Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Collection Of Ground Rules & Etiquette For Those Attending Concerts Contemporaneously With Me

Last night I saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at the IZOD Center in New Jersey.  It was, if I am not mistaken, my fifty-first concert, which, I would imagine, is a decent number of shows attended.  My very first concert was in September of 2002 when I went with my buddy Dan and my future-wife-but-then-girlfriend Heather to attend a free concert at Times Square.  It was the NFL Kickoff Event for the upcoming season and Bon Jovi was performing (there was also a random fashion show that came on just before Bon was really quite bizarre).  Then a few weeks later in October the three of us attended a White Stripes show and I was less than impressed; the sea of hippies I found myself trapped within, though, ate it up.  Later that same night, Heather and I attended our first real concert when we saw Hoobastank at what was then called "The World" theater in Times Square.

Since then, I believe that there have been only two years where I have seen fewer than three concerts in a calendar year.  By far my most prolific years of concert-going were 2008 and 2009 when, between February of '08 and December of '09, I attended a whopping twenty-six shows (eleven in 2008 and fifteen in 2009).  In no particular order they were:


Foo Fighters @ MSG  02.19.08
Linkin Park @ MSG  02.21.08
Lifehouse @ Roseland Ballroom  04.01.08
The Eagles @ MSG 05.30.08
Three Days Grace, Free Show @ Roseland Ballroom 07.11.08
Billy Joel, 2nd to Last Play @ Shea  07.16.08 
Foo Fighters @ IZOD Center 07.29.08
The Police @ MSG  08.07.08
Everclear @ Webster Hall  08.20.08
Finger Eleven @ The Blender/Gramercy Theater  09.08.08
Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ IZOD Center  12.13.08


Boyce Avenue @ The Mercury Lounge  01.22.09
Metallica @ Nassau Coliseum  01.29.09
3 Doors Down / Hoobastank @ Hammerstein Ballroom  02.24.09
Papa Roach @ The Gramercy Theater  03.10.09
Cold @ The Gramercy Theater  03.24.09
Shinedown / 10 Years @ Irving Plaza  03.31.09
Third Eye Blind @ The House Of Blues in Atlantic City  05.15.09
Korn @ The Starland Ballroom  05.19.09
The Wallflowers @ Irving Plaza  07.06.09
Paul McCartney @ Citi Field  07.17.09
Incubus @ Radio City Music Hall  08.04.09
Jason Mraz @ Jones Beach  08.07.09
U2 @ Giants Stadium  09.24.09
Dead By Sunrise @ The Gramercy Theater  10.14.09
Star Wars in Concert @ The IZOD Center  11.20.09

Just kidding.  They were in a very particular order.

Anyway, so over the course of my concert-going experiences, I have built up a certain level of awareness of what I like and what I don't like about attending concerts.  After seeing the Goo Goo Dolls at Jones Beach recently, for example, I realized that I hate people.  More specifically, I hate that there are people at the show with me.  It is ironic because you would think that I would hate my wife, child, parents, and friends as these are the people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis but instead they are the ones that I love; I enjoy seeing them and speaking with them every day.  Instead, it is the ones with whom I must commiserate for only a few hours that I would like to see burned in vats of acid.

This got me to thinking while I was at the Tom Petty show last night: I need to establish a set of ground rules and etiquette for concerts.  Having thus refined said rules and etiquette this morning, I have decided to extend their scope to the band or performer that I am seeing as well.  I shall start at the top (with the performer) and work my way down...way, way the bottom (the people at the show with me).

We begin with a caveat: all of the rules and regulations listed below apply only to people I do not know and/or do not like.  If I know you and like you, you are exempt from any and all rules except as noted.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get on with the show.

(Did you see what I did there?  A concert joke in the middle of a blog entry about concert rules and etiquette!?  You might be thinking: "Oh Matt you scamp you!  What a rascal!"  And you know what?  You'd be right.)



Yes, every hit.  Even that one.  No, no, wait--especially that one.  I'm looking at YOU, Jakob Dylan!  You don't see Jimmy Buffett bitching every time he plays "Margaritaville" or Billy Joel with "Piano Man" and they've been doing it for almost half a century!  I don't care if you hate playing it--you wrote it.  I came to hear you play it.  I paid to hear you play it.  Live with it.  Tool(s).

