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Up Close and Personal

[As part of my freshman seminar course “Sounding Off: Studying Sonic Experience,� I was asked to reproduce a musical analysis for a chosen artist of a chosen genre. Considering my interest in indie rock, I chose The Walkmen as my topic of scrutiny. This paper reiterates a Walkmen concert I attended through description of the atmosphere, performance, and audience demographic, which was observed with careful consideration, as well as incorporates the personal impact the concert had on its spectators.]

One of the best experiences I have had so far in my college career occurred on Saturday, September 13, when I attended my first concert in the Minneapolis. The up-and-coming New York band The Walkmen performed at 9:30 pm after a rousing introduction beginning at 8:00, starring lesser-known bands The Broken West, hailing from Los Angeles, California, and Sleepercar, formed in Texas. The gig took place onstage at The 400 Bar, a shadowy, diminutive lounge conveniently located in walking distance from campus, and only cost $19.50 for each secured online ticket. I attended the indie-rock concert with two friends who had no expectations and an open mind. I had heard very little about The Walkmen and absolutely nothing about the two opening bands, but nonetheless I was very excited to check out Minneapolis’ indie-rock scene.

Upon entering the obscure bar before the show, the mood shifted from the hustle and bustle of the outside street into an energetically charged yet altogether relaxed atmosphere. Some people who came to watch the bands lounged on the few couches available in the back, while others leaned up against columns or stood in compact groups. Many of the area’s inhabitants sauntered to and from the bar with drinks in hand. Each person attending the concert wore laid-back clothes, most in jeans and a casual shirt. Anyone could come and watch the show, though the audience made it clear, given their filthy, judging stares, that anyone who stood out in looks or persona would be noticeably disliked. The bands themselves wore everyday apparel, ranging from striped long-sleeves to wrinkled, half-buttoned dress shirts. While one band played, another band respectfully lolled in the back of the room as the third band hung out backstage. Members of the band perused the area with an emanating quality of self-assurance visible to all those who laid eyes on the musicians, while the people throughout the space were a common blend of simple colors and simple faces. The spectators talked blandly with others around them, creating a mild ruckus between sets as the musicians onstage gave signals as to which song to play next.

Throughout the opening bands’ performances, the audience refilled drinks, chatted good-naturedly, and applauded when each song ceased. In turn, the opening bands played their music, took their cues, advertised their name, and thanked the audience for their support. It was very ritualistic the way both band and audience acted toward each other, like a game of some sort. The game ended the second The Walkmen took the stage, however; all chatter died down and was replaced with shouts of elation and cries of excitement. During The Broken West and Sleepercar’s performances, there was very little movement among the spectators and enough breathing room for each person. Once The Broken West left the stage, the crowd crammed together into a dense mob of excited, impatient fans. When The Walkmen began their show, the throng of spectators danced and jumped around as one, causing the floorboards to bend and sink rhythmically. All eyes were glued to The Walkmen as if there was no other option to look at. The audience was arrested by the sweaty, mildly famous musicians spilling their hearts into song before their very eyes. Although the audience paid attention to both intro bands, critiquing the unknown melodies and rating the performances, the interaction was almost nonexistent in comparison to the lead band’s performance.

As each band started and finished, the enthusiasm rose with each consecutive song played. The crowd was relatively calm and composed when the first band, The Broken West, came out. The fervor increased as the time crept closer to The Walkmen’s debut. Once The Walkmen took stage, the excitement still grew from the first song to the last. As organized, the slower songs were performed first while the more invigorating songs were saved for the end of the concert. The concert was fairly straightforward and did not seem blatantly planned-out, besides the increase in tempo from song to song. The only other major sign of organization was that each band explained how many more songs they would play and who was coming up after them. Other than that, no other aspects of the concert were explained, keeping the audience on its toes. None of the bands neither introduced their songs with titles or antecedents nor named or explained them once finished.

