Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Request a (Decent) Audience

I'll be watching the Grammys tonight and it has me thinking about performers and their audiences. Is it just me or has audience behavior gone down the tubes? The endless texting drives me nuts, but not nearly as much as when people use those same phones to film entire performances. At the Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts we went to last year (yes - I said concerts - we went to more than one) we stood behind people who experienced the Chili Peppers entirely through their phones. Watching anything on a phone is pretty much an exercise in frustration - so why would you want to watch a band on your phone when they're RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU? Like Life-Size and stuff?

I'm a nervous concert-goer simply because of the audience experience. The concert is only going to be as good as the asshat in front of you or behind you. I always fixate beforehand, wondering what my fellow audience members will be like - or at least the ones in my general vicinity - because they have the power to make it or break it for me.

Depending on the band - I'll expect to either sit or stand. People get very worked up over this particular issue - you have Staunch Sitters who paid good money for their tickets by golly (Staunch Sitters, in my experience, tend to say things like "by golly") and you have those who want to stand and dance no matter what - even if you're in a quaint acoustical setting. I've suffered through both scenarios - having been told to sit down repeatedly and having asked others to do so repeatedly.

With the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you're going to stand and dance. If you don't, the funk will build up to dangerous levels and you'll explode.

I know this is an old photo with John Frusciante instead of Josh Klinghoffer, but I'm still not at a point in my recovery where I am able to actually post a pic of Josh Klinghoffer.

At one of the Chili Peppers concerts, we were lucky enough to be on the floor, fairly close to the stage. I watched nervously as my fellow concert-goers arrived to take their seats around us. The people 2 rows in front of us? A squeaky clean family with young kids. GULP. The guys directly in front of us? Had their phones at the ready to record. DOUBLE GULP and I was already irritated. But the absolute worst was the couple behind us. He had that eager, crazed look of the First Date gleaming in his eyes - and she was overly made up, dressed for a cocktail party, and looking around for somebody better than the guy she'd walked in with.

The show started and everyone jumped to their feet THANK GOD. Mom and Dad put their kids on the chairs so they could see better, and both kids immediately covered their ears with their hands. "What a waste of good seats!" I yelled to Jeff. He agreed. The guys directly in front of us predictably began watching through their phones. I was in awe of their ability to stand so still and hold their arms up like that for so long. Idiots.

The couple behind us immediately began their first date chit-chat, which had to be executed through screaming, so lucky for us, we got to hear all of it. For the record - I was right - she wasn't into him at all. They didn't even remotely pay attention to the band and I wanted to turn around and yell at them that this was THE FLOOR and no place for amateurs, but that didn't seem to be the case. We were in Amateur Central down there, with the families and the phone-filmers and the corporate types. The only person I had an ounce of respect for was the girl across the aisle - she was old-school and never once gave up in her attempts to rush the stage. A Mean Security Guard Man thwarted her every effort, but she never gave up and you have to respect that, you really do.

The best audiences are the ones who love the performers they've come to see - but it's rare to end up in a devoted crowd of followers these days, even in small venues. We went to see Matisyahu at a tiny little theatre - tickets were ridiculously expensive. It was just Matisyahu, a stool, and his guitarist - should have been perfect.

I'm still embarrassed to see him without his beard - it's like he's naked. OH GOD I'M BLUSHING.

But the crowd was so-so. It was a fundraiser so a lot of the people there weren't really fans. For example, when he asked what he should perform for his closing number, the woman behind us (who had talked loudly through the entire performance) screamed out, "King Without a Crown!" triumphantly, to let everyone know she Actually Knew of a Song. Unfortunately (and as Matisyahu, himself, informed her) that had been the song he'd opened with. She either a) hadn't heard it for all of her own talking or b) had no idea what the song sounded like. Add to that a drunk guy in the balcony who yelled at oddly quiet and inappropriate times - and yeah - it could have been better.

The Jane's Addiction crowd was probably the best audience we encountered last year. That concert was also at a small venue - and I could tell immediately that it was going to be a good night.

As the audience poured in, I nodded approvingly. They were all dressed like total freaks - I had high hopes. The guys who sat down next to us wanted to get cozy and immediately began asking us when we'd first heard Jane and what did we love about them and what was our favorite album - they were pumped and I loved them so so so much for being pumped. We had Joel and his friend with us - and I think they enjoyed the crowd as much as they did the band. One guy, who was out of his mind On Something, would turn to Joel and grab him by the shoulders and just scream in his face before turning around to resume body slamming everyone. Joel was only frightened the first time or two that it happened, after that, he was totally into it. His buddy, Austen, spent a good bit of time crawling around the floor because the woman behind us was dancing so hard that her trifocals flew off her head (so we were an OLD CROWD so what?) and Austen, being the nice young man that he is, tried to help her find them.

My seat was the best seat in the house because it gave me a direct line of sight to Dave Navarro. He was right smack in front of me - I had a perfect view - and it made me happy. Dave still rocks the leather pants. Now, there are some guys still trying to rock the leather pants who just leave you feeling sad and empty inside - but with Dave - well, it does other things, none of which are sad. Anyway, so at one point Joel's screaming neighbor moved directly in front of me. He was huge and out of control. But I was like one of those women who gain super-human strength and courage when their children are trapped in burning vehicles - I poked him in his beefy bicep and explained to him that he was coming between me and Dave and the leather pants. He was stunned, at first, but then he moved over. "Can you see now Mama?" he asked. I gave him a thumbs up and he grinned.

