Better than Real

Today a trailer for a documentary film about a band I have never heard of reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write down. Since the thought was too long to fit into twitter. Here we go.

First, this band LCD Sound System apparently came into being, published its body of work, and flamed out prematurely before I had even managed to obtain any hint whatsoever of its existence. I think this says more about me than the band, or the music scene, but I found the situation a bit disturbing.

Second, while I was watching the trailer I decided that it didn’t matter that I’d never heard of the band, because this film will inevitably be better than having seen the last show live.

At this point you are saying “that psu, he’s nuts like always.” But bear with me.

In my mind, rock and roll shows are primarily about two things. First, there is the visual and physical spectacle of the stage show itself. Second, there is the auxiliary ritual pleasure of hearing the band play songs you know over again for you, even though you have heard them dozens of times.

I say films do both of these things better.

Consider another concert film from a long time ago about another band that I had barely heard of until I had already lost the opportunity to see them live at their peak. Stop Making Sense, which documents the Talking Heads tour behind the album Speaking in Tongues has become one of the iconic films of the genre. There are two reasons why.

1. The film lays down a visual tapestry that you can only capture by being allowed to carry a camera around on stage and through the crowd. The Heads shows were renowned for a lot of lighting and on-stage effects, but the way they are captured on film and then edited together into pleasing sequences simply destroys anything you’d be able to see while stuck to a single seat in the room.

2. The film sounds better. Let’s be clear: rock and roll shows sound like shit. I have admittedly only been to maybe a dozen shows in my life, but the only one of those dozen that did not sound like shit was put on by They Might Be Giants at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum last year. Why did it not sound like crap? They had to save the kids' ears, so they did not turn the sound system up so high that the sound actually distorts off the walls of the room.

A year later I saw TMBG live in Downtown Pittsburgh at a show for large children (adults). This time they played full blast, and it sounded like shit. Even the words of songs I’ve heard dozens of times were so frazzled and broken apart by the distortion that I could not really hear them at all. This all served to mask undeniably great musicianship (in particular, the band made Jonathan Coulton sound like a semi-amateur geek dilettante). So it’s sad. Why do they not want to allow me to hear how well they play?

Anyway, I am sort of sad I never heard of LCD Sound System. They sound kind of interesting. But, I’m glad I’ll be able to actually hear what their music sounds like if I see this film. Because I’m pretty sure I’d have missed it seeing them live.