29 July 2017

It's So Easy

A couple of days ago, I got the e-mail I was hoping for since I sent out the request: I was approved to shoot the Guns N' Roses return to St. Louis.
Axl Rose (l) and Slash

To set the stage, I'm a music fan. But I'm an old-dude music fan. I'm at the point where the music I listen to and concerts I'd like to see are the same acts that I listened to as a kid. Metallica, Poison, Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Megadeth - the kings of 80s/90s rock and heavy metal scene. This year, I've gotten approval to shoot every one of those acts (and many others) except Guns. Finally, when they hit the Gateway City, I was allowed to roll in with my camera and capture the moment.

From Quincy to St. Louis is, generally, about two hours. A little more some days, a little less others, but right around there. The doors for the show opened at 5:30, with the opening act taking the stage at 6:30. I needed to be there by 6:00 to be ready and escorted down to the floor. I hit the road at 3:30, so that gave me a little padding in case of traffic problems, right?

Ever driven I-70 in St. Louis, about 4:30 or 5:00 on a rainy weekday afternoon?

About the time I got to the airport, I hit "the traffic." I don't remember it causing me such a long delay before, but by the time I got off of the interstate, it had taken me a little more than three hours to get there. Obviously, that meant I missed the chance to shoot the Deftones opening set.

Now, have you ever decided to go to a big concert where tens of thousands of people are going? How'd you do with parking?

When I finally got into St. Louis, the nightmare continued. Parking lots were full, street construction was making everything a snarl when people were trying to turn and couldn't get back into the flow. It was a bit after 7:00 when I finally got parked...more than half a mile from the venue.

Richard Fortus
A half-mile doesn't seem like much until you have to hoof it with a moderately heavy gear-bag, and you're in a rush because you were supposed to check in at 7:00 for the show. But I was on the ground, and in contact with the marketing guy running things. I was behind, but the show was, too. So we were all good...

...until my bag-strap broke. I customized my camera bag to use a guitar strap because why be like everyone else? The problem is the strap was designed to hold a guitar that runs 7-10 pounds, not a camera bag weighing more double that weight, if not more. And they're definitely not designed for carrying that weight while power-walking through a metropolitan area.

It's enough to make a grown man cry! But who's got time for that kinda nonsense?

(l to r) Duff McKagan, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer
I walked in the door at 7:12 and got pointed to the media holding area. Talked to the media rep and got my photo pass - in this case, a wrist band. I got it put on and was told it was time to head to the floor.

Walking through the crowd, carrying my bag (since the strap broke), is where I started assembling my gear: putting lenses on bodies, attaching everything to the two-camera harness I use. All the while, I was dodging concert-goers and trying to follow the other photographers to get to the floor.

Duff McKagan
By the time I hit the photographer area, I was a sweat-soaked, winded mess. But I was there, my equipment was ready to go, and I was about to shoot one of the bands I had been listening to for three-quarters of my life.

Shooting concert photography is always an adventure. Most of the time it's a great adventure.

Sometimes, it becomes a story to be told.

Axl Rose

06 July 2017

The Show Must Go On

Music fans are some of the most passionate people in the world. They pretty well define the word “fan” in its original meaning – short for “fanatic.” Find a fan who’s passionate about an act or artists, and then say something bad about that act or artist, watch what happens*.

*if you do this and get hit, don’t come crying to me! It was simply a statement to make a point!

It doesn’t matter what kind of music, either. Hard rock and heavy metal fans have a stereotype/cliché reputation of being mean or fighters, but I guarantee you can find the same thing at a country show, or a hip-hop show…maybe not so much a show with a lighter tone like R&B (I know the crowd at the John Legend show in St. Louis didn’t cause any concern for me!).

I’ve been dropping in on a lot of concerts lately, and I like to read reviews of the shows and comments from fans afterward. I’ve noticed a really surprising trend in some of the fans of these shows: anger. A lot of the ‘hardcore’ fans seem to be very angry over the shows, namely the set-lists. One example: In February, Bon Jovi had a stop on their “This House Is Not For Sale” world tour in St. Louis. They played a total of twenty-four songs, with six of those coming from the new album. That makes sense, right? They’re promoting the new album, they want to play that material. That’s only ¼ of the show. One of the comments posted on Facebook was from a fan that said he left the show halfway through because the band wasn’t playing songs he knew. Obviously, he left too early, because that last nine of twenty-four songs were all songs that have been played to death!

The other side of the coin can be found, too. When Metallica brought their “WorldWired” tour to St. Louis, they played five songs from the new album out of a total of eighteen. Five more came off of their self-titled, 16x-platinum “Black Album.” Of course, there were folks complaining that they play all the same songs, tour after tour. They were looking for deep cuts, tracks that are buried in the lists of songs from the first and second album from more than three decades ago.

This is a long-winded way of getting to my point. How big of a fan are you? Why do you only want to hear “the hits” from a band? But on the flipside of that, what do you expect to hear at a concert catering to ten, fifteen, twenty thousand people?

Eddie Trunk talked about this a month or two back on his SiriusXM show. Bands don’t tour for the hard-core fans. They can’t. There simply aren’t enough of them, and there’s not enough time in a concert-set. When a band goes on tour for a new album, they’re going to play a good number of those songs. That’s truly the point of a tour, promoting a new product. Then they’re going to play the songs that everyone knows because the crowd wants to feel connected. Of course a fan wants to hear Metallica play “Motorbreath” or “No Remorse.” But out of nearly 39,000 people in the stadium in St. Louis, how many would have known those songs? Hard-core fans of Garth Brooks would love to hear “Alabama Clay” and “What She’s Doing Now” from the man in the hat, but what do you remove from his set-list to fit them in?

I’m slightly guilty of this myself. In my review of the Iron Maiden show in Chicago last year, I commented on the fact that “Run to the Hills” wasn’t in the set. This song has been a long-standing staple. But my comment was more one of surprise at the absence, not anger over the omission. Iron Maiden is playing six new tracks and eight hits scattered throughout their career. Maiden is known to have some long, epic songs, so they fill up more of the set-time with fewer songs. But that’s what you should expect from their show.

The point of all this comes down to this question: What kind of a fan are you? Are you the casual fan that only knows the hits and eschews anything new? Are you the hard-nosed ‘no one knows these guys like I do!’ fan that wants to hear obscure tracks that seem more like something you made up? Either of these is fine. This is not a critique of you, but you might want to consider that concerts aren’t really for you. Listen to your albums and enjoy the songs you like. But these two groups are, generally speaking, the fringe groups on either end of the spectrum.

Because live shows, for most bands, are for the fans in the middle. The fans that love to sing along with the classics, and get excited to be “let in early” to the new stuff that hasn’t even hit the store shelves (or streaming feeds) yet. The live shows are for the fans that are fans, no matter what the band is playing.

That’s my take on it, anyway.