I've discussed my disinclination to leave my house to see live music in this column before, along with the irony that I expect others to do the exact same thing to see me play. What can I say, I'm a fickle artist! It's not that I don't love and appreciate human beings making music right in front of me, but that there are so many factors that can get in the way of my enjoyment.
I can't decide whether smoking or talking are the worst sins a person can commit when they go and watch a show. I have no time for the smokers who claim that the carcinogenic fumes they expel from their yellow, rotting lungs add to the atmosphere of a gig, that if you're banning smoking you may as well ban drinking and having fun and who say "What? It's a gig!" - yeah, smoking is SO rock 'n' roll. And musicians love having smoke blown in their faces, especially singers, because they don't care about their health or being able to breathe well enough to perform for you.
However bad smoking is, we only have to put up with it in venues until June 30th. Talking will be much harder to combat. I'm obviously not referring to the excited aside from a fan turning to their equally excited friend between songs to exclaim "Wow, this is so cool!". It's the constant simmering and swelling of banal, pointless chatter that sounds off from when the venue doors open and ends only when everyone is on the tube on the way home. It's as though the venue becomes one giant water cooler and everyone launches in to a giant tirade of neverending office gossip.
I saw Blonde Redhead recently (review here) and had been told by a friend beforehand that whenever they'd seen them play the crowd were silent, almost transfixed between every song. Not at Koko! I think there were some people there who just thought the stereo was up really loud, not seeming to even look up from their pint and their catchup chat with their mates. Each to their own, of course, and everyone enjoys a gig in a different way. But talking all the way through a gig might be even more anti-social than smoking because, like smoking, it directly affects everyone around you, some of whom might just be trying to listen to the band, but also because it's blatantly obvious that you have no respect for the fact that people are performing music to you. Right in front of you!
In Europe the attitude towards live music is vastly different. People get excited when you tell them you're in a band, if they come and see you they watch and take it in, even if they don't really like it. The atmosphere at festivals is different, more charged up. It's like a mature student who messed around during their A Levels but went back to college in their mid twenties because they really wanted to learn. In the UK I can't help but think a lot of people who go out to see big gigs are doing it so that they can tell people they were there. In the same way that the teenage craze for videoing gigs on mobile phones for You Tube upload detaches them from the environment, turning them into passive observers instead of active participants, going to a gig and spending the entire time talking to your friends stops you from engaging in what is ideally supposed to be an uplifting, important slice of timelessness. Can we really be so immune to live performance? Have we let TV ruin it for us? Isn't that really sad?
Gigs I've been to this year that were ruined by people talking all the way through: The Shins at The Astoria (where the talking was actually louder than one of their quiet acoustic songs), Scott Matthews at Islington Bar Academy, Blonde Redhead at Koko.
If the band you've gone to see suck, that changes things - I'm the first to get irritated by bad noise. I played a solo gig recently opening up for three rock bands, two of which I'd seen were really good at soundcheck. The other band went on after me and 10 seconds in I knew that they were quite possibly the most annoying, tuneless, personality-free zone of a group of people I had had the misfortune to witness in some time. Added to that they were incredibly earnest about their music, which was even more irritating. And yet I felt forced to sit there watching them with a passive expression on my face, being polite because I'm a musician and I respect other peoples' performances. And I actually do respect everyone who performs, I'd just rather not listen to most of them. What intrigued me was watching the rest of the audience. I don't think I was imagining that most of them seemed to have adopted the same neutral expression as me, though they were more generous and actually clapped between songs.
Fear gripped me - did they only clap between my songs to be polite?
This Week's Five
1. Who's Got A Match - Biffy Clyro
2. Reading In Bed - Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
3. Icky Thump - The White Stripes
4. 3's and 7's - Queens of the Stone Age
5. Dinosaur Egg - Scout Niblett