SFAS Director’s Viewpoint
by Grant Stoner
Live Music, remember that? We were just starting to go to shows, and now it seems everything may shut down again. We had tickets to an outdoor concert but bailed because the air was toxic with the smoke from all the wildfires. We were going to start having in-person audiophile events again, but now we have to stick to Zoom for a while. Sad state of affairs.
But wait, it is still a good time to be an audiophile. Many of us feel the goal of a nice system is reproducing the concert experience in your home. You can sit in your chair, very cheap drink in hand, short walk to the fridge for more…many benefits. You don’t deal with finding a parking spot, crowds, claustrophobia, cigarette smoke, $15 beers, 50 people in line at the restroom, pee, vomit (what kind of shows do you go to Grant?). It is a good thing to sit at home, play all your favorite music, skip a cheesy song if you want, fast forward to the guitar solo, go from metal to classical in a second.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss live music. Screaming and raising my fist in the air at the old Rock Bar in Santa Clara, Pat Metheny 2 feet in front of me at The Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz. Dancing like crazy at Beyond Wonderland EDM shows at the Oakland Arena. There is something of the visceral experience of live music, the camaraderie as well with thousands of people having the same blissfully happy experience. You can feel like, we are all one.
Sometimes it’s good to go out to a concert and have a totally personal experience and share it with a couple of close friends. I’ve heard some amazing sound quality at concerts, but let’s face it, even an average audiophile system will have better sound quality than most PA systems, though the concert experience is more likely to give you better sound pressure levels and the whole-body immersion in sound. And, depending on the concert venue and where you are sitting, you may have to deal with bad room acoustics. Too much bass, no clarity in the vocals, everything bouncing off the back of the hall. Of course, if you go to a live classical concert there is usually no PA, and often the venue is a finely tuned concert hall with fabulous acoustics, that’s a different animal. But most halls or rooms leave much to be desired.
I do find I’m slightly jaded at concerts now, it’s hard to be truly blown away like when I was a teenager just learning guitar. I remember seeing Alex Lifeson play the solo in “LA Villa Strangiato” and it was the highlight of my life at the time. It left me breathless. Stanley Clarke pulling out the chair in front of me and standing on it to play “Lopsy Lu”, I still enjoy that, just not like I used to. I’ve seen so much, and can actually play some of it too, so it seems like the artists are less “superhero” than they used to be. Although I can appreciate things on more levels now since I’ve attempted to play all instruments. I still love and miss live music, but being home is nice too.
It is nice to just sit home and listen to music, especially on a great system, wear whatever or nothing at all, be totally comfortable, so as things close down again, be safe, stay healthy, relish in your isolation, you are in the best place you can be.