2023 Canadian International Autoshow:
A Quiet Revival
Aamir Ali, Contributor, Radio FWD
Photo by: Zachary Osborn
Alvvays have cemented their place in the upper echelon of indie stardom. Their 2022 release “Blue Rev” has appeared on countless 2022 year end lists such as Pitchfork’s at #3 and Rolling Stone’s at #12. In support of their first release in 5 years, Alvvays set off on a monstrous North American tour with numerous stops across their homeland and ending with a recent European tour announcement. I was generously gifted a ticket to go to the Alvvays show at one of Toronto’s newest venues, History. Not sure what to expect for a live show of this genre, I was just looking forward to a night of dancing and nostalgia harking back to the earliest days of my musical taste discovery journey. Instead, I was dropped into a dissociating, disheartening peek into the current state of pop concerts and concert goers.
Photo by: Zachary Osborn
It’s not uncommon to hear stories from concert enthusiasts of their marathon live-show schedules. For many, however, post-lockdown jitters have injected a newfangled thirst into first time concert goers. At the forefront of the concert boom is Taylor Swift’s shameless Ticketmaster debacle, in which 3.5 million pre-registered fans were left either paying thousands of dollars for “verified resale” tickets hours after tickets became sold out, or left without a chance to see their favorite artist for the first time on tour since November 21, 2018. Nevertheless, concerts are an extremely hot commodity right now, and are rife with controversy, another of which involves concert goers who manage to secure tickets in the first place.
I refuse to go down the “phones bad” rabbit hole and risk coming across like an out of touch Boomer. If I did, it would also make me a massive hypocrite! I have taken at least a couple of pictures or videos at every single show I’ve been to, and will continue to do so (a single video of which was taken during the concert at the focus of this article, more on that later). I am also certainly not alone in the observation that many audience members have been watching concerts through their phone screens. That is mostly a banal observation coming from some jerk who bought a ticket, but not when it is causing demonstrable distress to the artists themselves. Mitski came out earlier this year pleading with audience members to refrain from watching concerts through their phone screens, which made her feel like purely an object or commodity hot off the presses for consumption. Mitski later deleted her tweet after backlash, but the discourse trap card had been set. Just check out a couple of hot takes here:
Opening for Alvvays was Slow Pulp and by god that is an incredibly apt description of their collective output and stage presence. As perfectly described by Radio FWD music associate Zachary (who had attended the later concert): “Slow Pulp is lowkey goated when the vibe is getting high and waiting for Alvvays to perform”. Zachary wishes the world to know he actually enjoyed their set. For me on the other hand, Slow Pulp feels like a random collective of art school dropouts were plucked from thin air and granted GPT-3 with sheet music capabilities. Your all-included continental breakfast turned out to be uninspired indie grool served up on a platter. The worst of the audience had not begun yet as I’m not sure even 50% of the crowd was aware a show had started.
The audience itself had seemingly been pulled from a 2000s homecoming dance, complete with the awkward gait and swagless dancing capabilities of a teen in a coming-of-age flick. Totally reasonable expectations for a band who gives off those twee indie movie aesthetics. I also fit right in.
However, what I didn’t expect were the viperous glances of rage and apathy toward me and my friend’s attempts toward the stage. Normally when a concert starts, the effect of the crowd dancing in sync with the music; a perfect replica of Brown’s movement of molecules. Random chaos, and finding room in between the bass notes to squeak through closer to the stage becomes an artform. Not here. We were met with groans and complaints, a pity really, if any of these concert goers were to find themselves at a show with even a 10% faster BPM. Maybe they would’ve filed a noise complaint or something.
The audience sets the mood for a concert. Their level of dancing and energy is recycled back into the musician’s performance and adds to the overall ambiance of the glory of live music. Not only did the audience clearly sap the lifeforce out of Alvvays, but perhaps the length of the tour had started to wane on them.
Video by: Shawn Gouralnik
It is a relief however, that the concert was just boring and not something more sinister. As detailed in a recent Mashable article (https://mashable.com/article/concert-culture-tiktok-matty-healy-harry-styles), concerts are weird. Recent trends towards short form media (Tik Tok, Instagram reels) have pushed artists towards something Twitch streamers call “clip farming”, or acting in an exaggerated, outlandish way in hopes of securing a primo spot on the front page.
It’s a new form of guerilla marketing that artists don’t even have to pay for. Instead, they just have to flirt with their (often underaged) fans and nail a 10 second saucy soundbite. Take The 1975’s Matty Healy, who has been plastered all over the FYPs of music fans for months now, with viral clips of him kissing and inviting fans onstage. Worse yet is for artists who didn’t sign up for the “Human Zoo Power Hour”, having actual phones thrown at them with the camera app opened, in hopes of a selfie video à la Swae Lee who Radio FWD hosted at our recent East meets West concert at REBEL (Shout out Smiley for the interview).
Concerts are weird lately. On one hand, I have yet to be disappointed by a live show quite like this before. Countless acts in the Toronto rotation of rock/indie/metal venues have blown me away with their showmanship (check this clip of Place to Bury Strangers playing in the middle of the audience). On the other hand, the virality farming, short form marketing, and general ~bad vibes~ of the impending concert boom is weighing on my psyche. I think, however, all it’ll take is some time, patience, and the inevitable dismantling of the monopoly that Live Nation and Ticketmaster hold on this wretched industry, before things will get better.