McDonald | The dash for Slash: to share or to keep?

We live in the age of the benign voyeur. The instinct to share experiences has moved from just omnipresent, to paramount.
The crowd at this year's George Street Festival. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Kiss, Eagles, Sting, Hey Rosetta!, Marianas Trench, Great Big Sea. It seems every weekend there's a concert on the go, and crowds of people are filling some venue in the province to capacity. It's timely then that we have this tale from our Europe-based correspondent Terry McDonald.

We live in the age of the benign voyeur. The instinct to share experiences has moved from just omnipresent, to paramount.

As any Las Vegas commercial will tell you, the ubiquitous urge to self-broadcast has moved beyond the realm of bloggers and product-review guinea pigs. Now anyone with a smart phone (otherwise known as everyone) can transmit their existence in relative real time, to friend and foe, gawker and cop.

The short story goes as follows: Slash was coming to the Baltics, and I had to be there. I managed to get time off the day before the show, and the bus from Tallinn, Estonia to Kaunas, Lithuania is about 10 hours, so there was no time for second-guessing. I booked a ticket to the show (floor being cheaper than the "cheap seats" in Eastern Europe, to my happy surprise), grabbed the passport, two chicken wraps and an apple, and was off for the 6 a.m. econobus.

As we passed the windmill-filled Latvian border, I thought to take some pictures for the folks back home. I’d never been to Lativa before, and I’ve lived next door for the best part of two years, so it seemed like something others might want to experience. I lens-watched my way through an hour of scenery I might never see again; even managing to capture some in minimal blur.

Skipping ahead to Lithuania, I met up with a friend transplanted from Indiana. I, of course, took out my Playbook and updated my FB status, and then snapped shots on our way to the ticket pickup. We followed some fellow-hostel dwellers to a vegetarian cafe. Two beer later, we were at the gates of the basketball arena that was to be our rock and roll home.

We were standing in line at the bar when the first notes of "Ghost" started to filter through the curtain, and the crowd went from razor buzz to tsunami roar. We gaggled onto the floor just as Slash started the signature descending intro to "Night Train", and while the crowd took it to another gear, I thought of my old roommate/ bandmate Rob, who had politely gaffed my Guns n’ Roses Live CD for his car, just because of this song.

I took out my camera and held it aloft, one of a sea of handhelds straining against the distance and stagelight, to record. This is one of my all-time favourite songs (and is also Slash’s favourite song to play live), and I’m peering through the 2.5-inch screen on my second-hand Canon instead of watching the man play it on the giant stage in front of me.

As the show goes on, I grab my companion and we push our way up to the third or fourth row, about 15 feet from the top hat. My camera is again raised into a melee of iPhones, everyone trying to grab a piece of the moment for posterity and the network. I try to catch a video of "Starlight" for my brother, who was grappling with its chords over Christmas.

I take some more hazy action shots, shoulder splitting from trying to reach higher than the phones in front of me, and then it happens. The band kicks into the ominous pulsation of my favourite G n’ R song, a b-side ripper called "Rocket Queen" of which I thought Slash had lost custody in his and Axl’s musical divorce, and I reach for the camera again.

Then, it hits me. I am the one who came here, and that no video will ever recreate this moment for me, or anyone else.  I don’t want to capture this moment; I want to live it. I scream until my teeth hurt. I pound my cane off of the hard concrete floor. I levitate as the coda kicks in, lost in the transcendent passion that only the live experience can give. This, this is why we came, and why recordings will never replace a virtuosos’ concert, no matter what the medium.

We live in a sharing world, and as an ex-pat adventurer, I’m happy for it. My grandfather McDonald would go to sea for years at a stretch, with nary a word from those he left behind. I’m glad to know when my friends are getting married, but pics don’t put me at the wedding. I’ll continue to take and share pictures, but some moments are just for me.