It royally sucks, doesn’t it? In the arena of “things we can all bitch about,” after the unrivaled champion of air travel, wouldn’t buying tickets online occupy second place in that infernal pecking order? The way you have to actually schedule being at your computer at the designated (witching) hour when the tickets go on sale, your being Johnny On The Spot with mouse and clicks at that moment still rewarding you at best with a seat a third of the way back from the stage, and then the kick in the naughties that comes of that uber-galling entity, surely spawned in Satan’s spleen, the fucking service charge? I have this fantasy that if the show were to actually take place not months later from this experience but an hour, artists would never come on stage to waves of cheering adoration but to boos, hisses and catcalls for the shit we go through for the privilege to fawn over you guys.
Of course the holy grail in these pursuits is the front row seat. The opportunity to be that close to this artist who has brought you such joy, and to their magic as they conjure once again the music that moves you, is just such a tantalizing prospect. The idea that they will actually see you there applauding them, thus making personal to them but for a moment your affection and appreciation for them—this is pretty heady stuff. And who knows what may come of it? Perhaps they will hear you bark out a song request and do something about it. Wouldn’t THAT be cool? Or reach down and shake your hand—whoa! Or maybe accept your proffered gift of a rose, a hand-stitched throw pillow, your bra—win, win, and win! What the hell, let’s go for broke here: maybe they’ll even bring you up on stage and sing that love song to you while holding your hand (as you tremble and blush and weep in a way to make the image on the projection screens virtually unwatchable for the other 10,000 people present). H-O-L-Y C-R-A-P! Died and gone to heaven, you.
That shit ain’t happening if you’re seated back near where the roving beer sellers congregate to momentarily rest and bitch about us, is it now?
It also ain’t happening if “Ticketbastard” or “Live Negation” has any say in things. In the 14,188 days since I first attended a concert (gotta love the internet! Blue Oyster Cult, 3/2/78, Binghamton), of the approximately 500 times I’ve gunned for tickets for a show (using the system available to all, that is), I’ve landed front row seats for exactly two shows: Neil Young (Duke, 1983), and just this past year here in San Francisco for Diana Ross. The former instance was cool since it allowed me to score a date that would otherwise have been out of my league (though that cool was short-lived as the gods of romance made haste in correcting things right after the show via peck on the cheek and “Gotta go study!”), the latter instance being an unintended fluke that surely pissed off a more deserving Rosshead. Where general admission scenes are concerned, I have been up front for a handful of these, but generally avoid the Japanese subway ambience that characterizes that placement. I’ve also been up front via the cushy VIP section when it is located there (that’s just good living, my friends). Finally, I’ve reached deep and plunked down in the secondary market for one front row opportunity, being Rush last year (hey, they played on my birthday—how could I not?). And while the amount I paid was scandalous, damned if the two seats I got weren’t literally on either side of dead center of the stage. Righteous, dude!, indeed.
As a veteran of this many shows, however, I have to say, not only do I think front row seats are overrated, I actually think they kind of stink. And no, I don’t say this because Neil Young held my hand and sang to me and fucked up my date that night (I mean, in my dreams, blink blink blink).
First, there is often a visual gestalt to a really good live show that gets lost when you’re pressing your nose up against the stage. You just can’t take the spectacle in like it’s intended to be seen. When those intentions are really well thought out, that’s a pretty big giveaway just to be able to know specifically about the artists’ footwear. That Rush concert I mentioned? Right before they came on, they projected a classic, tongue in cheek Rush “homemade movie” on the front curtain. My buddy Lance and I couldn’t kick back and look straight up well enough to see what the hell was making everyone hoot and cheer. Jeff Waful, the lighting designer for Umphrey’s McGee, is a goddamn wizard at what he does. Up front, you don’t appreciate half of his effects. And to have been up front for Roger Waters’ show this past October at Desert Trip, to have been unable to absorb the full majesty of what that guy and his team created for a stage and back screens 100 meters in width, to have missed out on the anti-Trump pig he floated over the back half of that massive crowd, to have not been somewhere central to the many speaker stacks he placed around the venue and heard those Pink Floyd effects coming at you from all directions (placing you literally inside the music)—that would have SUCKED for the win of being up front.
Second, if you’re not a musician yourself, who needs to be that exposed to the mechanical block and tackling it takes to make those pretty sounds? I don’t want to see the guitarist flail with his foot at the pedalboards in order to create that sound effect; it frankly distracts. I love my musicians because they’re magicians to me in what they do. No need to peel the curtain back on the Great Oz, thank you.
There’s a similarly distracting effect to seeing stars up close for the sweating, panting mortal beings they are. From a certain distance, they’re sort of the same timeless divine creatures you first beheld on MTV once upon a time. Up close, you see the dye job, the creases, the flab, only too well, all of these things all the worse when you’re in your 50s and they’re, well, that much older. You can also stumble upon some funkiness for being that close. I learned that Geddy Lee goes sans undies beneath his jeans when I saw him play this past year (eeow!). And when Diana Ross strutted her way stage left to where we were located? Literally a cloud of old Diana Ross-dipped-in-perfume musk enveloped us. I love my artists. I do NOT need to fricking smell my artists!
Finally, there’s a certain burden of responsibility to being up front, something I ran into when Toto opened up for Yes last year at the open air Mountain Winery. The opening act at the MW always comes on when there’s still light out, and, no matter the quality of the opening act, it’s always the case that the crowd is still skimpy and filtering in, the crowd responsiveness always anemic out of the gate. Well, Toto came on stage like conquering heroes, let me tell you. I’m in the third row, and I could literally see these guys looking up with total, “Hey, what the fuck?” looks on their faces as they took the scene in. You know those monster guitar chords Steve Lukather hits in probably Toto’s biggest hit, Hold The Line? Imagine him playing those while looking you directly in the eye with an expression that says, “I hate you.” That was…unusual…to say the least. And lordy, call me an old fart, but I’m a little over the whole, artist clapping in time over his head to get the crowd to do the same, thing at this point in my life. When you’re in the first few rows? You either do it, or you get the stink eye from the artist when the effect doesn’t take flight. I mean, who needs it?
Give me a ticket dead center, ten rows back any time, my friends. Then I am in the audience experience sweet spot. Then I won’t have to spy your wiener, smell your deodorant, or play your silly clap games if I don’t wanna. Hrr-umph!