Examples of rule being broken:

Finger Eleven @ The Gramercy Theater 09.08.08.  Having played through the bulk of their new album and a few of their bigger songs ("One Thing" and "Good Times" in particular) they abruptly ended the show--without an encore--after their then-current radio hit!  You never do that!  That song is always played toward the beginning to capture people's attention.  Anyway, the only song I really wanted to hear (and expected to!) was their first commercial hit, "First Time."  They ALWAYS play this song!  Except that night.  Scott (the lead singer) was drunk from the very beginning and appeared to get worse as the show went on (forgetting lyrics, losing his place in the song, not knowing what was next in the set list) so I'll chalk it up to his inebriation.  Maybe he forgot because he was drunk.  Maybe he was mad at the crowd because he was drunk and decided to castigate us by "sending us to bed without our 'First Time.'"  Who knows.  The bottom line is that I left there pissed off, especially since that was the first and is thus far the only time I have seen them live.

The Wallflowers @ Irving Plaza 07.06.09.  This was a really weird show almost right out of the gate.  Jakob Dylan was in a strange, sardonic mood and he kept changing the set list on the fly, based upon what he felt the "vibe" was from the crowd.  The band played two of my three favorite songs before the encore ("God Says Nothing Back" and "One Headlight") and I fully expected them to play "Sleepwalker"--arguably their best known song aside from "One Headlight"--as part of the finale.  They didn't.  It was a conscious snub too, which made it all the worse--no, "Sorry, folks, but we're out of time!"  Jakob Dylan knew that the crowd wanted to hear the mega-hit and he specifically chose not to play it.  Why?  Likely as an exertion of his power over the audience.  Something akin to, "I know you want to hear it and that's exactly why I won't play it" (Said with WASPY Connecticut intonation).


Let's be real here: the majority of people who attend concerts are often casual or at least non-hardcore fans of the band (depending upon the act--I'm looking at YOU Wavy Gravy!)  As such, these people are familiar with mostly what is played on the radio and little, if anything, else.  As such again, these people are probably at the show to hear one or two songs but certainly no more than four or five.  Everyone has their favorite song but undoubtedly, in their top two or three is "The Big One."  The Big One is the song that nearly everyone identifies that band with: The Goo Goo Dolls and "Iris," Billy Joel and "Piano Man," Led Zeppelin and "Stairway To Heaven."  You know it's going to be a part of the show (see rule I) and you're looking forward to it.  In fact, in a way, you're enduring the rest of the crap that's thrown at you just for that one song; its like your reward for putting up with the filler from albums you've probably never listened to. 

So what happens when a band plays their gigundous smash hit early in the set?  Chaos.  People are completely thrown.  Sure, they're cheering and screaming (see rule below regarding both of those actions) but is it out of surprise?  Possibly.  Out of excitement?  Maybe.  Out of sheer terror and stark confusion?
Indubitably.  Worse, though, is that you've experienced the climax too soon: from that point forward it's like you're going from foreplay, to sexy-time, and then back to foreplay.  This isn't yoga or meditation--we don't need to stretch and breathe, work our way towards inner peace and Nirvana, and then stretch and breathe again to bring ourselves back. 

Playing the hit too soon leaves us flaccid and wondering when the rest of the show will be over.  It doesn't matter that there are other hits--none of them are on an even plane with The Big One.  In fact, the fact that The Big One has come and gone diminishes the quality of The Other Ones rather than augmenting them.  This might seem like a minor issue but it's a major deal--trust me.  (Don't worry, I almost threw up too; puns always leave a funny taste in your mouth and make you feel dirty).

Cases of bands blowing their loads too soon:

Bon Jovi NFL Kick Off @ Times Square 09.05.02.  JBJ played "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Livin' On A Prayer" as the first two songs of the set.  I know it might seem like I'm nitpicking because they played only nine songs (eleven if you break up the two medleys they performed) and thus it was designed to be a short performance meant to showcase the band's hits...but they finished with Bad Medicine / Shout and America The Beautiful.  Seriously?  Fortunately it was a quickie so there really wasn't much time to start fantasizing about that OTHER guy with a band from New Jersey.

Lifehouse @ Roseland Ballroom 04.01.08  Lifehouse played their biggest hit, "Hangin' By A Moment" fifth out of fourteen songs.  I understand the desire to grab the audience by the balls and demand their attention...but, like the magic trick where you make your brains disappear through a hole in your head courtesy of a handgun, you can do it only once!  It was all downhill after that at the show (made all the worse by a group of guys in their early thirties doing some sort of drinking chant before downing shots at the bar that I can imagine only as being lemon drops or something comparable).

