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Ticket auctions

This is old news, but recently Ticketmaster announced they would sell some concert tickets via auction, thus delighting efficiency-loving economists everywhere, as the Freakonomics writers detail. I have to admit, the idea made sense to me too, when I first heard of it. Ticket prices have obviously gone up precipitously (roughly 9% a year since 1996) and some (like "rockonomist" Alan Krueger) have blamed file-sharing, though I agree with Tony Vallencourt that this is just an alibi, that prices were raised simply because the market could bear it. I'm sure in the old days, bands had an incentive in keeping prices low so they could build an audience (a.k.a. paying your dues, being a "hard-working" "blue-collar" band in the mold of April Wine or Kansas). But that is a relic of a time when local scenes were relevant, and entertainment choices were few. What bands need to build audience that way anymore, when the preferred method is Internet self-promotion? And the hallmark of Internet culture seems to be immediate viral fame that spreads quick and then extinguishes itself. And the popularity of American Idol–like shows may have undermined the notion that hard work and perseverence is required -- what is required, really, is winning a contest.

Maybe low ticket prices are loss leaders of a sort, designed to facilitate the sale of T-shirts and booze at the venue. Levitt writes, "Concert promoters like full venues. Big crowds buy more CDs and T-shirts, and maybe they also make the concert experience more enjoyable. So historically, tickets in general were priced too low to ensure a sell-out crowd, and the best seats were particularly underpriced." He theorizes that underpriced seats allow poor but rabid fans to invest the time in waiting out for hours for tickets to go on sale and there by get up front and energize the band with their fervor. With that system dismantled, shows will be underwhelming, as the front rows will be populated with the luxury-box crowd, those for whom having the power to get the ticket at all means much more than actually attending. The band, confronted with these scenesters will be too disconsolate to perform. That all seems a bit far-fetched, but I don't doubt that there are plenty who are more interested in their own prestige than any performer. (The rest of the crowd at arena shows are probably, at root, looking for an excuse to get high and get out of the house.) You see these people in the cordoned off areas of Bowery Ballroom and Irving Plaza, the backstage and press pass types who are excited by access, not by music. The Ticketmaster auctions let more people play this game of maneuvering, brokering and leveraging for position and measuring their accomplishment by the ticket (a positional good if there ever was one) and not by the experience it gives them entry to, which is sort of an afterthought.

It seems to me one may as well enjoy the competitive thrill of the ticket hunt. I already wonder if it's even possible to enjoy music at rock concerts; if I'm not annoyed by the crowd (I look around thinking, I'm one of these people? I feel like such a tourist) then I'm bothered by the bad acoustics of the venue or the impossible sight lines or the fact that the band is incapable of any improvisation and are basically replicating the record. Then I get tired of standing around and start wondering when it will end. Better to see unknowns in bars -- I can usually sit and drink even if I can't carry on a conversation, and it's typically intimate enough to allow me to pay attention, possibly be inspired to make music of my own.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


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Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

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Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

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7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

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