CYBERSPACE - On computer screens around the globe last night, the color images of hard-rocking band members came skipping along just a few beats behind "real time."
The computerized music had the quality of an expensive speaker phone, without the static.
But for folk logged onto the Internet as close as the University of Washington and as far away as Australia, the concert billed as the world's first live Internet performance was a truly interactive experience.
"I think it would be hard for the band to keep up without an audience," one misinformed person typed on a computer message board broadcast alongside the video image.
Technical staff members at the Bellevue concert site typed back that, indeed, on the cleared-out third floor of an otherwise nondescript corporate building, a small audience had gathered to rock out with Seattle-based Sky Cries Mary and witness the technological funneling that took live alternative rock from a makeshift stage to a computer screen halfway around the world.
Soon, a newly informed message followed from somewhere out there: "We want to see the audience."
Word was passed to the television crew and cameras started panning the small crowd.
The exchange was at the heart of the interactive broadcast.
"This is the rock and roll equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell saying, `Watson, come here, I need you,' " said Patrick Naughton, an executive at Starwave, the company that hosted and helped execute the performance.
But for those involved in the experiment, it was the first step to what some predict may become a common way to see concerts via the Internet - as they happen, for free.
Sky Cries Mary rocked through a full set of the tunes that have made them one of the nation's hottest alternative bands. But many in the small crowd focused on two computer screens where technicians monitored the live Internet broadcast.
The show was recorded by video cameras. But when it would have been shipped to a satellite for, say, an MTV broadcast, it was transferred to computer and sent out over the Net.
The amount of data sent requires so much space that only computers with access to a special Internet connection - the "mbone" - were able to pick up the concert. Although most individual computers didn't have capacity to access the show, many universities did.
It's impossible to tell how many people plugged into the show - most likely at college computer centers and libraries. Folk from Texas, New Jersey, Europe and New Zealand logged on.
The band was clearly blown away by being the first group to hit the Net. (The Rolling Stones are rumored to be doing a broadcast Nov. 18.)
"I felt like I was going to everyone, like there were no boundaries," said singer Roderick Romero, 28, who pondered where this may one day lead.
He imagined a day of instant song releases and cross-global concerts with other bands.
"It would be cool to go up on the space shuttle and just jam."