In my mind, the Jane's Addiction concert was the best concert of the year - but I think it had as much, if not more, to do with the audience as it did the band.

We also went to see k.d. lang - who I have loved since Absolute Torch and Twang - and we were stuck in the balcony with the losers. The woman in front of us was a texter - and a facebooker - and a tweeter. And she was doing all of those things WITH HER ENTIRE BODY. She didn't just text with her fingers - she flapped her elbows around and bopped her head while she held the phone Way Up High so as to illuminate the 5 rows behind her. She was front-row balcony - and that meant she propped her feet up on the railing - big pointy shoes that she crossed and uncrossed repeatedly. I could see her status updates: I'm at the Katie Lang concert! (That's right - she didn't know how to spell the performer's name), and her texts: I'm in the balcony, where are you?, and her tweets: Having a great time at the Katie Lang concert! SHE NEVER ONCE LOOKED AT THE STAGE. Also - she was wearing too much perfume and with all of the commotion and flurry of her activities - it was wafting up into our faces. Ellie and Camille were with me, and Ellie is scent-sensitive (she's also idiot-sensitive, which was probably the bigger issue) and so we moved to the very, very, very back of the balcony area.

Down below things were different. The devoted fans were down there - so it was just k.d. lang and several thousand lesbians and they all seemed to be having a significantly better time than we were. Even so - when there's a voice like velvet in the house - you can't be completely miserable, even with a Full-Body Texter in front of you.
Pure velvet.

I'd like to say that classical arts audiences are better behaved, but they're not. At piano recitals, people come in late, whisper back and forth, jingle their keys, etc. At The Nutcracker this year, we literally sat behind a family reunion where Grandma distributed Crunch 'n Munch out of a bag by scooping it into paper cups and passing it down the rows to family members who then began to (just like you'd expect) crunch and munch. And when the act with the angels was over - a mass exodus of grandparents began. It's like they said, "I sat here as long as I could - my grandkid is now done - I'm outta here." The problem was, as they painstakingly made their ways down the steps and aisles - none of the rest of us could see the stage.

During Copellia, I watched as people tried to extend intermission into the 3rd act by simply refusing to take their seats. When MY OWN FLESH AND BLOOD made her entrance onto the stage, I couldn't see her because the people in front of us were still standing and visiting, even though the lights had gone off and the music had started and the curtain had risen.

I long for the good old days when people showed up for performances with rotten tomatoes. I know just where I'd throw them..

So tell me - what was your latest audience experience like?


  1. I love House Concerts, because the audience is all there to hear the music and it is small enough that you REALLY stand out if you are obnoxious. Those are pretty much all good experiences.

    Last night went to see the 5 Browns at a larger venue (about 1000 people) Lots of latecomers, whispering with the ushers like they think we can't hear them... But, once they all got seated (by about the end of the 3rd song), then it was great. No phone users at all, really paying attention to the music. It was great. I really wish more places had "no late seating" policies, especially for classical performances. People would learn to show up on time. No texting, etc rules would be good, too (although I admit to taking pics at a lot of concerts. but, I am very quick, I keep the phone down low, and I wait for a break in the music to actually post the pic)

    You should write a book about concert etiquette. I am sure it would be a big seller. :)

  2. Susan, do you think the Chili Peppers would perform in my house?

  3. I don't go to concerts. I don't go to theaters either.
    For all of the above reasons.
    And for me, the music at concerts sucks.
    It's too loud. It's not mixed right.
    I like the stuff I can get out of my stereo better.

    And you forgot to write about the bathrooms. I like using the one at my house. If there are a couple pee drops on the seat (at my house that would be almost never) it's easy to narrow it down and know it's not toxic and won't grow tentacles and take me down, never to be seen again. Using one at a concert venue or worse having to use a PORTA POTTY... no. Just no. There is nothing I want to see/hear badly enough.

    And I LOVE humanity. But I hate people. I don't like rude behavior (rude being anything that interferes with my experience) and I don't like perfume, obnoxious smells of other kinds, people who can't stfu and watch the movie/concert whatever.

    So I hope you have a good time in spite of all of it.

    And you can try to have a house concert... write them a letter. :)

    Also, I hate hate hate hate hate word verification. It's hard to read and a super huge pain in the ass. I had to go back to edit this when I saw you had word verification turned on, so now I will wait and see if you're also moderating comments. If you're doing both, one is redundant. If you're not, comment moderating is more commenter-friendly. Because of course my opinion matters to you.

  4. Ami I know! I hate the word verification but when I took it off people began pushing penis enhancers and such on here. Maybe I'll initiate moderation - that will eliminate the fuzzy word verification AND increase tension and suspense. I'll have to figure out how to do it, though. I also agree with most of your reasons to avoid concerts altogether but then I wouldn't get a t-shirt.

  5. I hate it when a guy tries to rock leather pants and just ends up leaving you sad and empty inside. You have distilled all your wisdom regarding leather pants, into another pithy sentence!

    And why would anyone want to watch a concert through their phone?

  6. They watch it through their phones so they can watch it again later through their phones. And yes - that was a rather pithy sentence, wasn't it?