originally published: March 7, 2017
I have a list in my head of concerts where the crowd was more interesting to watch than the band. A sampling of this list includes:
Weezer at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville during the Pinkerton tour:
Teenage abandon. Life could not have been any better for that sea of high schoolers. I watched them from the balcony. They swayed. They sang. They hugged and kissed and pumped their fists. They were so much more prepared to be there than the band that would have been lost without their distortion pedals.
The Allman Brothers at the World’s Fair Park in Knoxville in 1993:
1/3 hippies, swirling around
1/3 fraternity, guys high-fiving
1/3 Harley dudes, to insure that the swirling and the high-fiving were kept in check
Soul Night Sunday at the 5 Spot in Nashville in the summer of 2013:
A bachelorette party spilling out of a party van and throwing down some amazing drunken “woo girl” energy with no regard for anything around them, then like a comet they were gone.
I also have a list of shows where one member of the audience defined the show more than the band. Key moments include:
1995: The owner of a club in Knoxville emerging from backstage during a set by The Grifters twirling a gun above his head and screaming words that I could not process. I am not sure what happened after that because I am smart and I left.
2013: A woman standing on her seat at a Nick Cave show in Philadelphia screaming, “WHERE IS MY HUUUSBAAAND…IN THIS MUTHAF*CKIN’ PLACE!!!” for so long and with such great force that Cave started singing “Where iiiissss my huuuuusbaaaand…in this muthaf*ckin’ place” like it was a b-side from The Boatman’s Call.
It is always important to remember that the band is directing a show but only because the crowd allows them to be in control.
The beginning of a DIY movement is usually a group of people (with less in common than they understand) with a shared desire to be seen or heard. The end of a DIY movement is usually defined by a patrol car showing up to an event and shutting it down for code violations and a lack of permits. Exercised properly, shutting you down is meant to protect you from your own stupidity. Codes can, from time to time, be misused to prevent a controversial act from performing but, for the most part, even if you do not like it, getting shut down is doing you a favor. Your life is preserved and you have a story to tell. I got kicked out of Rivergate Mall in 8th grade for sliding down a handrail. Silly? Yes. Good story? Depends on the way that I tell it.
A person need not have experienced the 10 years of DIY shows that Lance Conzett has documented in his Fort Houston exhibition, Don’t Lose Touch, to fully appreciate what he has captured. I have never seen Bully. I have never seen Diarrhea Planet. I have never seen Husband Stitch. If I had to put money on it, I would say that I will never see Bully or Diarrhea Planet or Husband Stitch. I am old(er). I go to the symphony. Conzett’s images will eventually define one of an endless number of underground music movements. Why? Because he was probably one of the only people smart enough to be taking pictures with equipment that is better than a smartphone.
The decades may be different and the cities may change but every town has this spirit. They all operate under the same premise and yield similar photographic results. That in no way diminishes the impact of these photos. Instead, they are universal. My scene is 20-25 years and 180 miles removed from this but I would be hard-pressed to deny you if you said that this was my crowd. Photographs of this subject capture something that is gone almost as soon as it happened. They are nostalgic as soon as they are printed. People move away. People get “real jobs” or have kids. Little by little, one period unravels and a new one emerges in its wake.
This particular grouping of photographs, more so than others, bends under the weight of loss in a post-Ghost Ship period where the crackdown on DIY spaces is swift under the pressure of not being the NEXT Ghost Ship. No one wants that on his/her conscience.
The best images in the show are not of the band, but of the crowds. Photographing a band is not easy. But a band hopes and acts like they are going to be photographed. A crowd? Not so much. These pictures capture individual and collective release. The audience represents the moment more than the band. The band is the catalyst. The crowd is the show.
The “audience” was at the reception for Conzett’s exhibition, finding themselves in the photographs and talking about the shows in the pictures like they happened 30 years ago. In some cases, the shows just took place last year. That is the power of time, frozen; of the decisive moment. You saw a band last week but a photograph of the event can reveal to you that you are already a different person. You were not even at that show but looking at the pictures, remembering your scene, your shows and the photographs someone was smart enough to take reminds you that you are a different person, too.