Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Up, Periscope!

Bruce Springsteen and Max Weinberg, earlier this evening at Madison Square Garden as seen on periscope.
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It's Wednesday night and I'm sitting at home in Michigan and I'm watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing live in Madison Square Garden. Oh, it's not on TV, and it's not "official." The picture is somewhat awful, but the sound is pretty good through my computer speakers. Anyway, what can we expect from a cell phone?

This day has been coming for many years. The day when an event like this would be fearlessly broadcast, live, from inside the event venue to anywhere in the outside world. Periscope, acquired by twitter in 2015 before it was even released to the public, was hardly the first app to enable broadcasts from smartphones, but so far it sure seems to be the best. Their slogan is, "Explore the world through someone else's eyes." A week ago, when Bruce played in Chicago, at any given moment there were, it seemed, between 11 and 20 live periscopes. I'm becoming addicted: I may explore the entire Springsteen tour through many people's eyes.

For the most part, I don't watch. I just listen. As I type, I'm listening to Bruce give a soulful introduction to I Wanna Marry You that was retired for decades before this tour. It's beautiful and special and I'm happy being able to listen to it while I type. In a couple days it'll be for sale at Oops! Bruce just messed it up. "Sometimes even the tightest band in the world fucks it up!" "Ooooohhh!! I fucked it up!" Now I get to see him play maracas.

While I was watching that Chicago show, I texted my son in college. It went like this:

Kids don't impress as easily, I guess. Then he added, about the broadcasters, "really people should just enjoy the concert for what it is; live." He's a music major. He is also very wise. I agree that I don't completely understand the impulse to broadcast large portions of a show to the world at large, nor to hold a cellphone up for an hour or two at a time (hopefully -- but likely not -- doing it without distracting anyone else in the arena), but as someone at home being able to listen while I type, it sure is nice for me.

From stage left. The picture is nothing special, but the sound is good enough.
The technology, of course, is still wildly imperfect. People lose their internet connections. Or security finds them -- though there are too many of them for security to get them all, or so it seems. Some folks are just a bit dumb, shooting selfies of themselves or singing along a little too loudly with the music... no, make that a lot too loudly with the music. In Chicago one broadcaster, we'll call him Ivan, was plainly trying to impress some girls with his loud knowledge of the words; those of us following on facebook started feeling sorry for the people sitting around Ivan. Then there are those who feel compelled to add their own commentary to what they are allowing us to witness. It's a small percentage markup on the price I'm not paying to watch.

Watching a show on periscope can be a bit like having a personal transporter. With a couple mouse clicks we jump from one vantage point in the arena clear to the other side, or up, or down. One person tonight even advertised that he was broadcasting from section 227; I guess he's not too scared of security. During those moments when I watch, I can get an idea of the staging, to get an idea of what I'll witness when I finally get to a show in a few weeks.

And now, from straight back.
Then... then... then... my computer crashed!!! Here Bruce is, introducing Stolen Car, and... well, I guess that is a propos. It took until The Price You Pay to get it back.
This show includes the entirety of The River album, so for the first 21 songs (the show opens with a River outtake called Meet Me In The City), it's a fixed order. Then there are the additional songs. Last week he worked up a sweet acoustic version of "Take It Easy," in tribute to Glenn Frey. Maybe there will be something special tonight, too. With periscope and the help of someone holding up a cellphone entirely too long, a few thousand of us will be watching, live.

The River is about time. Time slipping away. Make the most of it. That, more or less, is Bruce's closing spoken line to The River portion of the show. I'm not sure that watching a periscope broadcast of his show qualifies for making the most of it... but it's been fun so far.
Thunder Road from way up high.

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