Has Web 2.0 killed the Dead?

Guest Post from Ted Birkhahn

May 1 - Dead The past Saturday night, the Dead (formerly known as the Grateful Dead) rolled into the Big Apple to play Madison Square Garden – sans Jerry Garcia, of course. For those of you who have a passion for the band and their music, the Garden is arguably the best venue to experience a show. Great things tend to happen at MSG and, as Jerry Garcia used to say, "the place is juiced." 

One of the greatest parts of any Dead show is its spontaneity. There is nothing like a live performance featuring the Grateful Dead. No two shows are alike – despite playing nearly 3,000 live concerts over more than 40 years – prompting much anticipation among fans who dream of hearing set lists that will "steal your face right off your head." Their spontaneity and ability to improvise on stage is what the Dead built their brand on over the course of 40 years. It's what prompted so many fans to fall in love with not just the music but the whole experience, compelling them to come back night after night. 

So there I was on Saturday night at MSG, with a flood of memories from past Garden shows racing through my mind, when the unthinkable happened. About midway through the first set, a friend of mine – who was busy checking his Blackberry – leaned over and fed me the next song before one first chord was played. Impressive. Then he did the same for the next song. Weird. 

What gives? Given the amount of songs in the band's repertoire, there's simply no way he could have guessed right two times in a row. He didn't. Someone who had access to the set list that the band picked before going on stage was Twittering it during the show. Those who were following this person's tweets – like my friend – knew the songs before they were ever played. For non-Dead fans, this may not be a huge deal, but for me it was complete heresy. In one fell swoop, Web 2.0 practically wiped out one of the greatest assets and differentiators the band has to offer. It violated the sanctity that the band shares with its fans.

I believe Twitter to be a powerful medium that has only scratched the surface in enabling people to communicate in new and meaningful ways. But it can be misused and mistreated to the detriment of certain brands and endeavors. We've already started hearing rumblings from Tweeter nation about the misuse or overzealousness of corporations trying to Tweet their way into people's hearts and minds. Further, like any online medium, there's a plethora of meaningless content that clutters the Twitter landscape. Then, on Saturday night, this venerable rising star of Web 2.0 upstaged the Grateful Dead in what could be their final performance at the Garden.

As for the rest of the tour, I don’t have tickets for any other shows. But no worries, I will be getting the set lists via Twitter and streaming the shows via any number of Web sites. With this type of access, who needs a live show? 

13 thoughts on “Has Web 2.0 killed the Dead?

  1. happycat, thanks for the response. I sure hope the “pre-tweeting” stops. I see nothing wrong with tweeting songs from the show as you hear it. It’s the tweet before a chord is even played that prompted me to write this blog. Enjoy the rest of the tour…

  2. Thank you for writing on this.
    I am one of the people Twittering and Blogging The Dead’s Spring tour @deadheads and @deadheadland . I had been posting from home the first 7 shows, but most nights I had a real “reporter” at the show giving me texts, and then I tweet them to my “followers” – many people who are not at the show and are following online, on their phones, and on facebook, etc. Seems there are a handful of us doing this, and really, it is a service. The deadheads want to know! Maybe even need too…
    I was at the shows last weekend, had seen a setlist on Friday in Nassau, but didn’t tweet anything until they started playing. Good thing too, they are varying from the written list. (ok, I admit I was about 30 seconds early on Alabama)
    Saturday it got out of hand, and a couple people leaked the setlist WAY early. I was at MSG, and tweeting the songs to my people as I heard them, and I had not seen the list. But I was VERY aware of the tweets coming in early. One tweeter specifically was posting song titles sometimes a full jam and verse before the previous song was done. This does “spoil” the fun of hearing them weave a jam into a song. Many people also thought this was an “official” tweet from the band. Don’t be fooled so easily by a name and a link!
    Well a few people spoke up about it in the Twitterverse, and a few linked to your blog here today. Seems there is some awareness raised, and no one is pre-tweeting songs anymore as far as I could tell – back to “name that tune” as one tweeter called it.
    Those deadicated heads in the twitterverse and bloggosphere are posting because they love this music and these musicians, and we are sharing the love with so many more…
    don’t tell me this ‘net don’t have no heart, you just got to poke around!

