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Noise Pollution is now a Podcast! I've teamed up with Julian Ricardo (lead singer, Strangeways) for a weekly podcast where we discuss all things music. We talk, we laugh, we disagree a lot. Subscribe to never miss an episode!



I'm a music photographer living in Los Angeles. Here is where you can read about my experiences as a concert photographer, songs and albums I especailly like, my thoughts about the latest music news, and other things that relate to music and/or photography. Enjoy!

By Sarah McLean, Mar 17 2016 07:00AM

The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (c) 2002
The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (c) 2002

Last night, or, more accurately earlier this morning, I saw Bruce Springsteen close down the LA Sports Arena with an epic concert where he and the E Street Band played double album The River in its entirety.

This is, surprisingly, only the second time I’ve seen him live. If only because his shows last 13 years, not the 3 plus hours you’ve been lead to believe.

Instead of talking about how great he is live, and how energetic his shows are and how when he asks for the fifth time “Are you still with me?!” and you respond, “No, I’m tired and want to go to bed!” and blah blah blah, I want to recount the first time I saw him.

Picture it. Summer 2003. The Rising had just been released the previous summer. I traveled from Portland, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts with a group of friends. We had 4 tickets for front row seats.

Putting it less dramatically and more realistically:

What should have been a 2 hour drive took over 3 hours due to heavy traffic, we arrived shortly before show time only to find that the ticket I was lucky enough to be holding (not any of the tickets my friends were currently in possession of, all of which I had purchased) was for a seat in the upper level that seemingly did not exist in the worst New England fog I’d experienced in a long time.

(editor’s note: we did know beforehand our seats were upper level and not “front row”, but, ya know, front row in the upper level)

So for 30 minutes I sat on a cold, slightly damp step, barely able to see the stage, while the group next us to refused to slide down the one empty seat so I could sit in an actual chair.

To clarify. They refused to even consider that, maybe, just MAYBE, the seat numbers on the tickets MIGHT be one number off, on a account of human error, and that this EMPTY seat to their right MIGHT actually be a seat for an ACTUAL ticket holder, and that this person who just so happens to be sitting on a concrete stadium step, MIGHT rightfully belong in that empty seat.

Withstanding traffic, nosebleed seats, incorrectly numbered seats, dense fog. Ah, the things we endure for The Boss.

And with all due respect to The Boss, this memory is the one that stands out the most. The fact that someone could not have cared less, been less concerned about other people, or even acknowledge a clearly evident mishap to move down one seat. Especially when every other seat in the surrounding area was occupied.

On second thought, I misspoke. My second prominent memory from that evening is, from my stadium seating of course, constantly thinking that the drunk cougar dancing on the other side of the aisle was going to fall over the rather low-for-an-upper-level railing and plummet to her death.

I feel like Bruce put on a good show. That’s at least what I tend to hear about his shows anyway.

By Sarah McLean, Mar 9 2016 07:00PM

I recently experienced a first when it comes to concerts. Being a rock ’n’ roll fan, it took me a solid hour into “I Love the 90s” before I realized, “This is the first concert I’ve ever been to where there isn’t a live guitar.”

A majority of the acts were hip-hop artists (Tone Loc, Young MC, Rob Base, Kid 'n Play) as well as singing groups (Color Me Badd, All 4 One). All of them sang live to backing tracks. Even Vanilla Ice, the closing act, who did have 2 live musicians, only utilized a keyboardist and a drummer.

What was happening to my rock n roll world?!

Sometimes you just gotta stretch outside your comfort zone. And I do loves me some Color Me Badd.

The whole night was a fun throw back to old-school hip hop and to the “Yo! MTV Raps” days, that even after I made the realization, I was quickly lost again in the music. I hear the Funky Cold Medina will do that to you.

And say what you will about packaged nostalgia shows, but I think it says a lot about an artist’s ability to hold an audience’s attention that it took me so long before I caught on to the lack of a live band. Or I’m just an idiot. Or Rob Base really does know how to hype the audience into a frenzy.

When I attend packaged shows like this, I often put myself in the artists shoes. We’d all love to be headlining major concert venues around the world forever, but the music business is so fickle that your super stardom usually only lasts a couple years. Unless you’re one of the lucky few. So then what do you do after the glitter fades?

This is where the love of performing comes in. Or the need (attempt) to maintain a certain lifestyle. Or the need to hold on to the past. Or… fill in the blank.

There are some artists that consider themselves too good to be part of these shows, let alone be billed second or third (or lower). I always admire those artists who recognize where they’re at and choose, either because they love doing what they do (my hope) or that they’re aware this is the only thing they know how to do in life, and keep going.

It does come down to personal preference. And there’s validity in everyone’s choice to say “Fuck you, I’m not doing that bullshit” or “Sure. Hey, money’s money, right?” but I think that decision separates those who just love doing what they do from those that were chasing an empty sense of glory and didn't get as far as they assumed they would.

Case in point: I recently saw Lit open up a packaged show. They went on around 430pm in an outside venue. Daytime. Outside. The sun was still out. Hardly a ‘rock n roll’ atmosphere. They rocked the three-quarter’s full amphitheater like they were fucking headliners. They gave zero fucks. They were there to rock. And they did.

I’ve never considered myself a Lit fan and I’m not saying I am a fan now, but they certainly have my respect. And they have my respect more than the bands I do like that refuse to do these type of shows because they’re “above it”.

But, hey, respect don’t pay the bills.

By Sarah McLean, Feb 3 2016 07:00PM

Kelly Clarkson performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA in 2007
Kelly Clarkson performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA in 2007

Not to be too boastful, but this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken. It’s from Kelly Clarkson’s 2007 My December tour during her stop at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts. You might refer to it as the “Dramatically Scaled Back Due to Negative Press Regarding Her Current Album and Subsequent Feud with Record Label Head Clive Davis Tour”.

Well, her very temporary setback was our gain. I much prefer seeing concerts in smaller venues. The ambiance tends to be more electric, like we’re all in it together, and usually, there’s not a bad seat in the house. I love that the smaller stage brings her band closer together instead of the expansive stage she would be using had she performed at the TD Garden as originally planned. The simple set design allows you to focus on the music. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good light and video show, but I’m there for one reason: the music.

When shooting anything that is fleeting, capturing a great moment comes down to two things: skill and luck. Why skill played a part in capturing this moment, most of it was just luck. The reason I say that is because it wasn’t shot on a DSLR but a Sony Powershot. A simple point and shoot camera that doesn’t have a fast shutter speed or the ability to take multiple pictures in a split second. So while my skill set up the visual picture, it was luck that captured it the way it did.

I always love capturing a moment as is, warts and all, as an honest and true reflection of what was experienced and how it was experienced. I think this photo does just that; from the musicians on stage to the fans in the audience. And yeah, the lighting helps too. (See, never discount a good lighting design to augment your concert photographs.)

The one thing that might make it better, to me, is if Kelly Clarkson’s head was in line with the light behind her, in essence creating a halo effect around her head. However, I do like the fact that, as is, it washes out her face. Instead of the photo saying, “Look at this great singer and her backing band!”, it simply says, “Watch this amazing group of musicians working together as one.” And having seen her perform many times, I think that’s an accurate representation of her shows. So, once again, hooray for luck!

Thank you for letting me taking a moment to indulge and congratulate myself. I’ll make sure not to let it happen too often.

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