Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Concertgoer's Guide to Appropriate Behavior

The timid finger gently taps the back of the dancing concertgoer, currently engaged in a grotesque pelvic thrust that is part macarena, part electric slide, and all horror.

The concertgoer spins around as if shook from a dream, to hear a kind request to sit down so that the face of the timid finger can see the performer on the stage. The dancer answers by gruffly threatening future physical abnormalities and by telling the person to do something to herself that is physically impossible.

The dancer spins back around and continues his boogie-woogie-woogie. The woman sits in her seat dejectedly. Her seat happens to be a wheelchair.

This, of course, makes the dancing man the world’s biggest asshole.

I witnessed this at the recent Elvis Costello/Bob Dylan October 2007 show in St. Louis.

Only the intervention of a security guard convinced the dancer to at least move to the aisle, so that he could continue his gyrations without blocking the woman’s view. It also led to me to ponder the question of what qualifies as appropriate behavior for a music concert, since I have seen too many cases where norms of human decency have been scuttled in favor of behavior that would rival that of our knuckle-dragging ancestors.

The fact that this type of thuggish behavior has mostly happened at concerts by “established” acts (Dylan, Costello, R.E.M), and not at shows by less-known indie acts (The National, Silver Jews) is a topic probably best left for another day.

What follows is my humble attempt to create a modern day Hammurabi Code for Concertgoers. Minus the punishment by dismemberment and disembowelment.

Reserved Seating

You’ve just thrown down hundreds of dollars and donated several pints of blood in order to afford a couple Neil Young tickets, yet you aren’t exactly thrilled to be sitting at the top of the mountain:

Your reserved seat number is not a suggestion or a general approximation of where to sit. If your ticket says Nosebleed Balcony Seat 236, your posterior should be drawn like a magnet to the confines of that seat’s dimensions.
If you are occupying someone else’s seat and you get called out on it, don’t feign surprise and act like you were unaware you parked it in the wrong spot. Your hangdog expression and slow ascent into the wilds of less cozy environs within the venue gives you away every time.
People occasionally leave their seats to get a drink or buy $50 tour sweatshirts. When they come back to their seat, you shouldn’t be sitting there like a rock-n-roll Goldilocks.
General Admission

General admission is always a dicey proposition. You have a great chance to get in the pit and get close to the musician you’ve been stalking for years. Yet as your fellow concertgoers jockey for prime real estate before the show begins, violent elbows to your spleen are a real concern. Here’s how to handle this situation:

If you are a male under 5’9’’, forget about it. You will be muscled out of your spot in the pit; it is a Darwinian certainty.
Sitting on the floor of the pit until the show begins is not a good strategy. Some concertgoers equate sitting heads with steps. And like a turtle hiding inside its shell, eventually you must come out. When you do, that winged predator with sharp teeth you were hiding from will still be there.
Tables with either chairs or stools at a general admission show are the equivalent of water from a cactus for a man starving in the desert. Do not hesitate, do not look around for a better spot, and do not be fooled by the mirage of a near-empty orchestra pit. Grab the table and bunker down. Do not leave it unguarded under any circumstances.
Bodies in Motion (Dancing and Standing vs. Sitting)

You’ve impressed your date with third-row center seats, but she’s not yet aware of your Travolta-like tendency to treat the venue as part of your personal discotheque. What’s a guy to do?

Consider the performer:
If you are seeing Johnny’s Disco Explosion, go gonzo. There are no laws, rules, or regulation. It’s Thunderdome.
If you are seeing Johnny Q. Folkie, part your butt in your seat, hold hands with your neighbors, and join in when he sings “We Shall Overcome.”
If you are seeing something in between, commit hard in one direction. Either remain rigidly seated even though the other 19,999 people in the arena are shake-shake-shaking all over like frustrated wannabe go-go dancers, or, while everyone else is moping and staring at their shoes, perform your own rhythmic gyrations from the time the show starts until the performer walks off stage. Or until security throws you out. Whichever comes first.
Those around you should not need to drive a flag into the ground to claim their space as part of their familial birthright. Likewise, your raised arms, flailing legs, and shaking ass should not intrude upon any concertgoer with whom you are not intimately familiar.
Nicotine Consumption and Beyond

Your reformed smoker friends constantly tell you to drop the habit. Yet you cannot get the full concert experience without a few puff-puffs. Although your lungs are crying on the inside of you, you need a few lung darts to have a truly enjoyable time. With public smokers becoming pariahs, what’s a dedicated Marlboro man to do?

