The Effect of Concert Going on Listening Habits
How does the act of attending live shows affect how you enjoy your music collection?
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with interviews being postponed, so many of the things I’m excited to bring you have been temporarily put on hold. However, those will hopefully be made up soon and I’ll be able to tell you some of the stories that I’ve had to sit on for a bit.
There are weeks when three or even four interviews all seem to come at once, and then there are lulls of two or even three weeks without one, because life is strange and unpredictable. However, I’m not leaving you without something to mull over this week. Let’s talk about how live concerts affect listening habits.
I had the pleasure of seeing The Who on the band’s “The Who Hits Back” tour recently. I had never seen them before. In all honesty, I’ve never been the biggest Who fan. I have enjoyed the songs that I’ve heard on the radio for decades and I own my favorite album by the band (Who’s Next), but I don’t have any of their other records. I have heard all of their most popular releases and wouldn’t mind owning more, but I have just never gotten around to it and there always seems to be something I want more with my limited music budget.
But there is no denying the band is legendary, so I was eager to see a show filled with what I assumed would be mainly recognizable songs from the band’s monster catalog. And it was. I had a great time with friends over at Tampa’s Amalie Arena seeing The Who perform with the accompaniment of an orchestra. When integrated correctly, as it was for The Who, an orchestra can add incredible depth and texture to a rock band’s show. I had a great time seeing the band, including the grumpy rock star act from both Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend. Roger was a bit crabby about having monitor issues that ended up cutting short “I Can See for Miles” — my favorite early Who song — while Pete snapped at a fan for yelling out playlist requests, which is frankly a stupid practice that I wish concert goers would drop.
In preparation for shows, I am caught between a few schools of thought, depending on the band and how many times I’ve seen them before. For a storied band like The Who, I felt like I had a pretty good grip on the band’s catalog. I expected certain songs, such as “Baba O’Riley” and “Eminence Front,” would get played. I figured we’d get some choices from Tommy and Quadrophenia. And I figured we’d get one or two of the band’s early hits. I don’t always avoid setlist spoilers, but in this instance I didn’t want to sour my experience by finding out ahead of time that a favorite like “Eminence Front” wasn’t going to be played, and I’m eternally grateful that it was. Plus, I just wanted to be surprised to see what the veteran band would trot out for this show with so much material to pull from.
I didn’t expect one of my other favorites, “Another Tricky Day,” to be played (it wasn’t), but I fully counted on “Love Reign O’er Me” (and it was). Had I looked at the setlist and all three of my favorites were missing, it may have clouded my state of mind ahead of the show. Avoiding spoilers seemed the best way to go for this particular show.
Because I didn’t seek out the setlist, I decided to just listen to some random Who albums on the day of the show. I was originally supposed to see three bands that week, so I didn’t want to commit much “pregame” time to one band. It turned out that one band had a COVID outbreak and canceled, so I only attended two shows that week, but I digress.
Typically, I only see about five to eight concerts per year, owing to budgetary constraints and the number of bands I want to see coming to my area. With the pandemic effectively shutting down touring for a couple of years, it seems that every band hit the road starting in the middle of 2021. And after not seeing any concerts for a long time, I’ve been making up for it in recent months. As such, I’ve had a few months where there were multiple shows to see and others that I either couldn’t afford or just couldn’t fit into my schedule. Last October, I saw Mammoth WVH, the Monkees, and Alice Cooper with special guest Ace Frehley. Two of those were in the same week. I had three other shows that month that I would have loved to attend but couldn’t swing it.
In April, I had three shows lined up and all of them were within the same week. In addition, I couldn’t afford to go see at least four other shows, including Journey/Toto. And a conflict on the schedule kept me from seeing Steve Hackett. Unfortunately, one of those three shows for which I bought tickets got postponed until June, which is now a month in which I have plans to see three more concerts. But it’s a good problem to have.
So, in preparation for my trip to Tampa for The Who, I found myself listening to It’s Hard, The Who By Numbers, Face Dances, and Who Are You on my streaming service of choice. I also put on Who’s Next for my drive over to the home of a friend who was going to the show with me.
That got me thinking about my listening habits and how concerts affect them. It is typical for me to listen to a band on the day of show, obviously. For bands I’ve seen multiple times, I don’t mind spoiling the setlist in advance and focusing on the albums from which the band is going to pull most of its live material. It’s fun to pull out a group of great records and dive back into a band’s work in preparation for a show. I find that it builds my excitement level for the concert.