The Eagles @ MSG 05.30.08  Don Henley & Co. decided to bust out the big guns fifth through their thirty-song set.  Now this might not seem as egregious, say, as the Lifehouse faux pas, given the absolute plethora of hits at The Eagles' disposal (they did close out with "Desperado," after all)...but it's Hotel California, man!The only eighteen-minute-long-song worthy of being included in the same breath as "Freebird" and "Stairway To Heaven"!  I believe that The Eagles' playing of arguably their biggest hit fifth in their set is an example of arrogance on the part of Glenn Frey and Don Henley (the abusive parents of Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmidt who caused the former to lose his sobriety and the latter to shake and be timid when spoken to) that is both equal in scope and opposite in form to that of Jakob Dylan.  Both instances reek of hubris on the part of the parties involved, but whereas Jakob Dylan wanted to exert his control over the crowd by not playing his hit, Glenn Frey and Don Henley were so arrogant that they wanted to say, "Hey, look, we know that you love us and that we can do no wrong in your eyes.  In fact, you'll be so enamored with us simply because we are deigning you with our presence, that we'll prove it by playing our biggest hit now and you'll STILL be captivated by the end of the show.  You can't get enough of us.  Seriously.  We could read you the phone book and you would think it was a choir of angels.  Yeah..."

Tom Petty @ The IZOD Center 08.24.10  Mr. Petty announced after his third song of the evening that he was requested to play the next song by a "group of girls backstage."  He then proceeded to play "Free Fallin'."  Now, again, Tom Petty has a tremendous quantity of hits but, again, "Free Fallin'" is the de facto hit and wound up confusing people.  I could almost see them burning the wood in their heads trying to figure out what song he was going to play last.  I felt bad for them.  Maybe that's why it bothered me that he played it so early in the set.  Maybe it was the fact that it almost felt like he was getting it out of the way, in a sense, much like The Eagles did with "Hotel California."  Or maybe it's the fact that Tom Petty is sixty years old and he was with a "group of girls backstage."  Okay it's probably that.


It doesn't matter if you're seeing a heavy act like Korn or Metallica or if the band's entire sound is based upon acoustic guitars--there should be a short-but-not-brief section of the set list devoted to a solo acoustic performance.  This can be performed either by the lead singer alone with an acoustic guitar, a lead singer and an additional guitarist, a lead singer with an acoustic guitar as well as an additional guitarist, or a full-band acoustic performance.  The preference is to begin with the formermost, assuming the lead singer is a decent acoustic guitar player, and to build up, perhaps through each of those steps, to the lattermost where the entire band is involved.  You don't want to see mopey drummers or bass players waiting in the wings; it takes away from the show and leads to dissension in the band.

What is played during this set is entirely up to the band; one must allow for some creativity on the part of the artist!  But, just in case, I do have a few suggestions: surprise the audience with a stripped down version of a mega-hit they are expecting later in the show (but not "The Big One," which would be in direct violation of Rule II), take one of your heaviest songs or a song people would be least likely to picture as an acoustic tune and play it acoustically (Incubus with "Pardon Me," for example), or play a cover tune (this must be done with the UTMOST precision and care though--it must be a performance that people will speak about for years to come and it must be one of, if not the highlight of the show).
Bands who got it right:

Weezer (Opening for the Foo Fighters at the Continental Airlines Arena 10.14.05) Rivers performed a solo acoustic rendition of "Island In The Sun"

Three Days Grace (Starland Ballroom 09.04.06) Adam Gontier performed a solo 12-string acoustic cover version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game."  I still get chills thinking about this performance.

Foo Fighters (2008 Skin & Bones Tour) Dave Grohl and the band had an entirely different stage devoted to a mid-set acoustic session that consisted of  "Skin & Bones," "My Hero," "Cold Day In The Sun," "But, Honestly," a triangle solo performed by percussionist Drew Hester, and then an absolutely amazing solo-acoustic rendition of "Everlong" that began with only Dave Grohl and an acoustic guitar, and which then transformed into a full-blown electric performance with the entire band as the song reached its climactic bridge and final chorus.

Three Days Grace (Roseland Ballroom 07.11.08) Once again Adam Gontier delivered a wicked solo acoustic cover, this time of Alice In Chains' "Rooster."  Chills and tingles abound.