If it’s a smoking venue, puff away until you can’t puff any more. For extra spite, blow your smoke in the direction of the 6’3’’ jerk that muscled you out off your spot near the pit’s railing (see above).
If it’s a non-smoking venue, you will likely be relegated to an inconspicuous, dimly-lit, and borderline-dangerous alley near a side door to the venue. As you shorten your lifespan along with your fellow cigarette cronies, take this opportunity to remember the old days when non-smokers didn’t complain about minor things like secondhand smoke, their personal comfort, or their desire to not smell like Joe Camel.
A popular alternative to smoking in the great wide open at non-smoking venues is the classic play of smoking in the bathroom. Not only does this say that you won’t be relegated to an alley, it also shows that you are a true worshipper at the altar of God Nicotine. A word of warning though: this approach is the equivalent of running the gauntlet .Those pesky male pissers tend to be uncompromising with anything that keeps them from reaching the porcelain goddess, especially in dire situations.
If your chemical proclivities extend to, technically speaking, illegal substances, follow these simple guidelines to maximize your illicit enjoyment and to avoid an awkward 2 am call to your parents from a holding cell:
You are not hanging out in your basement room with your friends Slappy and Jimmy C-Nuts after your parents have gone to sleep. Be discreet about it.
If you are holding and Security approaches you, do not panic and throw your stash in the lap of the stranger sitting next to you.
Liquid Consumption

You’re a hard-working white collar dude, but sometimes you want to cut loose with half a dozen strawberry-almond flavored microbrews, to show your fellow concertgoers that you’re not a total suit. Before you or your significant other get blitzed at the Police reunion show on drinks that all end in “tini” and drunkenly croak out “Roxanne” in your own key, observe these rules:

Remember that beautiful duet of “I Shall Be Released” that Dylan and Costello sang at Tramps in 1999? How you couldn’t believe your luck to be in the front row to witness such a moment? How the crowd was pin-drop silent and just knew they were witnessing something amazing that would defy later description? No? Then you drank too much.
Remember hitting on the blonde bartender, challenging the bouncer to a mixed martial arts fight, and screaming hysterically for Kelly Clarkson to sing “that one song from the radio?” Yes? Then you didn’t drink enough.
Performances come and go, bands come and go, but the memory of an unplanned concert vomit on someone’s Chuck Taylors lasts forever.
Waiting in Line

You’ve got general admission tickets to see your favorite musician for the 47th time tonight. To ensure you get close enough to him to see the wrinkles in his catcher’s mitt-like face, you’ve lined up outside the venue six hours before the doors open. You’ve got no one for company except the voices in your own head. You’ve got some time on your hands, so remember these rules:

Eventually people will line up behind you. Do not snarl, bark, or constantly look over your shoulder in paranoia at them. They mean you no harm. Besides, they are piss-fear afraid of you.
Sometimes people will need to walk past you. They are not trying to steal your spot. Some of them aren’t even going to the show. There is no need to eye f-blankety-blankety-blank them.
Sometimes security moves the line to a new starting point, for no reason other than their sadistic pleasure. Shake your fist at the sky, blame cruel fate, whatever gets you through, but the bottom line is that you’d better run like hell. Your previous position as king has been suddenly usurped.
Talking During Shows/Other Random Noises

For some reason, we Americans love to spend large sums of money on concerts and then talk through the buggers. You’ve done this in the past but want to repent; you still have a sneaking suspicion that your constant gum-bumping precipitated the riot at the Guns-N-Roses concert in St. Louis years ago. Follow these simple rules and you shall be granted forgiveness:

If someone smaller than you tells you to quit talking, ignore him. If someone bigger than you tell you to quit talking, listen to him.
Opening acts are people too. Give them a chance before continuing your conversation about how opening acts aren’t people and almost always stink.
Your brand new, super-shiny Motorola V-1,000,000,000 is pretty cool. It’s Web-enabled, is smaller than your pinky finger, washes your car, feeds your children, and when you’re feeling frisky, its vibrate function packs a decent punch. But no one wants to hear your Bette Midler ringtone as Springsteen and Max Weinberg’s Semi-Retired Superstars play “Rosalita” for the 700th time.
Remember that shows are taped with increasing frequency nowadays. Unless you want your conversation about your asshole boss recorded for posterity, keep your voice down.
You’ve followed Dylan across the country since 1963, screaming at every show for him to play “Let Me Die In My Footsteps.” Give it up. It’s not gonna happen.
Behavior in Outdoor Venues

These shows aren’t for the uninitiated. And if you have a heart condition, be warned. Like scaling Mount Everest, surviving outdoor concerts and festivals requires a certain kind of mental fortitude, along with a blatant disregard for sanity, hygiene, flushable toilets, and other key pieces needed for human life to flourish. So before brazenly heading off to that White Snake/Poison double bill under the stars, observe the following:

Urinating in a port-a-potty is gross. Urinating on the lawn where people sit is grosser. Use the port-a-potty.
Not everyone shares your affinity for mud. The mud people are not hard to find. Find them and fling away.
That early 20s-something girl who sported four-inch bangs and flashed Bret Michaels at the Poison concert in 1987 still lives inside you. Please warn everyone around you before your now-undersized shirt is tossed into the ether.
It’s July in Chicago. It’s Hades hot. You’re hungry and tired. The “chill tent” looks like a sick room. You’re surrounded by thousands of people who all resemble Will Oldham and smell like an unholy mixture of sunscreen, weed, and corn dogs. This is the true festival experience. Enjoy it.
Common human decency should dictate how to behave at a concert. And everyone should drive the speed limit. When that decency deteriorates into a mixture of chaos, anarchy, and baby boomers breaking out “Heart of Gold” in a drunken frenzy, the guidelines above could help out in a pinch.

Then again, the 300-pound guy in the Metallica Kill ‘Em All shirt who’s now sitting in your seat hasn’t ever really cared much for rules.

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