The Vacancy Signs


I’m not at the concert. At least, I dont think I can be at the concert in the same way I imagine most everyone else is at the concert. It’s more like I’m at a venue that is holding a concert, and I’m observing the concert itself, and asking questions.

It’s a peaceful crowd, at the college of light, in a theatre for the ancients, and the band and staging and lighting are postmodern, I think. The ensemble appears on stage, all in black. The audio cables to the lead singer’s guitar and microphone are red. A very wide LED panel behind them all wish us greetings of thanks before they begin. Screens emerge like periscopes from the ocean of heads. A face looks back at me, it’s digital gaze through the monocle, in real time watching the concert somewhere else (they are more here than I am), a perspective cradled by another’s hands.

Why are his cables red?

Are his lyrics existential or metaphysical?

My mind wanders, pressing up against the invisible canyon walls of the metal proscenium and tent. There’s this confluence, a system of performance and reception, and if you look at it from the perpendicular angle, as if you were in the wings, the prism of light illuminates something that neither side is perhaps all that aware of, because they’re inside of it, pressing it ever further upwards.

Talking, dancing, snapping, listening, screaming, exalting, playing along in their heads. Applauding. I know these songs, but the performance as a structure is something more interesting to me, and there are times that I wish I could drop back down and forget all of my questions, in my own tensive mental dance between experiencing and analyzing.

How long does it take the stage crew to break down and setup. Do they rehearse the lighting show in a large venue like this? How many days does it take to build out the design for the lighting? And the scripting for the show itself? Is is fully automated? Is there room for improvisation? What aspects of it are structured? How do you get to be that person, who makes up the visual display? How many people are involved? How involved is the band in the creation of the aesthetic? Do they care all that much, never being able to see their own show and the lights behind them, but reflected on our faces in the crowds, like mussels in a high tide, opening to the sounds. The screen is all glitched noise, essentially an expansion of lighting and very vague outlines of ideas occasionally seem to coalesce on screen – fragments of reflections from a cave. Did he forget the lyrics right there? I think he did. The lights return and widen their focal length in exactly the same progression after every song. Dark blue twilight. When did the band get in to town today? What did they do? Some of them probably visited friends? Did they peform at a radio program early in the morning? At what point did he decide to dedicate the set to woman in the senate chamber today?

The photographers in the front pit, at least a half dozen, I saw one of them sitting on the steps beforehand. Why is it that they only get to photograph the first few songs? The lighting in the middle of the set is so much more, like a scene out of Bladerunner 2049, rich hues.

I can’t stop thinking about the lights, interpreting their decisions, noticing the peculiarities from each song, how the visuals, even in this esoteric way, are designed into a marriage.

I just can’t seem to merely spectate. The narrative in my head, perhaps bored at first, inquires across all of these deep lines, curious about the means of reproduction.

What I really wonder about, most deeply, is how many other people go to a thing to be witnessed, and can’t help by find the seams, wonder about who stitched the costumes. What would happen if we all each held out our flashlights, illuminating the vacancy signs.


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