Lights in the sky: the view from above

By Chelsea Cody for Daily Sundial on September 23, 2008

Seat shock; similar to sticker-shock, refers to the feeling of surprise experienced by concertgoers upon finding unexpectedly distant seating after their arrival to a music venue. Typically, this reaction occurs after purchasing a somewhat pricey ticket for a highly anticipated show.

Squinting down at my crinkled ticket as I climbed the precariously steep and shallow steps upwards I wondered if there had been some kind of mistake. There was simply no way that my seat was this far away from the stage. The seating chart on the Forum website did not make section 23, seat 11 seem so distant. I looked at the ticket. I looked at the row number. I looked at the ticket again. I looked at the small plaque on the edge of the seat. I was in the right place, but I had just paid nearly for a ticket and an additional to park my car, I felt deflated.

This was my first Nine Inch Nails concert and already things were not off to the best start. I brooded my way through the opening act, a band called Deerhunter. The self-described ambient, garage, punk band failed to capture my interest but then again, I was distracted.

Hunched over in my small, far-flung seat I watched the crowd file in as roadies and stage technicians prepared for the main event. Fans piled up on the main floor in front of the stage, swelling to capacity causing people to funnel out into the lodge and colonnade seating areas. As the venue filled, the atmosphere changed. People became restless and rowdy with excitement and anticipation.

The build-up was intoxicating. Finally, when the slow rhythmic swell of static and drum strokes began, the crowd screamed in unison. The cry drowned out the music until the unmistakable voice of front man Trent Reznor broke through the raucous roar into a track from NIN's latest album The Slip, a song called 1,000,000; From this moment on, I forgot about my seat proximity problem. I had the best seat in the house. From section 23, seat 11 I could see everything.

I watched as the crowd on the floor began to swarm and stir creating micro-mosh pits. Sporadically a body would be propelled upward out of the crowd to surf toward the stage only to be wrestled down again by security guards. As the show progressed, the music shifted from The Slip to classics like “March of the Pigs” and “Closer.”

For two hours without pause the band transitioned from song to song with a multitude of musical styles including ambient, electronic, percussion and hard rock changeovers. Meanwhile, enormous light screens descended from the rafters above the stage. Each screen provided a visual piece in a larger three-dimensional puzzle that accompanied the music. This was no mere light show, it was a fully interactive visual display manipulated by the musicians as they played.

As they performed, the band propelled their musical equipment into the air and across the stage as well as tossing water bottles out into the crowd, eliciting reinvigorated yells from the audience. Standing on my seat staring down into the beautiful chaos below, I marveled at the effects of this unique audiovisual experience.

At what seemed to be the climax of the evening, the band began to play, “The Hand That Feeds.” During the song, the face of George W. Bush appeared behind the band and slowly morphed into the countenance of John McCain. For that moment alone, I would have been willing to endure “seat shock” a million times over.

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