Everybody's got their rock concert pet-peeves. Some people go crazy if they hear coughing. Others can't abide sitting beside pets. Some concertgoers become enraged if Big Wreck is on the stage. I know I do. Nevertheless, these things are petty quibbles. Little nuisances. No big deal. I mean, I can put up with the flu, poodles, and egotistical talentless guitar-players. There are two things, however, that positively drive me up the wall. They cause my fists to clench, my teeth to grind, my feet to start kicking passers-by. Yes, if there are two things that I cannot stand at a rock concert, it's singing and dancing.
Now, before I get carried away, let me add a quantifier: I don't hate all singing and dancing. Far from it. But I do hate some singing and dancing. I do. It's true. Allow me to elaborate.
I've had a good week for music. Monday presented the opportunity to bust on down to Montreal for a Grandaddy/Coldplay show. The concert was very, very good - a packed house, an actual view of the stage, solid sets and an appreciative audience. Oh yeah, and they sounded damn fine, too. Grandaddy's rural techno-shoegazer guitar rock was surprisingly capable (I had expected them to flounder outside of the studio), and the crowd seemed not only impressed with the indie hipsters, but pretty familiar with them. Coldplay, with their radio hit and headlining spot, however, were the ones who really tore the house down, strumming their way through a set of warm, yummy new britpop, playing a lot of unreleased material as well as the better part of their terrific debut (Parachutes).
But here we enter into the problem. A band has every right to play its songs however it pleases. Similarly, I would not stand in the way of the traditional sing-along-with-the-anthem moment. At a Dave Matthews Band concert, we should all feel welcome to deliver the lyrics to "Ants Marching". At a Beatles show, nobody would expect a silent crowd during the "na-na-na-na"s of "Hey Jude". Ditto for "People of the Sky" chez Sloan, "Rock and Roll All Nite" with Kiss, or "Everybody Hurts" with REM. Some bands have numerous 'anthem songs'. Others are simply sing-along-style-bands (Marilyn Manson, for instance). I wouldn't begrudge an audience that sneered with Liam to "Wonderwall", and I won't begrudge the audience at the Metropolis, Monday night (myself included), that found itself wailing along to "Yellow".
There's a line that must be drawn, however.
It's one thing for a crowd to, as one, echo the chorus of a group's biggest hit or highlight moments. It's quite another to sing along with every single one of their songs that you know. "Why should this be a big deal?" you ask, "It sounds sort of nice, and the band must like it." Well, yeah, to a certain degree, but... two things:
1) If you want to sing along to the songs, you can do that at home, to the CD. If you want to sing along to the songs with other people, get some friends together and have a nifty sing-along party. Some people go to concerts to hear themselves. I go to a concert to hear the band. And you're wrong and I'm right.
2) This is the bigg'un, and the 'un that people might not realize: by singing along, at high volume, with the band on stage, it impedes them from doing things differently. Coldplay, Monday night, played very familiar renditions of their older material - not straying very far from the album recordings. This may have been a conscious choice, sure, but if a thousand people get confused and glare at the band when their performance differs from the record and they can no longer sing along, well, that will influence the band (unless they're sadistic bastards, or Danzig,) to avoid such instances. Rather than experimenting with where they can take a number, they'll stick to the book, play it competently but mundanely, not wanting to confuse their fans or ruin the sing-along fun. And that sucks. I would rather hear a song I know played in a way other than on the album which I know and love. I'd rather hear innovation, sonic exploration, new aural territories. I don't want to see a group whose musical performance is bounded by what the audience is familiar with. And singing along can do this.
Okay, you say. We get it. Singing's bad, except when it's not - at "anthem" or "tradition" moments, which you never really defined. But we get it.
What's the beef with dancing?
As I said, it's been a good week for music. I saw Coldplay and the 'daddy on Monday, a local jazz quintet (Lounge) on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I was treated to a surprise delight by Drums and Tuba. "What!?" you ask, "A band made up of drums with a tuba!?"
The answer is no. There was also a guy playing guitars.
Drums and Tuba were a terrific three-piece from the States, whose energized set set heads a noddin', feet a tappin', and fools a dancin'. One guy, yes, farted away on his tuba, another played some mean skins, and a third played a combination of the electric guitar round his neck, and the electric guitar strapped to a stand (which he played with a combination of pedals and other weirdness). What's more, they incorporated electronics, recording live samples and constructing dense layers of sound. Their oeuvre was Post-Rock, and they sent the music out in waves, threading mixtures of rock, jazz, dance, surf, polka, and Godspeed-like climaxes. It was an incredible show, and certainly (despite their strictly 'indie' status) on par with the Coldplay show of a couple days earlier. Another sign that for every good mainstream band, there are six lesser-known groups lurking on the fringes.
But back to the dancing...
Now, I like dancing. I'm not very good at it, I'm often rather silly when engaging in it, but I do like it. I don't like getting in peoples' way, however, nor do I like ruining things for others. For most of the D & T concert, I kept my hands in pockets, bouncing my head to the groove in typical man fashion. To my right was a crazy bird-dancer, with thick plastic Indie-rock glasses and wispy hair, who preened and stretched and giggled along with the band. That was OK. Strange, but acceptable. An interesting visual representation of the music. Ahead of me were a couple of 80s rockers, basically just stamping their feet and grunting, occasionally making little jumps and waving their hair all around. A distraction. There was a very lovely woman dancing with a short, fat, ugly dude. Another distraction. And finally, in the corner, was The Lizard Guy.
He was wearing a black silk button-up shirt, tucked into black slacks. He wore bright white running shoes and black-framed glasses. He must have been 40 or 45, and his black hair was styled appropriately. And he was dancing like an annoying freak.
Gareth later told me he was doing Duran Duran-style moves, and I suppose his stupid antics match the fucked-up Talking Heads/aliens-on-heroin aesthetic. In truth, he was rippling and twitching like a slimy gecko, vibrating (yes, vibrating) at the song climaxes and resolutions, thrusting his pelvis, wiggling it about, and using it to do the aforementioned rippling and twitching. He looked like one of those dads who would lust over his daughters' friends, leering at them while engaging in a dance that looked somewhere between orgasm and disco. He was positively gross, and, as he was right in front of the stage, was positively unmissable.
I wanted to plunge an ice-pick into his eye.
It's one thing to move to the music, to show your appreciation or simply let energy out. Dancing can also be an attractive (or fascinating) visual interpretation of sound, an entertaining sidepiece to a show. But this guy was something else. It was like watching a concert and trying to ignore the guy masturbating on the side. It made me so freakin' pissed off...
And hence my aversion to dancing. Annoying dancers deserve to die.
Anyway, eventually this guy left to go lick his wife or something, and I found the drums, tuba and guitars beginning to really get into my bones. Before I knew it, I was flailing like a madman, twisting and grooving and loving it.
But I wasn't annoying. No sir.
So call off the hit-men.