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Performance Art: Reviewing the Concert as It Happens

People attending rock concerts, especially arena- and stadium-size events, do weird things. They sing off key (or, more often, shout) as if they were alone in their cars. They jump up and down. They air-guitar and air-drum. They hold up the illuminated screens of their cellphones to call for an encore (older readers may recall using cigarette lighters for this purpose).

And these days, some of them post photos and descriptions of the concert on social-networking sites as it's going on.

A few minutes into last night's U2 show at FedEx Field (yes, it was awesome), I noticed my friend Sonia tapping on her phone's keypad, then spied Facebook's logo on the screen -- she was uploading the picture she'd just taken of the band's enormous stage.


Apparently a lot of our mutual friends were doing the same thing, since about half an hour later Sonia laughed and showed the status update of a friend in Wisconsin (a state U2's tour isn't even visiting):

"Can you guys in DC please stop posting U2 pics? The jealousy is about to overcome me. Thanks."

I saw some of those photos when I logged into Facebook after getting home and this morning (including complaints from people who couldn't get online with their phones), then found more as-it-happened notes on Twitter.

This kind of thing has been happening for a while, but I'm still not sure what to think of it. Does sending the "OMG, look, I'm here!" update and photo get in the way of the concert experience, or is it worth taking a moment to help your friends enjoy the show on some vicarious level and contribute to the Internet's collective memory of the event?

(If you try to do this at a play, on the other hand, you're just being a jerk.)

In my case, I will take the occasional photo with my phone, as you can see the blurry shot above, but -- so far -- I've declined to status-update about a show as it happens. My reasons for that, however, are a little peculiar.

For about five years, I reviewed shows for the Style section in my nonexistent spare time. It was great fun (aside from the joys of trying to write an article at 2 a.m. while your ears are still ringing), but it took me a long time to get out of the habit of writing a sentence about each song in my head before the band had finished playing it -- or, worse yet, thinking up a lede sentence for a review during the wait for an encore. Even today, I will catch myself checking my watch at the beginning and end of a set (I always wanted to list the show's duration in the write-up).

So these days, I try to stay in the moment when I'm watching musicians at work, and I'll let other people help me remember it later on with their own reviews. Or their status updates.

Did you post anything from FedEx last night, or from any other recent shows? How'd that work out for you? What did your readers think? The comments are all yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 30, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Tori Amos fans have been doing some version of this for years. I think either her 2001 or 2003 tour was when people started texting out set lists as they happen to web forums where fans lay in wait to hear if their favorite song gets played or not. Though this year is the first year that pictures and videos started being posted frequently during the show. It seems that Twitter is the reason for that.

Posted by: adbspam | September 30, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

The first time my son Davey broke his arm, I was all over it with photos on Facebook and status updates on Twitter.

The second time I was so overcome by the knowledge of what was ahead for him that I was too bummed to send more than an "Unbelievably, Davey has broken his arm again" message and pretty much left it at that.

The novelty wears off pretty quickly when the ramifications hit home.

I'm sure that less traumatic experiences will be slower to lose their novelty, but they too eventually will fade.


Posted by: Annorax | September 30, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

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