My Ears Are Bleeding…!!

Foreword

With this series, I venture, briefly, into the role of music critic–or to be more accurate– audio critic.  It will run loosely in tandem with Frank Hayhurst’s blog, Face The Music on Petaluma 360.

Because of a recent concert experience at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center, I posed some questions to Frank Hayhurst.  Frank placed them in the context of his experience and wrote a blog squarely presenting the case and the questions. Please go to Lookin’ LOUD!

For the record, this article was also posted on Petaluma 360 as TURN IT DOWN!! PART I

Background

First, to establish my “Music Creds” –I am a buff of all kinds of music…from opera, jazz, roots gospel, to swamp rock. I even read music and mess around on a keyboard when no one can hear me. At present, I have close to 3000 recordings (mostly organized) stashed in a room.

  • At home, I have two Carver amps (with cooling fans) and two sets of  floor speakers (B&W’S for the serious audio buffs out there) connected for wall-to-wall and ceiling to floor sound. I tend to run the system a tad on the loud side (After all, I got the power) and my wife eventually asks me to turn it down or to put on the headphones. 
  • We’ve been to lots of concerts and venues for performances. In addition, we go to all Cirque du Soleil performances and they are certainly not what you would call “quiet.” At the end of a Cirque show, we always have a slight buzz in our heads afterwards and consider it part of the experience. Incidentally, the “buzz” is called “threshold shift” by audiologists–it is usually temporary, but over time it can lead to permanent hearing loss depending upon the intensity, length, and frequency of the exposure.

Live Performances & Bleeding Ears

The first concert disaster (from our perspective), was about 5 yrs ago when we went to see Marcia Ball (I’m a big fan) at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma. As it turned out, it was our first and last visit to the Mystic.
 
The sound level was so painful it literally drove us (and many other members of  the audience) outside the building after two songs–A Mystic employee was yelling something at us (we had difficulty understanding him) about earplugs. Ball is an incredible singer and piano player but you would not have known it from that night. We found ourselves standing on the sidewalk with a crowd (having the same reaction we did) heading for our cars to go home. We had the added embarrassment of apologizing to the people we brought with us to the event. 
 
Overall, we quickly learned to avoid the club/bar scene due to the painfully loud music–painful to me as well as my wife. Frankly, we never understood the concept of paying to see a performance where earplugs are offered as part of the package. In short, we were content to attend events in the North Bay at Wells Fargo in Santa Rosa or the Marin Civic Center.

That tactic worked well until the Emmylou Harris Concert at Wells Fargo on October 6th.  As an aside, we were driving up 101 one day in September, listening to an Emmylou CD and saw her concert advertised on the Wells Fargo sign. Wow! Good Karma! Fate! Serendipity, whatever.  We pulled off 101 and bought tickets–$100. We had seen her there before and were looking forward to a good time.

October 6, 2009

This time we had seats in the balcony. The concert began with a “featured” singer who performed for what turned out to be the first half of the concert. The sound level was so high (as in painful) that we quickly retreated to the walkway outside the auditorium. We were soon joined by another couple. Our game plan was to wait until Emmylou came on stage expecting that the audio levels would be reset for her performance.  Frankly, we were having bad feelings about what was happening as an usher offered us earplugs–not a good sign based on our experience. Looking down at the main foyer we noticed more ushers and twenty five to thirty other patrons who apparently were doing the same thing we were–avoiding the sound levels.
 
Finally, after the intermission she came on stage. Unfortunately, the sound level remained the same and the mix was terrible–her voice was consistently overridden by the sound from the band. After two songs (with our fingers in our ears) I told my wife we were leaving. She was grateful. On the way out, one usher (outside the auditorium) asked: “Too loud?” Another usher came out of the auditorium proclaiming that Emmylou sounded terrible.

I don’t know how many others, if any, walked out that evening but ours was not the only car pulling out of the lot. I do remember the faces of some of the audience as we left our seats–reminiscent of expressions I last saw at Candlestick Park during the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake…blank, empty stares of shock.

In Part II of this series, I will report on what we did the next day… For Part II Click Here