Through reading interviews with musicians I have come to a conclusion that a key component for a live performance to go well is the audience. This large collective body plays an integral piece to the performance and for those brief few hours is a an additional band member, a proverbial ‘hype machine’ if you will that drives the performers to new heights. If you have been to enough live shows you know which shows had the crowd going out of control (for better or for worse) and ones that had everyone standing awkwardly still as the band desperately tried to connect with the disillusioned mass of bodies.
It must certainly be frustrating to figure out this dynamic as what works and what does not surely must vary from state-to-state, country-to-country, and from small clubs to big arenas. Likely your bourbon fueled rant about the government may work in Nasvhille, but in Germany they may stare at you with utter disbelief and confusion. Intimate renditions of b-sides may win over a small club, but try that at a big festival and you will be left with a gaggle of upset half-drunk bros checking their tinder profiles instead of actually listening to the music.
With all this said, as much as it must frustrate a band to figure out the key to connecting with their audience, as a member of the audience it is equally as annoying to deal with that audience. This is a growing trend for me as I age out of the period of my life where I enjoyed being stuck in the tumble-dryer that is front and center of the stage. Perhaps its my love for having my personal bubble, but having a bunch of sweaty hairy bodies collide into mine is about as fun to me as brain surgery without anesthesia. Call me a grouch if you will, but there is much to be said about giving a small fuck about the people next to you instead of disregarding them and just acting like a total asshole because you’re just “feeling the music man”.
This kind of jackassery is often left unchecked too, because there is no “audience police” and there shouldn’t be one, but people rarely feel the need to object to terrible people being terrible in those moments. Funny enough, the only time I can recall swift justice against this kind of insufferable behavior was at at Melt-Banana show, where some punk 17 year old who kept insisting on starting a mosh-pit no one asked for was literally dragged out by his shirt collar by the owner of the venue. His repeated efforts to sneak back in were treated with a similar response by the now annoyed audience.
Does this mean there is no room for heavy handed pushing and shoving in response to aggressive music? Personally, I hate that kind of behavior, as it is rarely an original or appropriate reaction to what is happening on stage. Attending a The Mars Volta show had me smashed, shoved, and treated with complete disregard by nearly everyone else around me. What is the fun in this? How can one actually enjoy the music if you are in constant state of trying to ensure you do not fall over? Hell, I barely remember anything from that concert up until I decided to slink back to the guardrail, mostly safe from the calamity before me. Maybe I am missing something, but what is the fun in treating your body like a projectile, assuming everyone else will make sure you do not get trampled? My fondest memories of one my earliest concerts (a 2006 show by Flogging Molly) are of the openers, where I wasn’t getting kicked in the back of the head by asshole crowd surfers or having to constantly secure my spot in the audience because someone who showed up late could not stand not being in the front of the audience. I now spend most of my shows in the back near the soundboard where I can dance freely, not get physically manhandled, and appreciate the sounds without fighting for survival.
At least, this was my perception until recently (yes yes I am aware of my incessant groveling) where a recent outing to see hip-hop icons Outkast was somewhat spoiled in a similar manner. Apparently assuming that getting seats out in the distant lawn would lead to a more relaxed experience was far from correct with consistent disrespect to my and my lady’s personal space and being constantly blinded because the girl in front of us was more interested in filming her friends recite the lyrics than actually…you know, watch the excellent performance that was unfolding. Whoever you are miss ‘have to have the flash on’ I hope your phone’s memory erased overnight.
Funny enough one of my fondest concert experiences was a little five song stint by Gary Numan at a yet to air JBTV recording where we did indeed have to follow rules to ensure safety and that the recording wouldn’t be disturbed. Now, as mentioned, I would never promote something so drastic in an actual venue since it is not necessarily appropriate for one to dictate how another expresses themselves during a concert, but that does not mean there are not take home lessons from that experience. I am aware I am a bit of a grouch when it comes to concert attendance. I believe phones should be put away for nearly the whole experience and talking kept to a minimum. You may read this thinking “so don’t go to concerts”, but I encourage you to think about your bold statement for a second. Think of how you have acted at concerts yourself. Were you one nursing the bumps on the back of your head due to low flying boots or were you treating yourself like a cannonball at the expense of those around you?
Is it really so much to ask to encourage other concert goers to think for a minute about those around them? In most aspects of life we don’t treat everyone else with complete disregard, but for some reason you put a musician on stage and all rules of decency vanish in a haze of marijuana smoke of Miller Lite foam. When did it happen that we decided there was no need to respect those around us and also have a good time? I hardly believe that either is exclusive, but it may require that we may turn our dial down a few notches when the music hits. No, I have no interest in catching you when you stage dive or carrying your helpless body all because you want to get closer to the stage. In fact, fuck you for assuming any of it, because those actions dictate just that, that you want me to take care of you, and I really don’t. It gave me no thrill to ensure my concert going companions didn’t get knocked over while seeing At the Drive-In simply because you do not know how to control yourself. Nothing makes me feel more uncomfortable than seeing someone who is barely over five feet look like a drowning child as they get smashed between a bunch large disrespectful individuals. It has turned the front and center of any slightly energetic concert into a Darwinian analogy. You know what the rule was at the JBTV event that made so much sense to me; short people in the front, tall people in the back. This was done mostly so the cameras could get the best shots possible, but in addition it ensured everyone could see the show and not worry about suffering an anxiety attack. Strange I know, but a welcome concept.
Even if concert going etiquette were to magically change overnight I still would likely enjoy most of my shows from the back, being able to find one of those few elusive tables, enjoy a drink if I so choose, and not be pressed against a few hundred other bodies. I still will attend shows regardless as to me it is much more enjoyable experience than just playing an album, but my true ability to appreciate those moments will continue to be soured by the constant flicker of cell-phones, people shouting at each other attempting to converse for no real good reason (because no one cares who followed you on Twitter), and human projectiles treating everyone else like their nanny. Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider what it means to respect others in all venues of life, and what our responsibility is as a concert goer.