9-9

R.E.M. – 9-9 (live at the 9:30 Club, 3/18/83)

Raise your hand if you remember the old 9:30 Club at 930 F St. N.W. in Washington, D.C. I lived in DC from 1991-1994 and I spent many, many nights there. I loved that dark, smelly hole in the wall. I’ve been to the new 9:30 Club at least once, maybe twice, and in many respects it’s a better club, but it will never take the place of the old club in my heart. The list of bands I saw play there is long and varied but when I tried to find a video from any of those shows to use here, I struck out. I contemplated using any one of the videos from inside the club I did find just to illustrate a point but I went with this version of  9-9 instead since today is 9-9 and it was recorded there, just audio only.

The point I wanted to make was about the ubiquity of cell phone cameras at shows these days. Back in June I went to see the Joy Formidable at a club and there were more people filming the show than there were dancing. When the person most likely to try and get a pit going is the 45-year-old mother of two kids (that’s me) and not the dozens of 20-something-year-old guys, you’re doing it wrong. I suppose to each their own and maybe they’ll enjoy their crappy cell phone videos with people singing along loudly and off key, but I’d rather dance.

Now, I’m not a Luddite and I have been known to grab a quick picture at most of the shows I’ve been to since getting a smart phone. Usually in between songs and just a still, not video, and mostly because I don’t want to be trying to get some great video when I could be dancing or paying attention and just being in the moment. But of all the annoying concert behaviors out there, I find the constant filming to be far less intrusive* than the drunken bros hollering stupid comments or the amount of talking taking place when the band, that we’ve all paid money to come see, is playing. Those drive me much more crazy than someone watching the show through a 4″ screen instead of the real life thing in front of them. I just feel like those people are missing out.

At first the filming really bothered me. But how many shows have I been to since this trend took off where I went online the next day to try and find videos of the show? Quite a few. And didn’t I just download the whole mp3 set from the Replacements first reunion show in Toronto and watch the videos people posted from there? You bet I did. I don’t want to be taking those videos myself, and lots of the ones you find are just awful and not worth watching because your own view was better, or the person holding the camera is shouting and singing and ugh. But I do so love having some live footage to be able to go back to if it’s done well.

Which is where the old 9:30 Club comes in. If you want to see some footage from inside the old 9:30 Club, just look up any live video of the mid-80s DC hardcore bands like Minor Threat, and you’ll find some. Most of the old footage you find will be taken from the video camera that someone used to operate up on top of this pole in the middle of the floor. There were these pillars placed in really inconvenient spots, architecturally holding up the building no doubt but when you were in the mosh pit, you had to be mindful of where they were. Some employee would get hoisted up into the crow’s nest spot on the top of that pole with a video camera and shoot the whole show. I’ve heard conflicting reports of what became of those tapes. One was that they just had it on closed circuit as it played what was happening on stage to small tv sets in the back bar and downstairs and there weren’t tapes of every show. The other was that they all burned in a fire at a house where they’d been stored after the club moved up to V St. Either way, the ones that made it to YouTube are rare, rare videos, and a real treasure. I always thought that would have been a cool second job but in reality the poor person up there was probably close to passing out every night as smoking was still allowed and it was easily 100 degrees or more at that height on some nights.

Here’s what I would love to see become the norm at clubs and concert halls. People could take a couple of pictures here and there, sure. But if the club could film it, from some unobstructed spot like they did at the old 9:30 Club, then make that available somehow, maybe people would go back to enjoying the show in person. I don’t know how you could work it out so no one is short changing the bands**, and I’d like for it to still be something special, that you were really there and not just watching the video of it. I have a fair number of old bootleg audio tapes from shows back in the day. Some I acquired just because they were offered to me but the ones I really loved were the ones of shows I’d been to. And if there were video from a couple of those shows? I would give a lot of things for video clips from a handful of those shows. A whole lot.

* I’m on the short side and I like to get as close to the front in a GA setting as possible so I can see the band and not just some big guy’s back. For the most part, I haven’t had my view obstructed by hundreds of cameras held aloft just because I’ve put myself where that’s not much of a problem. If I ran a club, I’d want a sloped floor so that the short girls can still see farther back (the TLA in Philadelphia is like this as it was a movie theater before – I saw movies there in college – and when they ripped out the seats to turn it into a club, they kept the sloped floor). Ideally I’d relegate people who insist on filming to the sides, maybe up on a slightly raised floor, out of the way of the people who really want to dance/watch/listen. And people who take pictures of themselves with their friends and the stage in the background? They are just losers.

** One thought was maybe it could be made available after the tour ended so as to not give the whole thing away or give people a reason to not pay to see the show in person. For me any video is never going to be as good as being there and even when I’ve seen a stream of a concert while it’s taking place (like Coachella, 12-12-12, etc.), it’s not even close to the experience of seeing it live. That said, this exists and it’s so freaking incredible.

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2 comments

  1. I’m so with you – although I find the screens really distracting so as well as feeling like the videographers are missing out, I am also pissed that they are throwing light back at my face when I’m trying to watch the band.

    A few years back when Crowded House toured they sold live CDs recorded off the soundboard for every show, within two or three days of each performance – they’d outsourced it to some company that I can’t remember but it was really professionally done, with cover photos specific to that show. Why not just throw in a video version too? People would pay for quality, and everyone could put their phones away and just absorb the music.

    Great post and some of my best DC memories from ’92-’97 were shows at the 9:30 club…

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    1. Yes, I agree the light off the phones is a problem. This is where that position up front helps because you’re basking in the glow (and the heat) of the stage lights so it’s less noticeable.

      I love your Crowded House suggestion. I would happily slap down an extra couple of bucks for a soundboard recording and/or video. Or how about all those Ticketmaster fees? Let’s make them actually mean something and demand some services for those service fees!

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