Sit down and shut up!

Last updated 11:00 22/03/2013

I go to a lot of gigs - it's part of my job. I love going to gigs. (Most of the time.) You never quite know what you're going to get. And one thing you hardly ever seem to get - or be part of - is a respectful audience. I don't know if it's a New Zealand thing, but it feels like it might be.

I've been to a couple of gigs in Australia and a few in America - okay, so that's not much to go on outside of New Zealand. But those experiences were so much more satisfying, from a gig-going perspective. In most cases the acts were great - PJ Harvey, Kurt Vile, The Roots and, erm, The Blue Man Group - but what I noticed was how the audience felt like a team; in it for the music and the show. Respectful of (and to) one another.

Obviously there are some audiences I've been part of at shows in New Zealand where there have been feel-good moments; I still think back to when a guy held up his LP cover of Give Me the Night at a George Benson concert, nearly a decade ago now. Benson signed it and this guy turned around, pumped, and held it up to the crowd. We cheered - we all cheered as if George had signed a record that we were all going to have, like an art-group purchasing a new work that would shift around between Kelburn lounges - doing the rounds; we all seemed to feel invested in this special moment. George signed one record for one person but it was a gesture that everyone seemed to respond to. And it really did feel like that - like it was for everyone. To everyone...

But we can be a pack of jerks.

I've been to a handful of gigs already this week and I realise some people go to one or two, or a handful a year - I've seen a lot of jerk-behaviour.

There were the appalling dancers and loudmouth goons that plagued the Rodriguez show (I've written about the show here and here). A lot of people seemed to be unimpressed by the audience; I didn't think it was that bad but there were still a lot of strange calls during the quiet bits. People yelling out rather stupid comments - and no internal filter, just panic and blurt out something/anything. It's classless and strange. It's cruel actually. It's not fair. It's not thoughtful. It doesn't help. It's not funny.

And it comes from the fact that we're a) desperate to be liked, desperate to make an impression on the world stage, desperate to impress and b) we're an uptight bunch, overall, so when it comes time to let the hair down we don't - quite - know how to do it.

It's odd that we're trying to make an impression - because the behaviour is all wrong.

There's always bad dancing at gigs - and I say that's fine; dance on, have your fun. Of course. You might not want to believe and you surely do not want to see it but I've done a bit of bad dancing at gigs myself. I've never done any good dancing at any rate. But the problem is when this bad dancing becomes part of the act because it's a seated gig and one or two people decide they cannot handle the rules, or that the rules simply do not apply to them. There's an odd arrogance at play here, I paid my way - I can do what I want. I'm just having fun. Loosen up, man.

At Rodriguez two women behind me stood and talked and danced, it didn't bother me directly, they were behind me. But I could hear the arguments they were getting into with people around them. People were politely asking them to sit down and they were retorting with as many "f**k offs" as they could.

A couple of nights later I saw Neil Young & Crazy Horse (again, I wrote about that show here and here). The opening act, The Drones, received no love. A great shame, as they are - I reckon - a great band and I think they put in a good effort; they offered a decent set. But it seemed nothing was going to work, not anything that people didn't already know anyway. At one point, appallingly, right when there was a silence between songs someone from the audience yelled "get off". What a strange thing to do. Surely if that person was not enjoying The Drones they could leave the building, go for a smoke or drink - or a walk, check their phone in the foyer and send tweets telling all how underwhelmed they were by the band; do anything but stand there in the way of the music they were not enjoying. But to yell out that insult was lame.

On Wednesday night I saw Taj Mahal and Joan Armatrading (here's my review). Good gig. Overall. But at a fully seated venue - so when Armatrading played her more upbeat numbers there were a few audience members up and dancing. And they got the heave-ho from the event staff, told to move to the side, told to sit down.

Instead we had people doing comedy dance routines, flaunting their rule-breaking as they sashayed across the front of the stage and created a wild goose chase for the security; people instructed to do a job. People just trying to do that job.

This was similar to Rodriguez - it seemed odd to me that people really wanted to dance at Rodriguez. But hey...whatever you're into, I guess. But have a thought for others there, others that can't enjoy the show because of your distraction. If I can get told off for looking grumpy and checking Facebook on my phone then I reckon these other distractions deserve highlighting.

Last night I saw Simone Felice and Tony Joe White (the review will be in the paper tomorrow or on Monday). It was a good show because the Swamp Fox is a dependable creature. He knows how to slow-build a set of his brand of blues. But a couple of songs in he had amp-trouble and the catcalls started. People really do yell out some stupid stuff; I wish some of the seats came with a filter, a strap-on internal monologue. Some of the people that go to gigs could use something to stop them sharing their stupid thoughts with the performer.

Now, Tony Joe White encourages audience requests - so that's a different matter. But as the set built up to include his usual highlights (Polk Salad Annie, Even Trolls Love Rock & Roll) the dancers started to appear. Hey, good on them - and actually most of them moved to the side. A few belligerently battled against rhythm right there in front of their seat, in front of whoever was behind them (like that matters?!) A few got the pip when told to move or sit down.

And then a woman with a voice like a leaky tap started berating people still in their seats, instructing them to get up and dance because it was Tony Joe White.

People are allowed to sit in their seats and still enjoy a show. In fact, whether you like it or not, that's what the venue wants - it is, after all, a seated gig.

I'm all for people having a good time - but there's a way to do it that's respectful. One reason awareness goes out the window is drinking but we can't just blame that. People that get up to dance and yell things out like to think they're not uptight but they are still. They're the ones who feel threatened when told to be quiet or sit down; they strike out. They feel embarrassed. They react by throwing about "f**k you" and "f**k off" and they bitch and moan and get stroppy and exaggerate their gestures, start show-pony antics.

I wish a lot more people would sit down and shut up at gigs.

We're there - presumably - because we're fans. We're interested at least, in the idea of live music, in the hope of being entertained, being musically educated perhaps, being transported. But there are rules that should be observed.

I think we're really bad with this.

I wish a lot more people would sit down and shut up at gigs.

What do you think? Stay seated at seated gigs or get up and dance if you want to? And what about people yelling out stupid and disrespectful comments, strange, arrogant heckling-gone-wrong - what do you make of that?

And have you noticed better-behaved crowds outside of New Zealand? Is it our drinking culture? Is it our baggage of being small, desperate to be liked and uptight?

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