Muse uses a video screen the size of a big rig. The Killers use pyrotechnics. Weezer has the letter “W” adorned with thousands of lights. Why? Because you’re sitting 100 yards away and they need to do everything they can to capture your attention.
But that band playing at the bar? Only about an arms length away. Special effects? Maybe a fog machine they picked up from Spencer’s, if that. More likely it’ll be nothing.
Rock concerts at festivals and arenas are great. Hearing thousands of people singing “Say It Ain’t So” is an experience. But seeing a band you’ve barely heard (aside from a few songs on MySpace), oftentimes for free, and a cheap drink in hand is a great experience. Seeing the guitarist step on the petals and change frets. Feeling the vibration from the drums rather than a subwoofer. Even the (romanticised) notion that they’re playing the music not for money (because they aren’t getting much, if any) but because they want to to get their music out there. Go out and see Young Love at your campus bar. Or catch Finding Fiction at the bar with the $2.50 beers. With some minor research (like the excellent sddialedin for San Diego) it’s never hard to find a free show and a good band on any day of the week.