Last week I took advantage of being a mere 3 hour drive from Victoria (as opposed to the 5 or so hours it takes to get into Vancouver with all the ferry and transit I take from here) and went to see Welcome to Night Vale. I took most of the afternoon off work and then managed to miss Victoria’s traffic, saw a performance of a live version of a radio show and then drove home.
The show was about a librarian who had escaped from the steel and plexiglas cages in the newly renovated Night Vale library to terrorize the town (if you’re unfamiliar with WtNV, it’s a podcast done as a community radio show about a weird dark little desert city where a 5-Headed Dragon is running for mayor against the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home). The show was fine, but I kind of hated listening to it with so many people.
For me radio is a very personal medium. You’re letting someone talk to you directly and you build up a kind of weird rapport with this voice you never get to talk back to. Or at least in my ideal world you don’t. I have learned that I hate call-in radio programs because it breaks the fourth wall so hard. This live show felt a little bit similar to that.
I mean, it was a good episode, but it also felt like it was constructed to do a big chunk of fan-service, and the constant needing to pause for applause removed me from the experience.
At its best I see radio as the most lonely medium, this voice just bouncing out into the world hoping it finds a listener somewhere. When a small concert hall is filled with people cheering and awwing (at things I totally cheered and awwed at in my head) it feels weird. And yeah, maybe this is just me pulling a “Nothing is any good if other people like it” kind of thing, so obviously I’m ignorable on this.
But it wasn’t just this show. The most recent episodes of the podcast were two parts of a live show, and it didn’t have the same rhythm of a regular show. It’s funny, because in music I tend to like live versions of songs and their differences from the studio versions, but with this, maybe it’s because it’s words, or maybe just because the words don’t overpower the audience reaction the way an amped up concert does it felt different. I guess I just wanted the audience to listen in rapt attention, without trying to insert our reactions into the show.
That said, the musical guest, Eliza Rickman, was great and we all listened so closely and carefully. She played a toy piano and an autoharp and sang a version of Moon River in which she used two violin bows to pay a glockenspiel, which is second only to Kid Koala’s version of Moon River in my covers pantheon.
I’m glad I went. It’s always good for me to get out of this town and do something I actually like. If you get the chance to listen to Welcome to Night Vale you should (there are 50 episodes so you can fill a good number of summer road trips with it).