By Greg Fuller
Summer is concert season – particularly outdoor concerts. One of our favorite venues is Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, where over the years we’ve been lucky enough to see James Taylor, Jackson Browne, The Eagles and more.
There is a communal feeling to an outdoor concert, not unlike a big family picnic. Visions of the Grateful Dead in Golden Gate Park, Day on the Green or even Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park come to mind. It is a good feelin’, laid back vibe – particularly on a balmy evening by the shore of Lake Tahoe, with still snow-capped Sierra peaks in the background. Maybe too laid back, it seems. Between the high altitude atmosphere and the generous refreshments available, some people are, how shall I say it? — a bit too uninhibited.
Not 60s rock festival dancing naked on the speaker column, hanging out on the Playa during Burning Man, ten thousand simultaneous crowd waving Deadhead Dance uninhibited. Not that. Rather, well, it’s about their voices.
During almost any rock or pop concert, there are the obligatory couple of sing along songs. The big hits we all know and stand up for — belting out lyrics like an already bad night of karaoke gone awry towards the end of the evening. You know the ones – the chorus to Sweet Home Alabama, Born in the USA, Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. That sort of thing.
And that’s OK. Build up the community spirit. Let the band connect with the audience. Release a bit of pent up energy so maybe the party of five former NBA players with tickets in front of you will sit down for the next slow song. There are so many different tones and notes offered up during these encouraged outbursts that they sort of cancel each other out. Like the pair of pricey Bose headphones that you bought for your last European flight so you wouldn’t be distracted from your audiobook version of Snows of Kilimanjaro by the drone of the GE turbines out there on the wing.
That’s not what I’m talking about, no. What we get, we seem to always get, is the guy or gal seated adjacent who is so tone deaf that it would send a rapper screaming from the arena in pain while forgetting to take his .38 with him. And it is just that person, or persons, so in love with the artist’s repertoire that he or she feels compelled to sing along to not just the crowd pleasers, but every song, seemingly knowing the lyrics but not necessarily the melody. Or at least close to the lyrics. Full voice, high volume, completely and utterly oblivious to the localized cacophony they are creating next to my ear.
That ear, along with the other one, that paid a hundred fifty dollars or more, tax and services charges included, to hear, amazingly so, the artist that is up on the stage.
You cannot hear the crickets chirp when there is a jet engine revving up a few yards away. And you cannot ignore these bearers of atonal discord.
Of course, you cannot make mention of the problem, less you rain on their personal parade. Even though they are creating a thunderstorm over mine. In the immortal words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “Just ‘cause you feel so good, do you have to drive me out of my head?”
Now, I could probably get on board with this for say, Z. Z Top. A haw, haw, haw haw. Not too much of an effect straying from the libretto there I’d say. Beatles Twist and Shout, covers of the Isley Brothers’ Shout. You get my drift. But most recently, the featured artists were Sting and Peter Gabriel. Now, even they can’t hit some of the original notes these days. But they have the decency to say, drop an octave on the highs, or sing-speak through them ala Lou Reed or Mark Knopfler. Instead, you can imaginine what my local chromatic butcher was doing. Roxahhhhhhhhhhn! You dant hatfa put on the reaod lighhhhht!. A Broadway performer might have a hard time duplicating Mr Sumner’s vocal gymnastics. For the guy in C32, there was, tragically, no hope.
And yet he persisted. This song and then the next. And the next and the next. Fields of Gold – tarnished. Walking on the Moon – horrible missteps. Every Breath You take, smothered like a pillow pressing down on your face as the petechiae
in your eyeballs hemorrhage. Message in a Bottle – utterly and completely shattered.
To save us, or at least me, from these audio debacles, I have a modest proposal:
Upon entry to the venue, along with being patted down and backpack inspected, there should occur tone checks for all attendees. Those passing, able to reasonably carry a simple tune like say, Bohemian Rhapsody, would be issued tonal wristbands. Like the Over 21 wristband bands for being served alcohol , only those with these tonal wristbands are permitted to sing along during other than the officially sanctioned crowd participation numbers. This prohibition should be enforced during the performance by ‘tune monitors’. Those who after repeated warnings are not willing to comply could be led to a soundproof area with the concert sound piped in and a view of the stage (so as not to deprive them of the ‘live’ experience), but where the would be accompanied by (literally) other tone deaf, off key concertgoers. A gathering of like dead-eared souls, a tribe of the tonally challenged.
While this might seem radical at first, I’m sure, once instituted, it would become quite acceptable over time. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to associate with their own kind rather than imposing their atonal deviations upon others?
Leaving the rest of us to enjoy what we came and paid our hard earned Social Security entitlements for – the melodious and hopefully only slightly aged-dimmed vocalizations of the featured act. Along with their young, full throated backup singers or sidemen filling in the notes that have fallen into the chasm of time since the original recordings.
A simple audible request, an easy solution to noise pollution.
That, dear fans, is all that I ask.
August 23, 2017
(c) 2017 by Greg Fuller