The Better My System Gets....

....the less live music shows I seem to be attending. I live in the NY Metro area and used to go to live shows all the time. But I'm doing it much less frequently these days and think two things are at work. First, I've been upgrading my system over the past two years and am now getting some pretty serious sound right here in my living room. Second, I'm finding that unless the venue and the sound crew are optimal, I'm hearing some pretty bad sound at a lot of live shows. I've sworn off large stadium-like venues for years now because the music is really secondary to the spectacle and chances are the sound is going to be really bad. But even smaller venues these days tend to get it wrong more often than right. Combine this with crowds that are often noisy (Does anybody go to hear the music anymore? Why do people insist on trying to talk over the music? Aren't there better places to mix and mingle?) packed rooms without seats, expensive drinks, ETC and I find myself more inclined to listening at home rather than out. We have some small local venues that do a pretty good job and the crowd is older and more respectful of the musicians so this can be viable alternative to listening at home. And, of course, classical and chamber music presented live in a proper room is still superior to what I can reproduce at home and so I go to quite a few of these performances but more and more I'm passing on a lot of shows because I often get more out of cranking up my home system that going out to hear live music performed in less than ideal conditions. Anyone else experiencing the same thing?
Sounds like you're just getting old.
I have the same problem though. Gave up going to live shows for the music years ago. Live shows are all about the spectacle, especially the large venues.
Other than classical performances, live amplified music is always inferior to what I recreate at home.

We see live shows for the experience of a live performance, and a night out. It has nothing to do with the sound quality.
Have to agree with Tvad. If sound quality is there at a live show it is an added bonus. The one thing I wish we still had in my area was the up and coming bands we use to enjoy at the bars. The spectacle of large venues back in the 70's and 80's were memorable and some did sound quite good....or was it the libations that caused that..... can't remember so I guess I am getting old. Cheers
Over the past few years I've been noticing the disynchrony of increasing amounts of text messaging and buzzy bar talk at club venues. It got to the point at one gig where Lou Reed improvised a comment into his lyrics something like "why not just keep on talking and never bothering to connect." The audience-- at least the audience for rock music-- seems to be increasingly out of touch with live experience-- which is dispiriting both at concerts and in a larger sense. In some ways the best way to connect with a performer without distractions is in the comfort of one's listening room.
All of the above. I'm increasingly disappointed in live shows these days. More often than not the sound is poor, crowds are becoming more ill-mannered, half the audience is yapping on the phone, etc. I'm sure getting older is part of it, but the definitions of socially acceptabe behavior have changed as well. Except for sporting events, where noise is actually a good thing, I try to avoid crowds these days.
It sure is nice to have the option of live vs. fine home stereo. In many ways we truly live better than princes past. -Lars-
I used to go to live shows 6-7 nights a week many years ago. At some point in time, for reasons unknown, Jazz musicicans found it necessary to amplify ever instrument, whether they needed it or not. Really, do horn player and drummers really need to mike their gear in little clubs? Needless to say, as if that wasn't bad enough, they did a poor job of it to boot. Other classical concerts, where one can still hear real instuments in real space, I rarely go to "live" performances any more.
Most people don't go to shows for the music, they go to socialize.See and be seen is the norm now and personaly, I think it's sad. After several shows ruined by cell phone users, loud talkers and unruly drunks, I have just about given up on live shows. Getting old? Sure I am but I felt the same way about "concert bummers" 20 years ago. Thank goodness for a good stereo system!!
I agree with the above comments for most pop music, but for any improvised music you attend to hear the state of the music at that performance. If it's a band or artist you know well it can be exciting to hear the sound evolve through a series of performances. The best take chances in live performance, and this is seldom documented in commercial releases.

Similar thought applies to interpretations of classical music by leading conductors and soloists.

The stereo system will never recreate the experience of a band literally inventing itself in live performance.
Great post Ghostrider. I agree that live performances give the artist a chance to improvise and reinterpret their music,this is why I love live shows. The problems I mentioned in my post are not exclusive to "pop" music. I have attended shows by the local symphony orchestra where the same types of rude behavior was observed.I guess the old saying "there's one in every crowd" rings true at most gatherings.
Lately at live performances I have endured unlistenable sound quality, one of my favorite artists couldn't remember the words to her own songs (blamed it on new motherhood), almost lost it and killed the yapper sitting behind me, and other disappointments. All it takes though is one sublime moment in a performance to make a lifelong impression and make all the crap in between worthwhile. Goosebump City!
I tend to agree with all of the above. And it goes for movies too, even though my home theater is not nearly as good as my two channel music system.