The most amazing features of the concert were the performances themselves. Despite the difference in popularity and experience between bands, all of the musicians played with an unprecedented passion. The band mates interacted with each other through encouraging head nods, face to face jam sessions, and split-second eye contact. It seemed as though each band member was in his own carefree world of just himself and his music, but at the same time it was obvious that each band was in sync. All three bands had a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and lead vocalist. All three bands also had a unique playing style. The first band, The Broken West, was the worst band among the three, but was still enjoyable. Their songs were relatively slower paced, carried by solid drum beats. The next band, Sleepercar, utilized a country-like tone in a couple riffs, which added dimension to their sound. They also played more slow songs than faster ones. I particularly enjoyed Sleepercar’s lead singer’s voice in comparison to the others. Though both intro bands were tremendous, The Walkmen obviously excelled above the previous two. The singer’s voice reminded me of that of Bob Dylan during the lower-intensity portions of the songs, but as the chorus increased in volume and force, the voice embraced its own element. Each of The Walkmen’s songs had a steady crescendo and decrescendo throughout the entire number, which guided the crowd on a rollercoaster of dramatics.

One instance in particular stands out among all of the performances – in the middle of a Sleepercar song, the singer stepped away from the microphone into the middle of the stage, surrounded by his band mates, and yelled along with the song in a voice of pure feeling and vehemence. The stage seemed to disappear from around him and it was as though the man was standing alone in a field of passion, living the song. It was truly a moment of musical bliss. Throughout the performances, the musicians danced with their instruments and maintained the attention of the audience through switches in rhythm and tempo. All the bands had to do was perform their music and the audience was captivated.

The emotional impact caused by the performances as a whole was enormous. The concert evoked a togetherness and sense of familiarity among strangers. Moods were altered through song and every person seemed to leave the concert happier, reflective, and most importantly, whole. What was missing from each individual before the concert was found by the end. The audience reacted to the concert with a legitimate respect for the musicians and a longing for more music. The performers in turn reacted with honest appreciation for their audience and an obvious satisfaction with the night’s events.

The concert as a whole brought people together who would not have bonded without music as a common thread. No matter what the listeners’ income, clothing style, personality, or history is, each person can connect to another through the shared experience of a musical performance. The general demographic of the audience had an average age of about 26. Most audience members seemed to be generally well off in terms of income, and it appeared as if people came with a couple friends rather than alone. There were mostly Caucasians in attendance, with a smattering of black people, Hispanics, and Asians. Each person witnessed a unique display of talent and love for music, and these people are forever tied through that one night despite race, gender, or creed. This is obvious, considering that at the beginning of the show, the audience was segregated into small groups of similar people and as the concert progressed, the audience merged and became one. At the end of the show, every person was physically and emotionally closer to the people around them than they had been mere hours before.

One of the greatest aspects of indie-rock and the concerts that produce it is the ability this genre has to enthrall its audiences, recruit more aficionados, and still stay true to the music. With indie-rock, the musicians feel the music and live the music with an adolescent excitement caused by the general inexperience indie bands have. With other genres such as popular music, the songs are so commercial. They are played over and over without end. The artists are desperately conforming to what the audience wants in order to attract listeners and make millions of dollars. The beauty of true indie-rock is that the musicians stay true to the music. They play for themselves and play what they like, and as a result the audience catches onto the buzz and expands excitedly. This brings on an exponentially grown popularity, which converts indie-rock bands into mainstream and in turn, expels them from the genre. Though there are many unsuccessful bands, there are some who flourish. When played effectively, indie-rock concerts have a tremendous affect on an individual because they allow the listener to be consumed by the music. Even if a person is not entirely keen on a specific band when he hears it on a CD or online, if that person attends a concert of the same band there is an extreme likelihood that the person will enjoy it. Once the audience sees an indie-rock band in action, in its element, the audience can truly respect the band and enjoy them so much more. This has been my experience with the indie-rock band The Walkmen. I am honestly moved by their exquisite performance and I fully intend follow this band as well as pursue other bands of this musical genre.
Works Cited