Eras: The Last Concert (Until the Next One)
Alright, finally the much anticipated return to writing. It has been over 9 months since my last article, with no real reason to give except: I've been busy. Physics and Math classes, a trip to Algeria, gardening, a (limited) social life, + not to mention the weekly concerts and starting fights on Reddit discussion boards. I realized the only way to break the habit was to do it. And what better motivator than witnessing one the most monumental music events in history?
I am off course talking about the concert I saw at the Poisson Rouge last week where Kimbra (sadly mostly known for being the backing vocals on "Somebody I Used to Know") lead a 12-15 piece jazz-rock-electronic ensemble, including up and coming Russian DJ Kate NV. It was a wild performance that started out with one guy playing a Flute and crescendoed to a kaleidoscope of sound that delighted and overwhelmed the 300 strong crowd for 90s minutes. Kimbra had no problem matching her vocals perfectly to the pitch and tenor of the music proving that she is definitely somebody (unlike Gotye) you should still know.
Now I bring up Kimbra in order to help contextualize for the non-indie scene goers exactly how impressive Taylor Swift's 2 hour 40 minute performance is, that is to say: it is only kinda. If a rag tag group of a dozen or so individuals can just come together, schlep their instruments via subways, Ubers, and stranger-danger vans playing only for a crowd of a few hundreds (wasn't even sold out), where everyone whose name isnt Kimbra is only making a couple hundred bucks can go that hard, completely live, for 90 minutes without a single pause in the music, should I really be impressed by a woman who is almost earning 7 figures every night with the backing of well paid vocalists, singers, a band, roadies, playing for only twice as long with constant stops for overlong ovations and costume/set changes?
In fact, lets focus on the aspect of how much Taylor's costumes and the set are a part of the performance. What I have found is that for the most part, aesthetic should only play a minor role in performance and generally the greater the exterior display of aesthetics (set pieces, fireworks, laser light shows), it is often to distract from the lack of musical interior. Taylor Swift is a performer, even a masterful performer, but only a part of that is her musical ability. Swift is renowned almost as much as her ability to give fans an opulent soiree where they are overwhelmed by the crowd, the pyrotechnics, the lights, the outfits, with the music only being a fraction of the total experience.
Additionally Swift is far from an innovator in the genres she is known for. Folklore and Evermore are a worse version of indie music that had been being made for a decade prior (link 1 and link 2, respectively). Midnights was similarly late to the melodic dark pop party, neither original in sound and composition. You can argue Red was more cutting edge and Lovers more distinct, but even then there was contemporary indie music that quickly surpassed it technically, lyrically and emotionally (link 1 and link 2, respectively).
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the Eras movie, which I was happy to see in theaters at 12:30 on a Friday the week after it came out. I had no envy to be in a packed theater filled with Swifties, young and old, acting as though every rise and fall in Swift's voice was a momentous occasion worthy of utmost adulation. Not at least without a buffer seat in between me and the next person over. I had planned to arrive late, but due to a slight misreading of the showtimes, I ended up entering exactly as she was starting the show. This turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events because for the first hour, the opening song was really the only part I enjoyed. After it ended, I quickly realized I was going to be in for another 2 hours and 36 minutes of this? It was time to change tactics.
Rather than fight the boredom by forcing myself to pay strict attention to every track, I decided to do what I normally do when I am watching a long movie that only partially has my interest: I opened up my phone and went on reddit and social media. I took pictures and tried to capture tid-bits that really captured the concerts feels. I left to go take breaks and refill on drinks. I considered getting an alcoholic beverage but decided half a mixed cherry-coke icee was more the shows pace. One of the more entertaining moments was when the sound temporarily de-synced causing a widespread panic in the theater.
And I waited. I waited for the moment when the show would capture my attention and make me want to sit there and watch it.
And it happened.
I plopped back into my seat after my 2nd extended bathroom break, right as Swift was finishing a lackluster "Look What You Made Me Do" ending the Reputation segment., She then played one of her older more country songs causing that led to the Red era, and it was at that moment, approximately 1 hour into the Era's movie, I became fully transfixed on what Swift was (or wasn't) doing on the Stage. It helps that Red has always been my favorite Swift album, but to me The Red Era represented a real shift in the tone. Like they knew that the first half wasn't her best, that 1989 was more lively than Lovers, that Red was more resonant than Reputation, that Folklore had more intrigue than Evermore. That Midnights would feel much fresher than Fearless.
I feel bad for the people who burned up all their energy on the first half (and even in my theater nearly half the crowd had departed by then, oh Swifties of little faith), because what unrolled over the next 1 hour and 30 minutes was akin to what I had seen in the dingy theater-in-the-round Poisson Rouge with Kimbra at the helm the week before than simply a mildly amusing re-visiting of overplayed mainstream pop that it had been up to that point.
I watched 22, swayed slightly to Never Ever Getting Back Together, and listen to all 10 minutes of All Too Well. While I did dissociate a little for Folklore (again I dont think the album was particularly impressive compared to the music that came before it), I was able to be hear the power of her voice in "My Tears Ricochet". Getting through 1989 was a breeze (the only improvement would have been Swift rapping Kendrick's thruway verse in Bad Blood) and by a stroke of chance one of her bonus songs was a piano performance of "Your on Your Own Kid" (my favorite song from Midnights), which certainly pumped me up for the final segment which was her 5 song "standard set" from Midnights. And even though I was slightly burned out after more than 2 hours of being in the presence of America's most eligible Bachelorette, even I was able to look past my indie-douche blinders and enjoy what was a great coup-de-gras by an all time great entertainer, When she announced one last song, I was even a little let down realizing it was going to be over.
Then, reality: I realized while what I had witnessed was an amazing spectacle: an engagement of a (quite literally at parts) larger than life persona who has the combination of looks, talent, and the ineffable quality only known as "it" which gets tens of millions of people to turn to them when they need to feel elevated, emotional, and overwhelmed. But it was just a concert. A long concert, a more choreographed and orchestrated concert, but still only that. There are dozens happening on any given night or week in most cities in the USA or Europe: jazz, punk, electronic, pop, lounge, orchestral, rap, country, samba, mbalax, hula & mele, R&B, and it is happening in arenas, bars, open fields (Ned), basements, warehouses, cruise lines, symphony & reggae halls, churches, sidewalks & street corners, one man shows, two-man shows, blue-man shows, laser light shows and falsettos and that is just on the planet Earth. After 2 hours and 40 minutes, I walked out of that 1000 inch Imax screen a changed man, but not so changed that I would forget what the concert experience is to me: the music.
Now if you'll excuse me, I am due a refund due to the slight technical issues, and I intend to double feature.