Friday, August 19, 2011

to forever hold your peace.


I'm 33 years old. Not too young, not too old. A fair bit of experience, especially in what I consider to be my areas of expertise. Or, the things in which I suck less. Anyway, I've started going to shows roughly 20 years ago, and it's an addiction that has just gotten worse, and turned more or less into a job halfway through. I've seen hundreds of different bands and artists performing live. From quiet singer/songwriters to classical pianists to brutal death metal quintets. From crowds of 3 to crowds of 100.000, in more than 15 different countries. During concerts, I've been sober, drunk, I've stagedived, moshed, stood quietly at the back, taken thousands of photos, occasionally even took the mic myself. I've written about a large percentage of those bands, I've met another large percentage of those musicians, I've hung around in backstages as big as my house and as small as my cupboard. So, do forgive the presumption, but I think I'm in a position to give some good advice to musicians just embarking on the great adventure that is performing their music up on a stage for other people. I was just thinking about this today, if I had to summarize everything I've learned into the most important and simple piece of advice, what would it be? It's easy:

STOP TALKING.

Allow me to explain. There are of course a few notable exceptions to this rule. But unless you're Mikael Åkerfeldt (hi Mikael, thanks for reading!) with your genuinely funny between-song chit-chat or Pete Steele (hi Pete, so you did fake it and move to Hungary?) with your brilliant bone-dry deadpan humour or a couple of other illuminati, you do not need to keep talking to your audience every time a song ends. Of course, you can be polite, say good night, thank the crowd after your performance is over, make an appropriate comment or two. If you must. But there's no mandatory need. Let's examine all the situations to effectively prove this. I hope this is useful to your future career.

 

- You're not as funny as you think you are.
You're not with your mates, even if a few of them are in the audience. You're in front of a bunch of people who, at best, have seen your face on the back of a CD. Or, if you're not headlining, probably not even that. Even people who do comedy professionally sometimes have trouble with audiences who are there expecting a laugh, so your chances of success aren't huge. If you're a very well known musician, and if you're really as funny as you think you are, people still came here to hear you play, not do stand-up. I'd go see Lewis Black if I wanted that, not you. The occasional quip is of course okay, but don't feel like you have to over-entertain.

- No English at all is better than broken English.
If you're playing abroad, don't feel forced to speak in a language that you're not good at. Especially within the world of extreme music, where the atmosphere of a concert takes an importance that isn't usual in other musical universes. We, the audience, most of it anyway, don't take ourselves so seriously as to want to feel like we're the evilest bunch in the world when listening to a black metal band, for instance, but there is a suspension of disbelief during the performance that a band of that sort should know how to balance. And nothing ruins it more than a poorly placed "zat vaas broooo-tahl, moo-tha-fockrz!". Another nasty effect of your poor command of the language is that it will eventually lead to...

- The easy way out: swearing.
Yes, saying "fuck" a lot will pump up all the 14-year-olds in the audience, both in age and in mentality, who actually enjoy being called "motherfuckers", but is that really how you want to dumb down your performance? The very worst example of this I've witnessed has been during a Fleshgod Apocalypse show. If you don't know them, check them out - they're an amazingly brutal death metal band from Italy, who write kickass songs despite their dazzling technical skill, deftly avoiding fretboard masturbation syndrome. They also add an extra dose of grandiosity by adding a few bombastic classical music interludes in between songs (they claim their music is heavily influenced by classical). When I first saw them live, they fortunately had those interludes playing in between the songs. However, the vocalist decided to ruin it by shouting "come on, motherfuckers!" and other such thick-accented banalities. All over Beethoven's 6th.


- We know who you are, where you're from and where the merch stall is. Thank you.
We've all seen the posters for the show, that's why we purchased a ticket and showed up. There's probably a banner with the name of your band behind you. Even if we don't know, if we think you're show was amazing, we'll find out quickly. And while it is no doubt way cool to be from Malta, or Peru, or Tennessee, it's probably not incredibly relevant to the songs you're about to play. Worst of all, we've been to shows before. We know how they work. Bands have things up for sale. T-shirts, records, patches, thongs for our girlfriends to look extra sexy with some indecipherable logo on it. The stall is back there. We've passed it on our way in. You'd like to sell stuff, yes, that's understandable. But we've purchased things before, we also know how to do it. We'll do it if we think your super cool. You don't need to remind us every two songs. Also - we're having a good time. Thanks for caring. But every time you ask if we are so that we can eloquently reply "yeaaaaaaah" in unison, it becomes a bit less good.

- You don't need to thank us after every single song.
"Thank you!" isn't part of the original lyrics of the song, so you can stop saying it right before the last notes are played. It's okay if you thank us in the end, we'll get that you mean the whole show.

- If you must tell us the name of the song, make it understandable. And think hard before explaining its meaning.
If you're Jello Biafra (hi Jello, thanks for reading!), you're allowed to go on about the socio-political ramifications of what you're about to sing. If you're not, and if you really have to, please keep the explanation under 20 seconds, okay? And death and black metal people: when you tell us the name of this next song (again, if you feel you really have to), please, please, please do not cookie-monster-growl it or evil-demon-shriek it. It's ridiculous, it's silly and it defeats the entire purpose of doing it if 'Hellspawn Of The Burning Pentagram' becomes 'HOOOORGH OOOH EEH POOOHGROOOH'.

- We will get to the front if your music is awesome enough for us to bother.
So stop asking us. Stop asking us to jump, or to scream, or to do stuff we don't really feel like. We would be doing it if your music inspired and encouraged us to do it. Sure, organize a wall of death or whatever if the audience has been showing excitement (and not if two guys have been digging it so far, in which case your wall of death will consist of two people bumping into each other), but stop forcing us to pretend we're enjoying something to an extent that we're not.

- Be honest. We know you're not the best crowd of your life, and we also know you made fun of us when you were playing in our rival country.
We can tell, okay? And even if we can't, there's YouTube now. We'll watch you tomorrow, on your next date, in the country/state next to ours, telling them how they've been the greatest crowd you've ever seen, and how they're so much louder than us pussies, just like you're doing now with your previous date. So don't. Honesty also applies to how you talk about other bands. Don't say the local support band that has been with you for four shows now is great if you won't be able to recognize their album if it's played to you. I've seen Nergal thank their "great friends, Suffocation!" who played just before, when it had been Decapitated. Avoid that.

- Neurosis.
This band, one of the most important and influential in the history of extreme music, has provided me with the most intense, mesmerizing and downright life-changing concerts I have ever attended. I have never heard a single word being spoken to the audience by any of their six members. Take a hint.

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