10 Years (Opening for Shinedown at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza 03.31.09) Jesse Hasek performed an acoustic version of "So Long, Goodbye" with drummer Brian Vodinh of the band on acoustic guitar.  It was my first time hearing the song and the performance was so phenomenal that it made the song one of my favorites of all time.

Fuel (Starland Ballroom 05.22.10) Brett Scallions performed the song "Slow" acoustically and then launched into an acoustic cover of Pink Floyd's mega-hit "Wish You Were Here."  Unexpected and expertly covered.


This rule has been in effect since "The Last Play At Shea" (or the second to last, for me) back in 2008.  Billy Joel created quite a stir in the days and weeks leading up to his grand performance(s) as he alluded to the potential appearances of several "guests."  Immediately, people began prognosticating that the great Paul McCartney might be one of these guests as his band "The Beatles" was the first act to perform in Shea Stadium back in the 1960s.  With the closing of the stadium and thus Joel's status as the final performer, it would be only fitting that McCartney be one of the guests.  Needless to say, Billy Joel amassed quite the quantity of talent for his two shows.  Unfortunately, on the night that I went, there was no Paul McCartney and, worse, there was John Mayer.  Still, though, I was delighted to see Tony Bennett, Don Henley, and John Mellencamp come out and sing with Billy.  Of course it didn't help that during the next and actual "Last Play at Shea," Billy had the likes of Tony Bennett (again--he's everywhere, like zits on a teenage face), Garth Brooks (arguably the most prolific country music performer of our time), Steven effing Tyler, and Roger Daltrey from The Who.  THE WHO!  Oh, yeah, and Paul McCartney.  See--Billy Joel was a cocktease the first night because he played two Beatles' tunes and everyone, including me, thought, "OH!  THIS IS IT!!!  THIS IS WHEN PAUL MCCARTNEY WILL COME OUT!" But no, that would be the second night.  Asshole.

Anyway, now that the catharsis and silent weeping is over, let me get back to the rule.  Ever since that show, whenever I go to a concert, I'm always thinking, "Gee...I wonder if there will be a special guest?"  Needless to say, Billy Joel ruined the standard concert-going experience for me...and helped me to craft a very useful rule for bands and performers.  To ensure that the maximum enjoyment potential is reached at the show, a surprise guest appearance is necessary.  However--said guest must be of a stature and level of legacy commensurate with the performer's own status and level.  Think about it--would you want to go see Elton John, know in advance that he's going to have a special guest for the song "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," fully expect it to be George Michael (and why wouldn't you), and then be absolutely crestfallen when they announce "American Idol Winner: FANTASIA!"  It just wouldn't work.

The opposite is true as well.  As exciting as it would be to go see a relatively obscure band and have a high profile artist make a surprise guest just wouldn't work.  It'd be like placing the Hope Diamond on one of those candy ring things that were big in the 80s.  Also, the guest must not subvert the host performer by overdoing it with his or her performance.  We're looking at one or two songs, at most, and then calling it a night.

There's nothing wrong with having the guest be from a comparable band co-headlining the tour either.  Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Seether, and Evanescence often do this where they will have the lead singer from one (or more) band(s) come out to perform one of the other bands' hit with them.  It makes for a good time and doesn't leave the fan feeling cheated or confused.

Bands & Performers Who Have Gotten It Right:

Billy Joel (Last Play(s) at Shea 2008)  Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, Garth Brooks, Roger Daltrey, and Paul McCartney

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (IZOD Center 2008)  Steven Tyler.  I know what you're thinking: WTF?  The Trans-Siberian OrchestraSteven TYLER?  First: that Trans-Siberian Orchestra show was far and away the heaviest and craziest rock show that I have ever been to.  There was more fire there than in the loins of Wilt Chamberlain.  Apparently they always have a special guest during at least one of the shows closer to Christmas.  I was fortunate enough to be attending the night Steven Tyler was there (thereby making up for the despair that Billy Joel had placed me in) AND I got to see him perform my two favorite Aerosmith songs: "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On."  Awesome.

Paul McCartney (First Ditty at Citi 2009)  Billy Joel.  He was only there one night and it was the night I got to go--what are the odds?  Karma can be a fickle bitch but she did me right that night!  Plus it was Timmy's first concert (in utero)--what a great way to start!


