My Love/Hate Relationship with Live Music
I was raised by a musician/sound engineer/stagehand father, so I'm not being cute when I say that I have been going to concerts since I was born. Even the stale, pungent aroma of old beer that wafts out of every venue is a comforting olfactory reminder of my childhood. From the age of three on, I would tag along with my dad while he set up his soundbooth before a show and get fawned over by musicians and industry people and bartenders (and probably a few day-drunks). Being at shows and hanging around with musicians and other weirdos is familiar territory for me; it likely contributed to my becoming a music writer, which has gotten me into countless more shows (fortunately, often for free—guest list is a good place to be).
After years of regularly attending concerts, however, I’ve kind of begun to loathe them. Not to say I’ve fallen out of love with live music, it’s just that my countless concert-going experiences have resulted in acute misanthropy specific to being in crowds.
The malaise of modern music spectacles is perhaps best summed up by the tour page button on Father John Misty’s official site: “I’M COMING TO YOUR TOWN SO YOU CAN FILM ME ON YOUR IPHONE!” which is to say that people get so wrapped up in this mythology of the artist, and in capturing their experience instead of just experiencing it firsthand, that they miss the point of going to a concert at all. Fellow concertgoers’ insistence on holding up their iPhones/cameras/iPads/first born/whatever in front of their face for the duration of the show is up there among the worst offenses, but is certainly not the full extent to which the the crowd can irrevocably spoil live music.
Anthropogenic noise pollution is a persistent problem at concerts (read: people who would rather hear themselves talk than hear the live music they paid for). Either these walking, talking pathogens are infuriatingly oblivious to the fact that they are ruining the show for everyone around them, or they callously do not give a shit. At least the Neanderthals watching the show through their phone are still sort of engaged in the music.
What’s almost worse, in my experience, is when the crowd gets irrationally aggressive at concerts, especially where the music is not even aggressive. I saw Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti live last year and people actually started crowd-surfing and moshing violently to a small, odd blonde man in a woman’s blouse singing intentionally tacky pop. I love his music, but let’s be honest: there is no need for violent expression of your enthusiasm at a show like that. One tall bespectacled dude and his troll girlfriend even tried to fight me. I’ve been in pits at legit punk shows where people were more courteous.
This is not an isolated event, either, but is symptomatic of behavior I’ve encountered at quite a few other shows where you definitely expect to attain some euphoric oblivion and dance like an embarrassing white person but definitely do not expect to have to fight off aggro pseudo-hipsters.
All that considered, I obviously intend to continue going to concerts. I would like to offer some sage advice to help you maintain inner peace at your next musical event.
1. Get Just the Right Level of Intoxicated
Not like this. This is bad.
It is a delicate balance, maintaining the line between happy-drunk and obnoxious-drunk, but it is essential to concert enjoyment. Smoking a joint before or during a show just ends up making me internally freak out, but if you’ve got the threshold, I say go for it. If you don’t drink or smoke but still hate everyone, I suggest meditating between sets. I know it sounds New-Agey and scary, but it’s really just a method with which I block out the chatter and bad filler music while the following act sets up.
2. Invite Friends
Friends provide a helpful buffer between you and the crowd, and they help stave off boredom while the next band takes way too long to set up because they haven’t soundchecked yet. They may even be willing to shove through to the bar and bring you back a drink so you don’t have to lose your spot. Just don’t keep talking once the band’s playing, and everybody’s happy.
3. Or, Go by Yourself
Going to shows alone is actually more enjoyable in a lot of ways. If your friends aren’t into the band or aren’t available, or if you’re a forever-alone, just consider it your pass to not have to talk to anyone and enjoy the show without needing to seek validation from anyone else. Also, if you’re on your own, you can fit into those tight spots and get closer to the stage. Just resist the urge to check your phone while the lights are down and the band’s on. The light from your screen is excruciating to everyone around you.
4. Be Polite (But If That Doesn't Work, Sass Out the Ass)
When you can tell the guy in front of you clearly intends to hold up his iPhone in front of your face for the entire duration of your favorite song, stop pouting and politely ask him to stop, one reasonable human to another. Or you could be like, “Hey Annie Leibovitz, I respect your expert Instagram photography skills, but would you mind removing your fruitphone from my line of sight?” Whichever works.
5. Let it Go
Don’t waste your time being passive-aggressive about things that piss you off. Passive-aggression is a societal cancer and it accomplishes nothing. Maybe the assholes around you at shows really are of the oblivious variety and will learn to not be assholes if you ask nicely. Or they might throw a temper tantrum, which, hey, sometimes that’s more entertaining than the opening band anyway.
Natasha Young grew up in the wrong Portland and played expatriate in Montreal for the past five years. She lives in Williamsburg now. She’s on twitter – @natashayg