.
Obviously, going to a live show is also a way to help a band you love by giving them a little money, but there are other ways around that. Buy a tape, or a shirt. Overpay for an album on Bandcamp. There’s more than one way to help your favourite band, and they won’t hurt your feet as much as a show.
As for my friend circle, giving up shows definitely changed things up, but not in a bad way. Instead, it culled the herd of those people who were my friends on paper alone. So many of my scene friendships were incidental, or even slightly political, formed between me and whoever was at all the shows and could therefore help with things like getting into more shows. That kind of stuff is the worst part of a music scene, in my opinion: worrying about being in someone’s standing.
Eventually, when I started telling my friends I was bailing on whatever was happening that night, they’d separate into two groups: those who said they’d see me soon, and those with whom I’d make outside plans. There’s nothing wrong with the former, honestly—I actually really like a place- or time-specific friend, who share that unique bond with me—but you don’t need to be killing yourself worrying about when you’ve seen them last. The latter, though, are more important, and I found myself having meaningful, more sober conversations over dinner with them rather than drunkenly shouting half-heard ideas in their ears during a show.
To be fair, I didn’t swear off shows entirely in 2017. I saw three—Khemmis in January, Iron Maiden in July, and Gwar on Halloween. What made 2017 different from other years is that I can actually name those three shows without flipping through my ticket stub collection, because each one was memorable. Each one included specific experiences I’ll always remember, because they were no longer a blur of banging heads and cheap drinks.
That was another change: the boozing. Turns out if I didn’t have a bar to lean against three nights a week, I wasn’t the heavy drinker I believed myself to be. Sure, there were plenty of nights at home with cheap tall boys or sipping whiskey, but I definitely wasn’t pickled the way I’ve been for most of my life. If anything, spending more time at home or on my own made me a more creative drinker; I’m big into tiki cocktails these days, which still get you lit up without feeling like a spiritual burden the way well whiskey does.
Tiki drinks are a good segue into my third and most rabid worry: that I’d become too old to rock, and was destined for that dad life, where every drink has to be elaborate and I’m all caught up on even the lamest TV shows.
And that totally happened. I dadded out, hard. I got nerdy and lame and watched two whole seasons of Vikings.
But what I’ve come to realise is, I’m doing what most motherfuckers whine about, for real. I’m better than cool, I’m honest.
Everyone around me has done the same thing. My music friends whine constantly about how they’re such introverts before posting a picture of them in bed with pizza to show how fucking introverted they are. And hey, myself included; I’ve been acting like someone’s tired dad since I was 22, deeply contemptuous of anyone younger than me while desperately trying to keep up with the kids. Now, in my thirties, I’m finally ready to take action against the things I’ve always hated, such as taking shit from snarky hipster doormen and getting drinks spilled on me by poorly-dressed assholes on pills.
Part of it is just that my body is falling apart at an exponential rate. Everything hurts. But it took not going to shows, and not making that hurt a part of my daily life, for me to listen to the voice inside saying, Kill me now. You can talk about David Harbour’s “dad bod” in ironic praise, but I’m living that shit. Going to the gym, roasting a chicken, and being in bed by eleven is so much more wonderful than seeing every other shoegaze band while hating myself the entire time. Now that I’m not tangled up in the aches and pains, I can return to the music in the comfort of my own cozy little den. When I’m enjoying being where I am, feeling how I feel, I can enjoy the art I’m experiencing.
When I was going to shows multiple times a week, experiencing music became synonymous with being hung over or waking up a mile past my stop on the train. But when I cut out the live experience, I retreated to what it was about music that made me excited in the first place.
Sure, it made me significantly less cool, but really, do you give a shit about being cool? Is that why you love music? If so, more power to you: enjoy finding yourself in a crowd shot or being seen in that new outfit. No shade. I’ll be home listening to a song that I’d somehow forgotten makes me feel whole.
Chris Krovatin is too old and too cold on Twitter.