I'm not talking just an acoustic version of someone else's song: I'm talking an epic version.  It could be acoustic but it better make my feuchter Punkt tingle.  The best way to fulfill the rule would be to play a ridiculously famous or difficult song that no one would have the balls to cover and to hit a home run with your rendition.  Muse did this with their cover of U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" while in Glastonbury during their tour earlier this year.  Another way would be to take a few awesome songs and to "mash them up," as the kids say, with one of your songs.  Three Days Grace did that with their final song of the night back in 2008 when they played "Home" with a section of Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot" in the middle.  Finger Eleven did one better when they took the criticism of their hit "Paralyzer" sounding like a number of different songs and turned it into something awesome by combining those songs with their hit!  The nearly ten-minute (or ten-minute plus, in some cases) version of "Paralyzer" featured sections of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out," Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)," and Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot." 

Another suitable option would be for the band to cover a song that is really unrelated to its genre.  Hoobastank is the master of this particular type of cover as they've performed the Ghosbusters' Theme, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" during their concerts.  All three of those are songs that the demographic attending the show will likely know and love.  Good times are sure to ensue!   The acoustic cover will work best if the band is particularly heavy in its sound (say, Breaking Benjamin, for example), and the song is unexpected (such as Ben Burnley's acoustic cover of Aerosmith's "Dream On").  The opposite situation does not necessarily work, however.  During Billy Joel's "12 Gardens Live" tour at Madison Square Garden, he covered AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."  This was a case of a softer-sounding act covering a heavier band's material...and it was just creepy to see.  It was odd seeing him dancing around on stage with a felt like talent night at Shady Acres' retirement community.  There's only so far you can go though if you're heavy.  I don't want to see Korn bring out special guests: the Wiggles, or Godsmack covering a Sonny & Cher song.


I say this not because of my virgin ears burn with each vicious use of the swear word but rather because, frankly, it is unprofessional and unbecoming of you; it is the rock equivalent of the corporate and academic "um."  When people are forced to give presentations at work or at school and said people are uncomfortable with so doing, they will employ a prodigious quantity of ums and uhs as a way of filling the vast void of their sorry-ass public speaking skills.  A rock star overusing the word fuck is really just doing the same thing: belying a deep-rooted fear of speaking to a large crowd of people and the inherent judgment that must inevitably be cast upon the speaker.  A good front man can engage the crowd without resorting to poor attempts at summoning up energy from the listeners; sometimes less is more, in that regard.  If you can't think of anything to say, then don't say anything!  If you're nervous about being up on stage in front of a large crowd (we're looking at YOU Scott Weiland) then just pop another vicotin and you'll be fine!

Fucking Examples Of Fucking Fuckers Who Can't Fucking Avoid Fucking Using The Fucking Word Fuck:

Die Trying & Machinehead:  A sample of their engaging with the crowd:  "What's fucking up you fuckers?  Are you fucking ready for a fucking good fucking time?  ALRIGHT!  YEAH!  FUCK YEAH!  So is this anyone's first fucking time seeing us?  Fucking awesome man."  Less is more people. 

Those Who Got It Right:

Brent from Shinedown literally and quietly told a personal story about the song as the band segued into "Save Me" and had every single person's attention in that venue.

Dave Grohl is easily the best frontman ever.  Who else would ask the audience after three songs (and probably a GREAT DEAL of "Crown Royal and Coors Lights") if we were ready for, "A Rock And Roll Enema Prescribed By Dr. G!"


Occasionally you will be forced to endure a front man in a bad mood or one who enjoys, in general, a surly disposition.  This person can take away from your concert-going experience by killing your good mood with his or her own pessimism.  Johnny Rzeznik recently did this at the Goo Goo Dolls show at Jones Beach when he pointed out that every single time they played there it rained (it was an absolutely gorgeous night as he was saying this).  Realizing the aforementioned weather factoid, he then said, "It's not raining now but the night is young."  Great, dick.  Now you've got everyone worrying that it's going to pour on them and thus turn you into an even bigger dickhead.

Regarding the former aspect of the rule, though, there stands only one man as examplar: Glenn Frey from the Eagles.  After shelling out a decent amount (roughly $30) for NOSEBLEED seats (purple section, Madison Square Garden), I found myself particularly outraged with a "joke" that Frey was recycling (seriously?  Using the same exact material from a previous tour?)  Mr. Douchebag Penis Face Asshole Guy took exception to the fact that a number of people were taking video clips with their cell phones.  He said something along the lines of, "I know that everyone out there has cell phones with cameras nowadays, so feel free to take all the pictures you'd like but please don't take any videos.  Let's be real, none of you paid enough for your tickets to be recording us."

Glenn Frey, everybody.