The look of someone going to a gig.
IMAGE: HUGO BARRA/TWITTER
When Australian artist Vance Joy performed at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday, there wasn't a smartphone in sight.
It wasn't quite physically possible for audience members using Facebook's Oculus Venues, a live VR concert experience that saw its debut run worldwide at 7:30 p.m. PST.
Announced in October last year, Oculus Venues, now available for Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR, is a new feature that allows you to watch live events with your friends in VR. To kick things off, Facebook offered up a free concert by Australian artist Vance Joy broadcast live from the iconic Red Rocks venue on May 30.
IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
Importantly, this isn't a pre-recorded live set — it's not like watching a DVD of LCD Soundsystem's Shut Up and Play The Hits concert over and over. It's a genuine live concert, with a physical audience too, that just happens to be somewhere other than where you're standing (or sitting). And look, it's not the first VR concert — they've been around for years — but it's a first for Oculus and Facebook.
How do you get in the door? First, you have to set up your Oculus account by downloading the iOS or Android app, then connect your Oculus Go or Gear VR headset. You can open up Venues within the app to connect to the live event. Alright, the show's starting.
It's show time
Once you're in, you'll take your seat in a very, very clean virtual stadium, looking out to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It's devoid of your usual scattered empty plastic beer cups and garish advertising (for now). And there's someone on the seat next to you — a real person, with an avatar.
While you're not in control of the camera itself, which jumps from backstage to front row throughout the event, you can toggle between viewing modes, whether solo or social. Social sharing mode is an interesting one, as it's an attempt to capture the magic of meeting new people at live events — you can connect with other attendees. You could sit in your own virtual solo box, but it genuinely, and weirdly, feels anti-social.
Like a real gig situation, in your seat, you'll naturally have a bit of a chat with your neighbours (or you can move away). Inevitably, I'm dropped next to two Australians, because if anyone knows anything about live music around the world you'll always be sitting next to an Australian. In your headset, you can hear people asking each other where they're streaming from, what they do, joking about beer prices, knowing the same people in Salt Lake City. If you share an interest connected to your Facebook profile, it'll pop up on screen.
Remember, these are real people. Offensive or inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated on the platform at all. Before you enter the arena, you're greeted with a code of conduct alert, which, quite frankly, I could recommend everyone reading before they go into an actual concert. The alert tells you not to harass anyone, use offensive language or just generally display anti-social behaviour.
In fact, you could just click on someone's avatar if they start mouthing off, report them and Facebook will look into it. You can add people as an Oculus Friend, block, report or mute or turn chat volume down during the concert. If someone could please make this feature for real life gigs that would be nice appreciate it. This is honestly the best bit so far. There are no drunk crowd neighbours ruining the vibe or threatening you with potential sexual harassment.
The actual concert is, for want of a better word, fine. Vance Joy is a great, highly talented artist, I'm not a mega fan, so the excitement was lost on me there. We had a few teething problems with the broadcast connection, and the picture was a little pixelated, but the sound was quite clear — and you can turn up the music volume, mute people, and turn down the crowd chat volume in another can-we-please-have-this-for-real-life function.
What about singing along? You can physically see if someone is singing from a little circle in front of their avatar's mouth — and you can hear them. It's frankly adorable and genuine.
The absolute best part of this experience? Not one audience member has a smartphone in front of their (and your) face, recording a whole song or taking 14 images of the same moment — they physically can't with their headsets on. Everyone is either talking to each other or watching the music. Remember those days?
There are some solid advantages of watching live music from home, too. You can buy your own beer, keep it in your fridge and grab it at will without visiting a lengthy bar queue. Your bathroom facilities are as clean as you have personally made them. The commute home? Non-existent. And if you've stood in a rammed bus line after a Britney Spears concert with thousands of disgruntled, tired fans doing their best 'Toxic' impression my goodness that's a plus.
But what's missing?
Ok, so what's missing from this picture? Reality. Atmosphere. Human connection. Overwhelming, intoxicating sound. Standing side by side with your best mates. Cool outdoor concert air. Human arms around you while you screaming that song you've been waiting to hear. Seeing your hero with your own eyes, sweat dripping from their brow as they start a stadium wide chant of something or other.
Weirdly, I found myself yearning for the strain of standing behind an unfathomable tall dude for four hours waiting for the headliner, that unmistakeable feeling of hearing your favourite song start just as you're about to pee, and the cold, wet realisation that someone just poured their beer down your back. Why the hell did I miss these things?
It's not the only type of live event Venues will allow people to watch from their own couch, with live broadcasts planned for sports like NBA and MLB, comedy, movies with SHOWTIME and Lionsgate, and other events. Facebook's apparently working on a pricing model too — Vance Joy's concert was free, but sponsored by AEG Presents. It'll also be interesting to see if people actually get together to watch these in the same room, or find some sort of solace in their own living rooms.
But when you're having that "What's the best concert you've ever been to?" conversation in a loud, crowded pub, will anyone pick a VR concert?