I will also often put together a playlist for the drive home that matches what the band played at the show, because most bands don’t change the setlist much from night to night. If the ride home is short, I’ll play it the next day at work in my headphones. But the lead-up to a show is much more about my record collection than the days after. If it’s a band I love but haven’t seen, or have only seen once or twice, I’ll go through the whole catalog ahead of a show if I can, and for that kind of band I’ll often have most (if not all) of the band’s releases. As the shows I see are usually spaced out a bit, I might start that consumption of the band’s music a week or even 10 days ahead of show day, depending on the size of their catalog.
However, I typically don’t listen to bands much in the wake of seeing their live show, even if it’s an outstanding concert and a favorite band. That probably has to do with having heard so much of that band ahead of the show date. I have tried it the other way — starving myself of a band ahead of a concert and then loading up afterwards — but I prefer my usual method better. I know music lovers who prefer the starvation method. To each his own. Whatever works best for you, do it.
Why listen to a band so much before a show? It’s good to get reacquainted with them. When you have a large music collection, even your favorite bands might sit on the shelf for longer than anticipated. I actually track my listening stats on the Last.FM website, so I’m often surprised how long it’s been since I last heard some of the great albums I own.
It’s also much easier to quickly identify that rare deep track performed live when it’s fresh in your mind from having heard it within the previous few days. In addition, I find it makes me more excited about those deeper tracks when they are part of the show than I might ordinarily be had I not heard them recently. Your mileage may vary.
There are exceptions to me not playing albums by a band I’ve just seen live. Sometimes when I’m at a show, I’ll pick up an album or two from a band. This could be an opening band I wasn’t familiar with in advance. It might be a special tour edition of an album by the headliner. It could be that I’ve got holes to fill in my catalog and I want to ensure the band makes its maximum profit on my purchase by buying directly from them. Whatever the reason, I will spend the next few days digesting the new material (or the album that’s new to my collection) in the wake of the concert. One recent example is when I saw Christopher Cross last fall. I didn’t own any of his later releases and he had a few of them available at the show for just 10 bucks each. I bought two of them and had a great time exploring them and comparing the few tracks from them that he’d performed at the show to the live versions I’d heard.
The biggest effect seeing a show has on my music collection and post-concert listening habits is when I attend festivals. It’s been a few years since I went to one, but I love going to festivals and browsing the records, CDs, and DVDs in the vendors’ area. When I attend a progressive rock festival like the Rites of Spring Festival (ROSfest), it’s not uncommon for me to pick up an additional 15 or 20 new albums to add to the collection. Prog rock vendors have titles that can rarely be found in stores and it’s always great to pick up an album at the band’s merchandise table and have them autograph it after their set.
When I go to a festival, all listening time for the next few weeks (or sometimes months) is consumed by my purchases at the venue.
Finally, there is one other way that concerts can (and do) affect my listening habits. Whenever they’re available, I try to find bootlegs of the shows I attend. These are excellent time capsules of the evening and enable me to relive the experience anytime I want. I don’t buy those bootlegs. Bootleg trading is a fun pastime, but I’m not giving someone money for an unofficial product the band doesn’t sanction.
Occasionally a band offers up “official bootlegs” from their tour stops — typically soundboard recordings sold with minimal packaging or artwork. These are great because the quality is assured to some extent and the band gets paid for the recordings purchased. I own a few of these. Peter Gabriel and Genesis have done this and I have a recording of an in-store appearance Porcupine Tree did at a local record store here in Orlando, Florida. I often revisit these audio snapshots of memorable times.
How do your listening habits change when a live show is coming up? Does seeing a live show send you into a period of listening to nothing but that band? Does that last days? Weeks? Months?! Let me know with a reply. I’d be interested to see how my habits stack up against those who read MRC.
I hope you got something out of this more personal issue of Michael’s Record Collection. Don’t worry, the album reviews, historical revisits, and artist interviews will be back soon. In the meantime, I spoke with previous MRC guest Ben Montgomery (from the excellent Records Revisited podcast — download it on your favorite podcast app), who you might remember from my newsletter from May 13 of last year. Ben and his friend also attended the same Who show recently, and we compared notes about our experiences at the show, our listening habits before and after, and Ben also gives out some super secret tips for attending shows at arenas that you won’t want to miss. Check out that conversation in the video below.
Thanks again for your time. Please consider sharing this issue of the newsletter with the first button below, or sharing Michael’s Record Collection with the second. And be sure to check out the podcast version at your favorite podcast dispensary. Feel free to visit michaelsrecordcollection.com and my Patreon site at patreon.com/michaelsrecordcollection to find out how you can support independent writing and podcasting for as little as $2 per month.