Friday, August 19, 2011

Beyonce - Roseland Ballroom - 8/18/11

There were many moments last evening, while I was pressed in a sea of bodies in the overcrowded and hot Roseland Ballroom, that I longed for a past I only briefly got to experience. I didn't want to live in this world or the future world that was to come. I got incredibly depressed for brief moments when I realized that there was no going back, that a certain type of unmediated experience was now forever gone, and that this would be the future. There was a very brief few years in the late nineties and early aughts in which I went to concerts and could stand on tippy toes and see the performer on the stage without seeing the same image reflected back to me on countless small screens held in hands. This was before digital cameras dropped in price point to become common sights at concerts and also before smartphone was even a term. It is now near-impossible to attend a concert and not see lit-up screen after lit-up screen ahead of you showing you the same concert you are watching, or trying to watch, but the attempt at which is being hindered by raised phone after raised phone, preventing you from not only getting a good sightline, but also from perhaps losing yourself in the experience, instead having to see it mediated it on thirty or so screens ahead of you, all different angles, everyone trying to possess something unpossessable, the capitalist urge to acquire, to cage, to stockpile always unceasing. It is really a shame because there are moments when I get lost when I close my eyes and have a moment with the performer, a communion of sorts, on what level I am not sure, but a communion nonetheless, and then that is hindered by the crowd in front of me when I again open my eyes and see their urges to document, to already before the moment has finished think about future moments and uploading this photo or video to Facebook or Youtube, and as a consequence bring a future world into this one that is trying its best to create a present-tense moment.

I know I'm old for a concertgoer, now in my thirties, and that for some people young people this is the only concert-going world that they have ever known, but I got so incredibly sad last evening by thoughts of a bygone world and the realization that this irritant is not going anywhere, that it is only bound to get worse, that at this point there is no going back, the gates have already been breached. People already think this is acceptable behavior, they feel entitled to this, and there is no way to shift these now so prevalent habits. I am imagining an absurdist comedy from decades ago, one not written but which seems like it could have been, a futurist vision spoofing technology no one thought would ever actually be used as such, in which every member of an audience at a performance is taping the performance, everyone documenting the thing, various purposes stated to themselves, all of them however really having the same reason, not the one they stated. Meanwhile, not one of the audience members is actually watching the thing, everyone instead watching the performance on their screens, everyone missing the performance in front of them, too busy watching the simulacrum of it on their devices.

I am so sick of this urge to document - and yes, I am more than aware of the hypocrisy and irony of me saying such a thing here, in this web project documenting my life, me who has made a point of documenting my life in online diary form for the last ten or so years now at this point. But I do believe that there is a difference in reconstructing your memories, reassembling them after the fact as you stew over them and write about them in your diary, and that of the urge to photograph or record every piece of art you encounter, that snapping a photo is not interacting with the thing, and your snapping the photo actually hinders my own interaction with the thing, my own desire to get lost.

And so yes, there were these moments of introspection about what it means to attend concerts in these contemporary times of ours and these thoughts often led me down dark trails that had me lamenting the way we live now. There were those moments, yes. There were also, and of longer duration and greater frequency, moments in which I did not notice the people around me and their stupid cameraphones which they held out outstretched for the entire 90-minute concert, and instead perched high up on my toes and saw this lady, only a year younger than myself and with such a big body of work already and with such enormous talent, dance and sing and do so amazingly.

The concert was styled in this very hammy Broadway one-woman show style. It seemed like a Liza show for its first half, Beyonce recounting in humorous and linear fashion her rise from a child performer, being rejected by Star Search, her father getting her and her bandmates a record deal, the many member shake-ups of Destiny's Child, her switch to being a solo artist, and her parting ways from her father as her manager. She interspersed this history of her life with brief versions of songs from each of these eras, opening with a beautiful cover of Michael Jackson's "I Wanna Be Where You Are," the song that Destiny's Child first auditioned for Star Search with.

The song was a very appropriate song with which to open, especially since Jay-Z as of late has been trying to position Beyonce as the heir to Michael Jackson's unique pop skills. And as much as there is something a little brash about such claims, they are deserved. Beyonce is actually fucking incredible. I was blown away be her performance in this venue. To see such a massive pop star play a smallish venue is such a treat and that's why I bought tickets despite their expensive price, knowing that there was no way Beyonce would be playing any more small venues anytime in the near future, if ever. She was charming, energetic, and on point with every song. She sang and danced flawlessly for ninety minutes. I'm not sure how she did it. I am always amazed by performers that don't seem to get of breath and can not only dance in heels but also belt out tunes.

The first half of the show seemed to be the favorite part of most people in the audience, not surprising given the lackluster reception to her new album, even on my own part, but for me the second half of the show is really where she turned it out for me. An album that I had thought was fairly boring suddenly became this really beautiful and great-sounding thing in the renditions she performed. Highlights and all of which I think would be great singles were: "I Miss You," a gorgeous track co-written by Frank Ocean, surely why it's so gorgeous; "Party"; and the absolutely amazing "Love on Top." This was the highlight of the night for me when she performed "Love on Top." This was one of those moments where for a good three or four minutes I forgot about the many distractions around me and shared a moment with Beyonce. Her voice and her runs up and down the scales for parts of the song sent corresponding chills up and down my spine. It's a really fantastic song that has been growing on me more and more and her live version of it was absolutely incredible; the energy that seems a bit lacking on the album version is overflowing when she sings it live. The concert presented several songs like this, in which the live version had so much more energy and life and oomph than the album version, which is really too bad because the album would probably be doing a lot better if some of that same energy could have been transferred to the album. "Love on Top" was insanely amazing and I have been recalling this particular song a lot during the course of today, my spine again tingling, the memory still strong, me again biting my lower lip, in a mix of pleasure and disbelief that a person singing could bring about so much pleasure, that the human voice can do this to you, provoke such sensations, me shaking my head back and forth because when someone is so good all you can do is shake your head, say "Damn!," and be thankful that you get to experience such things in the course of your life.

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