Phoenix started their set with the first track from their new album Bankrupt!, aptly titled Entertainment. By this time the park had completely filled up, and people were pressing aggressively towards the blue lights filtering off of the stage. I was behind a fence, stage right, watching the sea of neon wayfarers fist pump through the first few tracks. By all accounts the energy was there. Girlfriends were propped up on their boyfriend’s shoulders, there was a lot of looking back to see if the people behind you were seeing what you were seeing, as we do when we are watching spectacle. We had all gotten to the point where we were screaming for the volume to be cranked all the way up in order to have our faces pushed back as we pushed forward with our arms raised. Matrixes of lights crisscrossed in front of us; floating pictures and video were projected onto a screen behind the band; and eventually we all gasped at pyrotechnics.
Somewhere around the third or fourth track however, Phoenix lost my attention, and I settled into really wondering if this band was worth the production value their team had quite obviously put into their show. So I did a little research and discovered that lighting technicians/ ‘The Light Show’ costs somewhere between $150,000-$500,000 per concert. That’s incredible! Especially if you take into consideration how much the musicians are actually making. If the record company is the one promoting the event, then they get paid and the artist makes a percentage of the total tickets sales and from that manager fees, promoter fees, road crew, road crew beers, and all the bits and bobs of travel are also paid out. In fact the only direct way to pay the band is by buying their merch, which if you like the band is something that you should be doing every time.
I began to wonder what we as viewers are actually paying for: the music, or the show. Moreover, how have these terms become mutually exclusive!? Today, the relevance of these questions has become paramount when considering how music junkies can participate in helping the industry out of the red. Concerts themselves are becoming the last stand for listener appreciation. Music streaming, pirating, and a myriad of other ways to get your music for free is slowly killing the industry. As my friend Baz always says, businesses crumple under the pressure of these ‘million little paper cuts.’ Q Music Corp. has no other choice but to rely on concert goers for steady income, and so begs the question: What are we paying for?
This is not to say that Phoenix isn’t a band without merit, and that I didn’t enjoy feeling the swell of the music and the crowd. Phoenix IS popular for a reason. Somewhere during their set though, the lights took over and they seemed to be only a live soundtrack to the dancing blue beams, strobe lights, and eventually the fireworks. Bottom line, the lights outshined the band, and as a trend that’s a huge problem.
As the show began to power down, the lights went out, and we began to hear the tinkling organ keys of the title track, Bankrupt!. In those fleeting seconds of darkness and clean notes everything that I just said gelled in my brain and I understood how important clean music was to me. As the song transitioned, the lights flooded up, and we all broke into a comfortable sway, mesmerized by the lights and Thomas Mars’ cool vocals. When the song faded, so did the light, and so the day was over. When I walked out of the park ten minutes later, little yellow ringed black dots still plagued my vision.