Pop Culture

Live show at home

Live streaming has allowed one to watch concerts live without having to travel and even pay

Singer Damon Albarn (above) of Blur performing live in Hong Kong on July 22.
Singer Damon Albarn (above) of Blur performing live in Hong Kong on July 22. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED FRANCE-PRESSE

Irish rockers U2 have done it. Veteran singer-songwriter Paul McCartney has done it. And now British act Blur have hopped on the bandwagon as well.

They have all had their concerts streamed live, reaching out to audiences beyond the solid walls of their performance venues.

U2 played to a crowd of close to 100,000 at the Rose Bowl stop of their 360° tour in California in October 2009. They reached almost 10 million more through the free webcast via YouTube. McCartney's performance at Hollywood's Capitol Studios was live streamed to iTunes and Apple TV in February 2012 to celebrate his 15th studio album, Kisses On The Bottom (2012).

On a more modest scale, Blur's concert at Hong Kong's Convention and Exhibition Centre last Wednesday was broadcast over the Taiwanese streaming service KKBOX. It was an exclusive event available to members in six territories - Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Towards the end of the show, more than 4,500 fans were watching it live on the platform.

While there is much to be said for live streaming, it is not quite, to steal a phrase from U2, even better than the real thing.

But first, the pluses. The biggest one of them is easily this: Without the live streaming, I would not have been able to catch Blur in Hong Kong as it happened. And this was not just any concert by the feted band, but one featuring the complete line-up of singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree.

Coxon had left the band in the early stages of the making of Think Tank (2003) and it was not until 2009 that Blur performed as a quartet again. Best of all, they were back on form with their new album, The Magic Whip (2015), which had its genesis in an unscheduled, extended stopover in Hong Kong in 2013.

I have been a fan since their heady Britpop days when they made excellent albums such as Parklife (1994) and The Great Escape (1995). Their awesome concert in Philadelphia, where I was studying in 1997, as they toured on the back of their game-changing, self-titled album, Blur (1997), is one of my favourite gigs of all time.

So it was great to have the chance to see them again, performing new material alongside familiar favourites. And I did not have to take a flight or fork out money for a ticket. While the stream was only for KKBOX subscribers, one could easily sign up for a free one-day trial just to watch Blur in action.

What KKBOX gets out of the exercise is greater exposure for its service and it might even gain some new subscribers.

No doubt, there are the conveniences of having a concert right in your home.

It was supposed to start at 8pm, but of course, they never start on the dot. No biggie. I strolled over to the kitchen and snacked on some oranges, called a restaurant to make a reservation and checked in on my laptop screen once in a while.

Unfortunately, I was a little too laidback and should have reloaded the app more often. I ended up missing the start of the show. The thing about this live stream is that you cannot return to an earlier point. What unfolded on screen mirrored what was happening on stage and, if you blinked and missed a moment, that was that.

A live stream means the show has to be filmed and then transmitted. Often, this meant that you got to see a perspective that you normally would not get to enjoy as a member of the audience. One could see the band members up close, right down to Albarn's glinting gold-capped front tooth. The trade-off is that you do not get to choose where your gaze lingers as the cameraman makes that decision.

Where you get to exercise control is in other areas. You can adjust the volume to whatever level floats your boat (some concerts can get uncomfortably loud), but hopefully, does not rock the boat with your neighbour.

You can sing along, or not, and bounce along like a pogo stick, or not. It is probably easier to belt it out than to bounce up and down like an Energiser bunny home alone but hey, no one is watching or judging you for blocking the view.

Also, toilet breaks are a cinch as you do not have to clamber over annoyed concertgoers in a darkened hall. So yes, score one, or three, for technology.

But since live streaming is a technology, it also means that things can go wrong. The feed for Blur's Hong Kong gig was slightly laggy occasionally - probably due to my broadband connection speed - but at least there were no major hiccups.

Still, live streaming cannot be a complete substitute for being right in the thick of a concert, inconveniences and all. Sure, you could communicate with other viewers via a message box right next to the stream of the gig, but none of the messages were particularly memorable and nothing beats the electric feeling of communion with a band together with fellow fans in the same physical space.

In cases where it is too expensive or just plain out of reach, a live stream is a great alternative. But if time, distance and money were no obstacles, I would have been at Blur's Hong Kong show in a heartbeat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Live show at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe