Saturday, November 10, 2007

The end of concertgoing

I see a lot of live concerts every year. Hey, everyone's got a hobby; seeing favorite musicians practice their craft is one of mine.

If I ever stop seeing concerts, it won't be because there aren't shows I'd like to see.

It will be because I can no longer take sharing the space with thousands of other people, many of whom don't know how to attend a concert. Going to see a big performance of live music is not rocket science, mind you. But it's far too complex for many to grasp.

More and more people seem to want to pay $100 to sit with someone they know and gab for 2+ hours while music plays around them. Of course the music is so darned loud at these shows that they have to yell at one another to keep the conversation going, They are dumbfounded by the rude people around them who stare and shush.

My first recollection of this being a significant problem was at Lilith Fair. I thought perhaps it was a "girl-thing." It seemed I was surrounded by women who weren't there to see or hear The Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, etc. They were there to sit and chat. Apparently Lilith Fair was the only time/place they could engage in such behavior, so they had to make the most of it.

But the two loud, chatty 20-something men next to me at James Taylor the other night put the lie to that theory. And they weren't the worst offenders in the audience that night.

No, the hands-down winner of the Audience Idiot award was the woman who paid her hundred dollars for the right to tell James Taylor to "Shut up and sing!" Taylor was introducing "Line 'em Up" with his typical wandering back-story. Several seconds into the story, idiot-woman decided she'd had enough. Though she was booed by audience members blessed with more than two neurons to rub together, Taylor stopped the story and launched into the song.

That was probably his only winning option. He later worked the line into his ad-libbed lyrics to "Steamroller Blues" to the delight of the otherwise mortified audience. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb and say JT will never burden Sacramento with his wandering stories or a live concert again.

It was also a Sacramento audience at the Genesis show who seemed transfixed by the cacophonous "Mama" (featuring Phil Collins' evil laugh as "lyrics") but headed for the bathrooms and concessions during "Ripples." No accounting for taste in this town! I could be wrong; perhaps "Mama" has an undocumented diuretic effect.

I don't recall the last time I attended a concert of any type anywhere in which the artist was allowed to fill the space with a quiet moment. No, any reduction of decibels from the stage is apparently a universally-understood invitation for screams and shouts from the audience. Everybody knows that! How do I not get that?

I don't see the trend reversing; I don't see concertgoers becoming more civilized in the future. Some people thought that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a sobering effect on the population. Casual Fridays were gone and everything was more serious.

The effect on concertgoers? More than three years after 9/11, I was at a big show in Reno. The artist was British pop legend Elton John. There were certainly audience members who brought to mind the Johnny Cash line, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." They were composing flash photos of themselves at the show with the band performing in their background. But the crowning moment came in the audience's call for an encore. For reasons that elude me to this day, a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rose through the rafters.

Maybe they just need to stop selling booze at these shows.

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