Did you know that users upload forty-eight hours of video per minute to youtube? This shouldn't amaze me given the fact that youtube has permeated nearly every facet of society. Still, think about that. Forty-eight hours of footage. Every minute.
This got me thinking about the volume and diversity of live music that is available. Putting aside music videos, promos, and other "professional" clips (if such a thing can even be said to exist), consider for a second the accessibility of live footage of your favorite band. You can't go to a rock show and not see dozens of people filming a song or two. I imagine this is true for most genres. Grateful Dead fans famously (audio) taped and traded shows for decades. Official live albums--again, were talking audio here--were especially trendy during the arena rock 70s (Kiss, J. Geils, Frampton, The Who, Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, and others created iconic road records) and attracted even casual fans who approached the live album as a kind of greatest hits. And of course bootleg live records also circulated, especially among hardcore fans.
But youtube provides aural and visual representations of live music, mostly fan created. I wonder if record companies, (some) bands, Live Nation, Ticketmaster, et al, will eventually create more corporate sanctioned "channels" and crack down on amateur bootlegs. For now at least, much of youtube belongs to fandom. Like live albums in the 70s, I see the live music on youtube as walking the line between appealing to casual and hardcore fans. The casual fan can search for a single track and find it in seconds. The hardcore fan can search for a particular song at a particular show or make note of different versions of the same song over some particular period of time. Jay-Z and Kanye West seemed to nod at this phenomenon when they performed multiple versions of "N****s in Paris" at shows on their recent tour.
Another parallel. Like those who bought a live album or bootleg in the 70s or 80s, fans today who surf youtube can appreciate the mythology a band creates by its choice of covers. Springsteen saluted 60s r&b and garage rock by covering Mitch Ryder, for instance, and buying a Springsteen bootleg a generation or two ago was an education in his influences. Want to see Weezer doing "Pumped Up Kicks" last year? Want to see Green Day do AC/DC? Youtube's got you covered. Have at it.
What's surprising, though, is how much pre-youtube and pre-camera phone live music is out there, and it's archived for our pleasure. I was too young to see The Clash in person but I can see them via youtube in their early days in London all the way up to when they opened for The Who in '82. I've always been fascinated by the infamous '72 tour where The Rolling Stones (with--sorry Ron Wood--the great Mick Taylor on second guitar, showing off cool new songs from "Exile on Main St," and supported by Stevie Wonder!) destroyed hotel rooms, did a lot of heroin, and reportedly blew minds on the stage. And now I can watch Keith play Happy a year before I was even born.
I can find clips of the night I saw Neil Young in Cleveland in '93 and ended up with a minor misdemeanor citation from Cuyahoga County. I can find clips of the first rock concert I ever attended (10,000 Maniacs). I don't mean the same band during the same tour, I mean the exact show. I can even find clips of local bands from Youngstown, Ohio, circa early 90s. And I don't remember anybody ever having a video camera at Cedar's or The Penguin Pub, but the clips are there. Couple that nostalgic ability to re-see with the archive that is setlist.fm, much less trafficked but in my mind an equally addictive site for the hardcore music fan, and you've got quite a record of your sordid past. If you haven't been to setlist.fm, it's function should be pretty self-explanatory. It's a wiki that houses the setlists performed by popular music performers. What exactly did Neil Young play that night I saw him twenty years ago? The answer's right here.
I know that Patton Oswalt and others have commented on the internet taking away the magic of the search by putting what used to be obscure right in front of us. But I like the idea of preservation of the minute details we obsess over. Accessibility doesn't take away the obsession, and it certainly doesn't take away the magic. (I don't see Oswalt liking comics any less.) In a way these archives keep us honest: The Stones didn't play a three-hour set of Motown covers in '72. And nobody claims it's the same as being there. I'd have loved to see The Clash opening up for the Pistols on the Anarchy Tour but I was three years old. Seeing it on youtube's not the same thing obviously. But I can access the archives, feed my fandom, and be honest (oh yeah, they didn't play very well).