It's my gig, I'll talk if I want

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 10:00 15/02/2013

What do you reckon about this: you paid your money - if you want a beer and a chat that's fine right? The music is just in the background anyway, especially the opening act that no one has heard of - and sounds like rubbish anyway. Am I right? Shh!

Or - you paid your money. But so did (almost) everyone else. And there's a level of respect that the band on stage deserves. If you want to talk you can go to the balcony or nip out with the smokers elsewhere. Or just save it until after the gig. Eh?

We've talked about this before - I'm sure. But I thought it might be good to get a discussion happening around this. The rules of chatter at gigs.

Jeff Tweedy's solo concert DVD Sunken Treasure features this moment, where Tweedy begs of his audience to be quiet; asking what he - the performer - can do "to be of a better service" to his audience. He wonders if he is not playing the right songs.

You watch that moment and maybe you think Tweedy is being a bit precious, a bit of a tool. Or maybe you think the audience member is the jerk; deserves what he gets...

Have you been in situations like this?

I know I've mentioned before that the most appalling example I've sat through (or stood, as the case happened to be) was when Bill Callahan (then known still as Smog) was "opening" for the fresh-on-the-scene Joanna Newsom. Newsom played the harp and played up the pixie-cute image so it was easy for her to get National Radio and Listener coverage where other indie acts would never even scrape the crust of mainstream media. So there were plenty of people in the audience unaware of Smog - possibly they thought Smog was a band to follow Newsom and who was this baritone bozo with the hushed guitar and dark lyrics...

Smog's set was ruined by clatter and chatter and it was awful to be a part of; embarrassing.

He appeared to give up on his set, the saddest thing was when he walked off most of the audience didn't even notice - it simply meant they didn't have to talk quite so loud. You could hear a pin drop when Newsom took the stage. Foot in MouthI can't tell you that I sit (or stand) quietly at all gigs. I've done my share of chatting in and around the music too. Sometimes I go to gigs as a paying customer, sometimes I go as a reviewer - I don't really see the difference, my approach is mostly the same, I'm usually there to see the band in question. I usually want to listen - at least to start with. I'll leave when I'm done with it. Or I'll go outside at least. Maybe I'll return indoors if it gets better...

But there's a strange attitude among some gig-goers, as if the price paid to enter and be part of the evening entitles them to shout absurdities, to mutter inanities; to gasbag about anything and nothing "when it gets boring".

I thought about this after Saturday's Godspeed You! Black Emperor gig. You see I met, very briefly, one of the members of the band - I met him during the gig in fact. He nipped off stage while the rest of the band continued - the band's music revolves around the rise and fall, a mood building from droned intros that arrive at a groove amid searing strings and crashing drums. There are times, it seems, at the starts and ends of their very long pieces, that not all of the members of the group are required on stage.

One of the drummers told me that he had been enjoying the gig but found the crowd "a little chatty" - and he made a one-hand-clapping clam gesture with his right hand as he said this.

He wasn't angry, possibly a little upset. It's a separate conversation as to whether he was taking it all too seriously - certainly cynics could have a field day with the precious artist idea.

But I'm (usually) more on the side of the precious artist than the drunken fool.

After the gig I saw two people on Facebook make comments to the effect that they were disappointed with being told to be quiet by members of the Godspeed collective. Perhaps they found this to be a slap across the face from a band that doesn't exactly offer anything much in terms of stage presence, concentrating instead on music-making.

Obviously you don't want to alienate your audience - and you run that very risk as soon as you criticise the audience, or a part of it. But I think a musician has that right if they're upset.

When, many years ago, we saw Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers rip into a faction of the audience that just would not shut up I was on his side. Here he was - probably being a bit too serious, sure; it was, after all a solo gig that featured readings from his memoir as well as acoustic renditions of Peaches and other Stranglers songs in and around lesser material from Cornwell's solo career.

But why pay $45 or $85 or $200 to stand near the front and try to put a performer off their game?

I don't have that kind of money to blow.Godspeed fan says NO!

And I don't have the ego - or poor parentage - that lets me share my thoughts at the time and at the expense of the artist just trying to do their thing; you know, that thing I've paid for, presumably as a fan...

I'm baffled by serial concert-talkers. Aren't you? Or do you subscribe to the (incredibly) selfish idea/l that you've paid your money (never mind anyone else who also has done exactly that) so you'll have your say?

Do you believe that if you've paid to go to the gig you get to ruin it for others? Do you think a musician is helpless and hopeless in such situations - is it a case of Dance Monkey, Dance? A case of don't question us - we're here because we chose to be, so deal with it, be a professional and play on, entertain us, if you're good enough we'll shut up?

What are your thoughts on people in the audience talking (incessantly, mindlessly) over the music?

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