BUT, there is still that magical once-in-awhile live performance that reminds you what it's all about. I went to hear Eric Bibb in a small auditorium (200 seats) in an out of the way place in Maryland. It was just him and a microphone (Shure Beta 58) and his guitar. 2+ hours. The sound guy new what he was doing. The sound was excellent. No, not as good as the best audiophile sound I've ever heard, but it in no way injured the performance.

The performance was unbelievably good. I still think about it at least once a day over a year later. Definitley one of the five best live performances I've ever seen. In terms of emotional impact (something we audiophiles are always trying to achieve with our systems), it was off the charts better than anything I've experienced with an audio system and recorded music.
I would like to suggest that maybe the venues you choose are not the ones for listening. Most folk clubs (think original accoustic music written and performed by the songwriter) are considered listening rooms. For examples check out, a coffee house in Dallas since 1982 which has shows most Fridays. OK I am one of the sound guys there. Most venues like this cater to the singer songwriter who are usually artists who tour nationally. Also look up the Kerrville Folk Festival which has been ongoing since 1972. Go to Calvins website and link to the artists for examples of their music. You might not like them all, but the venues they play have patrons who actually listen to the music. Find these type of venues in your area. Good luck and happy listening.


I was about to post something similar.

From smallest to largest:

I try to get to McCabe's (150 seats) in Santa Monica often - it's always

Vibrato (300? capacity restaurant) is a good jazz club in Bel-Air when it's not
too crowded.

Canyon Club (1300) in the SF Valley can validate either the pro or con side of
this debate, depending on the band that's performing and its audience.

The Greek Theater and Hollywood Bowl (a few thousand outdoor seats) are
usually fun and more than decent sounding, but local noise ordinances may
advesrsely impact certain (i.e. rock) acts.

Staples Center (app 20,000 seat arena) was unexpectedly good sounding for
Fleetwood Mac - my first arena show in more than a decade - but the
tambourine beating Stevie Nicks fans were occassionally distracting.

Overall, I'd say that I'm enjoying live shows as much as I ever have.


I've also recently attended a couple of pipe organ recitals at local and foreign
churches/cathedrals - the crowds are rarely a problem at these "shows" ;-)
Some of my best and worst recent experiences have been at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. This ia a tiny deco-style standing-room-only club dating to turn of the century, with prior lives as a strip joint and a Chinese theater. It now hosts small acts-- many on the rebound of second or third acts-- like PJ Harvey, Ian Hunter, Mercury Rev, X, NY Dolls, Bonnie Prince Billy. Problem is you have to wade through at least two awful warm-up bands before the headliner begins around 11PM-- by which time the crowd has winnowed down to a hundred or so. I can't imagine what it must feel like for these once-popular bands to be drawing such thin crowds on the live circuit. Often these bands have matured both as artists and musicians, and the intimacy of the performance is certainly a treat. Problem is these days the dawgs get tired and it's a long drive home to the burbs at a quarter past bedtime.

I've been one of the opening acts at the Troc. No arguments here with any of your characterizations! :-)
(Big Sigh)....I'm afraid that I'm getting old. My system sounds better than most live indoor events. I still seek out the live outdoor events which can sound very good. I went to all the big rock shows when I was younger, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Who etc. Some of the smaller rock shows in classic theaters can also sound good. My biggest beef is the lack of real players. Give me your two guitars, drums, bass and lead singer.
Other than classical performances, live amplified music is always inferior to what I recreate at home. Has Tvad hit the 3,000 thread and response goal by this Fourth yet ?

Here we go again with the always and never syndrome. Well once again we must look at the source. I have heard some great live amplified gigs and bad classical listening halls. Amazing, so let's shoot the blowing breeze just to pass air. Happy 4th of July/dependance day !
Getting old has nothing to do with it. Most rock concerts have always sounded dreadful compared to the recordings. Movie theaters have been setting volume levels for the hearing impaired since at least the early 90s. The last program I went to was so loud it made the kid behind me cry. Small jazz clubs that need no amplification for even a trio will amplify a big band. Symphony goers have been talking, rustling programs, coughing and fidgeting for centuries. Is it getting worse? No doubt, the world is getting noisier and volumes are getting turned up in response.

If I want to *listen* to music, I stay home. It's at the correct volume, there are no talking morons, no coughing, no clinking glasses, no horrible acoustics. I can relax, in comfort, and be transported to another world.
I've been going to less live shows this year and last also, but that's mostly due to the economy tanking and ticket prices rising. My favorite place to see a show, IMAC in Huntington LI, also just closed. They were a non-profit and just couldn't fill the small hall at current ticket prices needed to pay the band and rent the venue.

Hopefully the economy will turn around, or groups will recognize that they have to lower their gig prices, and these types of places will spring up again.