Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Direction at the Garden


Last night, I took my two daughters to see One Direction at Madison Square Garden.  It was a quite an experience.  Although I am by now well-acquainted with the music of One Direction (currently on constant rotation at my house), I was unprepared for the raw energy of the crowd, which easily had the most lopsided female-to-male ratio of any concert I have ever attended.  Once I got used to the noise, I found the passion that the audience brought to the show infectious.  Indeed, the affection for the band was so intense that it felt a little like the audience willed One Direction into existence rather than vice versa.

As for the show itself, I found much to admire about the performance.  It certainly was an enormous contrast to the first concert I went to as a kid, when my parents took me to see the New Barbarians at the Capital Center in 1979.  Both the New Barbarians and the Capital Center are long gone -- and with good reason.  The Capital Center was a charmless concrete arena in the middle of nowhere in suburban Maryland.  The New Barbarians were a "super group" formed by Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.  In the run up to the concert, rumors swirled that Mick Jagger would make a surprise appearance (no such luck) and that this tour might be the last chance to see Keith Richards on stage (a forecast that seems laughable today after four additional decades of Rolling Stones concerts).  My dominant memories of the show are of the haze of smoke (one part cigarette to four parts marijuana) that enveloped the upper tier where we sat and of a performance that could most charitably be described as loose and unconcerned with popular opinion (a glance at the set list reveals that the New Barbarians played only a handful of the Stones' hits that everyone had come to hear).

I don't think anyone will ever accuse a One Direction performance of being loose or unconcerned with public sentiment.  And, thanks to Michael Bloomberg, there was mercifully no smoke whatsoever at Madison Square Garden last night.

Over a tight 90 minutes or so, One Direction played all of their big hits.  They never departed from the recorded arrangements.  The only moments that felt improvisational occurred when they paused to answer questions posed (via Twitter) by members of the audience.  Interestingly, this segment of the show was my daughters' favorite.

I think my younger self, obsessed with things like indie credibility, might have found the One Direction experience bloodless.  But last night I found myself admiring the group's poise and discipline.  One Direction clearly understand their strengths and are rigorous about sticking to them.  So the show featured no extended bongo solos or embarrassing efforts to rap.  And while the show felt well-rehearsed, it never seemed overly choreographed.  When the guys did interact with one another -- for example, performing a group hug at the end of the show -- it sparked legitimate delight amongst the crowd.

Viewed through the lens of a non-profit manager, the One Direction concert offered numerous lessons, primarily about brand management.  One of the Center for Court Innovation's goals is to develop a reputation for independence and non-partisanship.  In the real world, this is sometimes challenging, since our work requires us to interact with elected officials regularly.  (Indeed, while I was at the One Direction concert last night, the Citizens Crime Commission held a fundraiser featuring several of the current candidates  for New York City mayor, at least one of which publicly endorsed community courts and bemoaned the fact that the City did not have more of them.)  

Functionally, our desire to protect our non-partisan image means that we have to say no to many tempting opportunities.  In fact, just this week, we declined to sign on to an effort to influence educational policy in New York City.  At the risk of forcing an analogy, my analysis was that this advocacy effort was the equivalent of a bongo solo. There's a place in this world for bongo solos, just not at a One Direction concert.