  3. I think real-time tweeting from concerts is an amazing concept. I was at a couple of the recent Dead shows and would check the twitter feeds during the show to get other peoples’ real-time opinions. It was funny to see people commenting on a song while it was happening. Instead of just commenting to the person beside me I could now ‘talk’ with everyone in the arena.
    Unable to visit Hampton, VA last month, I spent one entire weekend constantly checking the twitter-sphere to see what songs Phish were playing (in real-time) at their reunion shows. People were also posting live pictures to twitpic in real-time. It was an amazing experience– and I wasn’t even at the show.
    Twitter has become an amazing new dimension to ALL live events.

  4. I don’t think Twitter would have killed the Grateful Dead back in it’s day. Deadheads still communicated but it was via the phone, letters and ads. The real issue here is choice. You can choose to watch the feed of the person that spoils the live moment by posting the setlist before the song is played.
    I’ve tweeted an Allman Brothers show and it’s an interesting way to share with those that can’t be there with you. I am amazed at the amount of Dead chatter on Twitter since the tour started. It’s a great way to share in the experience!

  5. I have been following all the shows from abroad and missing them terribly. The people twittering their experiences have been able to bring me closer to a place that I’m feeling pretty far from.
    I saw tweets that night from MSG and I too felt as if I didn’t want to see them…I wanted updates in real time instead. So…I just stopped following that person. If some people want to know what the Dead will be playing any given night, they are free to look..if not, people can look away.
    I remember a show in the late 80s (Worcester, I think) when someone I was with caught a peek of the GD setlist. It was the rarest moment, of course, and the absence of the Internet prevented the rapid spread of that news. After the initial excitement wore off, I realized that I HATED knowing what would come next from Garcia’s guitar. The MSG tweet reminded me of this experience.
    For me…I’d rather ignore it but I don’t believe it represents 2.0 killing the Dead. It’s just one more change we’ll need to manage in the way we consume information.
    Damn do I ever miss this music…

  6. um, just turn your phone off when in a show. thats what i do. just because twitter is out there, it doesn’t mean you have to look.

  7. So, you “can tell me that this internet ain’t got no heart.”

  8. Dead-icated: You hit the nail on the head. This is a case where technology interferes with rather than enhances the experience.

  9. Heresy indeed! But, it’s really just a modern day equivalent to someone perhaps having snatched a setlist (if they had even used them) back in 1983 – Good Lord! What if we KNEW they were going to bring St. Stephen back!!
    While I used to be sure that the digital age itself killed the Dead trading community, and in fact started the Grateful Dead Listening Guide because of it, I’ve come to see the entire Dead thing as finding its own path into the digital age. It might be changed, but it isn’t going anywhere.
    We can’t kill the Dead. 🙂

  10. I agree with much of what you wrote although I have never been convinced (since I started going to shows) that the dead were totally winging it every night. It makes sense that they’d have a setlist for these shows, otherwise at least 2 of the guys (warren and the keyboardist (and Branford)) would not be privy to the supposed “musical ESP” that the others have from playing together so long and would probably have no idea what to play.
    I was remarking to someone that it’s funny to see after every song people whipping out the blackberrys and phones to check email, text messages, twitter feeds. We’re all so busy trying to document and share “the moment” that we miss the moment.
    I’m still trying to figure out what twitter is really good for, if anything at all. If you haven’t seen this video of “Real Life Twitter” from College Humor—watch it—its amazing.

  11. good question. the viral aspect – being able to get the word out – would be appealing to the fan base of yesteryear (and today), but that would call for being a productive member of society and being able to pay your cell phones and internet bills on time. from what I know, much of the fan base of that day and age had a tough time making ends meet.

  12. I wonder if the Grateful Dead – and other bands like them – would have become what they are if Twitter were around in the late 1960s/early 1970s? Would Twitter have prevented them from building such a massive following around their live performances or would it have helped grow their fan base?

  13. great post, Ted. i was on facebook the other night and noticed a friend of mine constantly tweeting about what songs the Boss was playing here in Philly. It made me wonder what happened to actually enjoying live music!?! like your friend, mine was constantly online and typing away on the crackberry instead of enjoying the artist, the band and its music along with the crowd he paid big money to be a part of and see firsthand.
    this is just another sign of changing times and boy, have they changed since the days of the warlocks. shortly after Jerry’s death in 95, the band did something very out-of-character and made deal with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for Cherry Garcia – all while receiving royalties. I’m thinking: for what? for who? would Jerry himself approve?
    makes me wonder what it will be like to see a Phish show in about 15 years or so…