+LIVE+ has had a relentless touring schedule this year. They’ve been on and off the road playing shows around the United States since March, and recently announced a string of dates in Australia with Incubus to take place in the spring. But before +LIVE+ heads to the land down under next year, the band is winding down this year with a handful of “unplugged” performances throughout the northeast. The 10-date tour kicked off in Vermont and stopped in Morristown, NJ Friday night for a sold out show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
+LIVE+’s Throwing Copper is an all-time favorite album of mine. Upon its release, the cassette resided comfortably in my Walkman for months, being removed only so I could switch it from the A side to B side and then back again. On a family road trip around the time that I bought the album I recall not even bothering to bring any other cassettes with me; Throwing Copper was all I needed.
I sat in the back seat staring out the window of my parents’ Dodge Caravan as I listened again and again, the roads etched in my mind despite their mundanity due to the influence that listening to the album was having on me. Among the more prolific inspiration I was also thrilled, as any eight year old would be, to sing along to a song called “Shit Towne.”
The quality of songs on Throwing Copper is undeniable, as is the album’s influence in my life over the near three decades since its release. In that time, despite a few valiant efforts and one instance of a purchased but unused ticket, I had never seen +LIVE+ perform; I was determined to change that.
The sold out audience stood up from their seats as the house lights went down and cheered wildly as +LIVE+ took the stage. Frontman Ed Kowalczyk donned a pair of aviators and sat on a bar stool with an acoustic guitar as he leaned forward to deliver the first lines of “Selling The Drama,” the audience picking up on and excitedly singing along to his vocals almost instantly.
The performance, while “unplugged” to the extent that the band was using acoustic-electric guitars, did not dial back the strength. That is to say that it was immediately apparent that this wasn’t going to be an “every-song-is-now-a-ballad-because-this-is-an-unplugged-show” kind of experience. We were going to be treated instead to an acoustic performance delivered with electrifying energy.
+LIVE+’s 19-song setlist included about half of the songs on Throwing Copper, and hearing them performed live was a special experience to say the least. The remainder of the setlist showcased the band’s sizable discography of hits as well as a few covers, including Seal’s “Crazy.“
I watched most of the show through the viewfinder of my camera, but during “Lightning Crashes” I couldn’t help but put my camera down to watch and appreciate the moment. The song was a time machine to the backseat of the Dodge, a mental shortcut to a warm memory of a childhood daydream. Yet, there was a warmth in the present moment too, particularly as I looked around and watched the fans around me traveling to their own places of reflection in their minds – not just during “Lighting Crashes,” but during the entire set.
There was a dad dancing during “They Stood Up For Love” while he sang along with his teenage son who echoed his dad’s enthusiasm. Or the woman in the front row who smiled and nodded in cathartic release to herself as she sang the last lines of “Mirror Song.” Or the couple that smiled at each other when frontman Ed Kowalczyk joked that “Dance With You” was everyone’s wedding song, confirming their guilt with a swaying slow dance while they relieved a warm memory of their own.
Whatever the story or the reasoning behind it, the fans’ connection to +LIVE+’s music was clear and the impact meaningful. The band’s career-spanning setlist made it easy to understand why.
I was excited to learn upon my arrival to the venue that we would be allowed to shoot the entire performance. Part of me was worried that this would cause me to not allow myself to enjoy finally seeing +LIVE+ perform, but it ended up being the very best way that I could have possibly seen them. I am at my happiest when a band is on a stage and a camera is in my hand. I think that’s just how I have to experience live music.
There was no photo pit as this was a seated show, so I wandered the aisles and bounced back and forth from stage right to stage left, grabbing as many different angles as I could. While this approach made it easy to get a variety of shots of the guitarists in the band, the drummer and keyboardist presented a bigger challenge which limited my selections for them. The only way to get a good view of them was to stand at the center of the stage, which I could access only by standing in front of peoples’ seats. I chose to make a point each time that I went from one side of the stage to the other to stop in the center, grab a few photos, and move on. I probably overthink my level of nuisance but I never want to disrupt someone’s enjoyment of the show just so I can get a photo.
I played around with double exposure a bit more and am now building that into every show within reason moving forward. Not because every band needs that style of photography, but because I need to find my style for and approach to double exposure. I’m always excited to try but feel like a dear in the headlights when I’m trying to build my composition. The only way to get better is to practice, so I’m excited to document my growth in this area.
After my experience last week, I decided to dial back my settings to cap the ISO at 3200 – 6400 had produced too much noise for me to want to deal with. The A.I. Denoise tool in Lightroom is very effective but it takes a very long time to run, so I’d prefer to keep in my back pocket that as a last resort. That said, I did still have to use the tool on a few of the shots that couldn’t handle the post processing even at 3200 ISO. The number of images that required it were much lower, though.
Little by little, I feel like I’m chipping away at the hurdles of my process and getting into a good rhythm with my concert photography. There is still so much to learn and a plethora of ways to improve but I’m enjoying every step.