I fully expected the Hot Chip  show last night to be a giant advertisement for Converse. In the last few weeks I’d been noticing the ads around town, with that new slogan* and figured there was something else behind the big marketing push. So when a series of free “Represent SF” concerts was announced at Slim’s, in conjunction with a store opening, it made sense. But what I didn’t expect the event to be, was an advertisement for Google Glass.
As someone who covers live music, a “free” show doesn’t in itself mean much, since entry is most often comped in exchange for publicity, whether good or bad. That deal was basically given to everyone at Slim’s last night, since they received a wristband with an RFID tag upon entry. Different stations throughout the club were “interactive,” and would give you the opportunity to win prizes, swag, and (I assume) shoes. All you have to do is register the RFID to your Twitter and Facebook account, in which case Converse would also make automated posts on your behalf through the night.
Some of this was nifty. If you’re like me, and you spend the vast majority of the time at shows analysing the crowds, trying to figure out where each person lives — Mission hipster, Marina bro, or uncultured bridge and tunnel backwater cretin? — to correctly identify and catalog geographical-based stereotypes, there was a handy map that audience members could tap their bracelets on to show where they lived or “represent your hood.” (Still waiting to see the map that shows where people who weren’t willing to “interact” live. Probably West Oakland.) But beyond being a curiosity, it’s not hard to imagine the many ways it could be helpful for Converse to know what neighborhoods their marketing is reaching.
Elsewhere you were encouraged to tweet and send pictures, with the appropriate hashtags. (Prior to Hot Chip playing, a board told the audience to send their guesses for the band’s opening song to #RepresentSF, to enter to win autographed merch. It was easily hacked for a tech savvy fan — a quick peak at setlist.fm  would reveal that their latest shows had opened with “How Do You Do?” — but maybe making it easy means more people responded.) It’s not hard to see the logic behind this: up to 500 people a night times five nights equals a sizable group, and if enough of them “interact,” your marketing group would be making more targeted impressions on the right demographic groups than any traditional street team could hope to reach.
But it started to form a weird feedback loop. Pictures sent to Converse (vetted by an admin) or taken by in-house photogs immediately were projected onto a slick screen array on the wall. The exclusivity of the event (tickets given away via lottery) likely fueled the urge to post a picture of the bands on Facebook, beyond the normal anal retentive urge we’ve all developed to “capture moments.”
By the time Hot Chip came on, it was a sea of rectangle screens, punctuated by the pro photographers waving their big-cock-cameras to make way through the crowd, as hired videographers made sure to get good coverage for videos that will assuredly appear on Converse’s Tumblr post-haste. Everyone was either taking a picture or having their photo taken to show what a great time they were having.
Were we having a good time? Fuck. Yes. But we’ve got to admit that our current technological polyopticon is damn awkward, and a bit embarrassing. Which is why I for one welcome our Google Glass wearing overlords. Or at least later, more elegant versions of the tech, where we'll all just have non-ostentatious devices that record a steady stream** of everything we see. Then we won't have to worry about taking pictures at all — or worry about people taking pictures blocking our view — everyone can just broadcast live and go home afterwards to curate an accurate representation of the good time they had, complete with three dimensional collectively assembled recreations of the band, the venue, and everyone there. They’ll just need to figure out how where to put the brand.
* “Shoes are boring. Wear sneakers.” By sneakers they obviously mean Converse — as opposed to IDK, Alden’s on one extreme and Onitsuka’s on the other — but don’t stare too far into the circular logic of advertising, or you’ll end up with plastic bags taped to your feet to be “different.” Or worse, boat shoes.
**Do you watch Black Mirror ? You should, It’s the best show on TV.
But, um, how were the bands?
Hot Chip : regular readers (Hi mom!) may recall me mentioning a Hot Chip show at the Fox a while back where both the headliners and YACHT sounded like they were submerged underwater due to seriously awful sound. Last night's show more than made up for it: Hot Chip is a massive band and when all the members — I think I counted seven last night — are clear they are a percussive rhythmic force. By the time it hit the chorus of "Night and Day," a chant of "let's sweat," I was well ahead, my shirt threatening to dissolve due to oversaturation. (Guitarist Al Doyle just removed his half way through.)
If there was a trade-off, it was in the setlist, which this time stuck strictly to hits (no "Crap Kraft Dinner," sadly). Still, familiar tunes always get slight tweaking from the group, like the electrofunk spun "Ready for the Floor,” and the added intimacy of the night allowed singer Alexis Taylor a shiny, tender moment when slowing things down for "Look at Where We Are."
Tycho : The heavy waft of pot smoke caught me off guard (Hot Chip has never struck me as much of a stoner group — later in the evening Alexis Taylor would jokingly pick up a blunt handed to him, only to return it to the front of the crowd, sans inhaling) but made sense with Tycho's instrumental blend of melancholic, lifting melodies and driving beats. This seemed especially suited for spacing out, accompanied by desert visuals cribbed from Oliver Stone's The Doors/Stephen Surjik’s Wayne's World 2, with a stoic Nordic blonde filling in for the sad Native American as spirit guide.
Blackbird Blackbird : I'd been waiting for a chance to see producer Mikey Maramag, and was wondering how he would do in this slot, being the most conventionally club oriented act of the night. Starting his set at 7:40pm, it was definitely an uphill battle with the crowd, but gradually Maramag worked the audience up, starting with soulful, steadily pulsing house, and gradually dropping into more broken and Southern rap styled beats, making room to end with single “All.” The production was a polished as on recordings, but live vocals sounded more strained, with a slight quavering which may have been nerves.
Social Studies : Wasn’t till the end that they got my attention, on “Terracur,” a nicely controlled song that grows from a steady groove into some low-end, fast guitar riffing.