Nothing ruins a concert faster than some rude-ass fellow concertgoers. At a certain point, it’s gotta be legal for you to swat a phone out of someone’s hand who just won’t stop taking pictures at a show. It’s not cool, man. You can’t control the behavior of someone else, but you can make sure you’re not an asshole in live-music settings, phone-swatting notwithstanding.
“Don’t be a dick” seems like a very basic directive, one borne of basic etiquette. But it’s harder for some people, based on my anthropological observations. Even if you’re there to get wild, mind your manners. Don’t go in there acting like you’ve never been to a show before. It’s a bad look.
Keep the conversations to a minimum once the actual show gets started. You are there to listen to music, listen being the operative word. So yeah, you’re at a loud show, and the music is booming, and you might be tempted to talk. Talking is fine. Carrying on full, long, loud, and in-depth conversations is not. It’s distracting, and no one wants to be that guy that has to ask chatterboxes to shut up. Whispering and chatting turn into yelling really quick when you’re in a loud setting, too. So, talk less, listen more: That’s some good general life advice. Try it at shows!
So, I know we all have phones that can take pretty good pictures these days, but unless you’re right up in the front row, your picture is going to be grainy and terrible. Take a pic, slap a filter on that little snapshot, and it’s fine as Instagram proof that you were there. But what more do you want? Ansel Adams you are not. Don’t hold your phone in the air taking pictures and videos ad nauseam. If you do this and you’re a tall person, you are an extreme nuisance. If you’re short or average-height, you run the risk of elbowing someone in the face. Neither are good for you or any of your fellow patrons, and either way, you’re being a bother. Your endless concert pics generally aren’t even good, and it’s not like you’re going to throw them into a carousel and present a slideshow later. In this one they’re playing “Everlong.” This is “Everlong.” “Learn to Fly.” “Everlong.” This is also “Everlong.” Pictures don’t have sound. Just take a few and move on.
Concert videos are common, too, and I understand the impulse. On one hand, you never know when Kanye is going to play something new or bring out a special guest. But that involves standing there holding your phone up for so long that it makes my own arms tired just watching you, and the vast majority of the resulting vids look and sound terrible. If you want to get some footage of your favorite song, then by all means. But if you’re trying to film the entire concert, you’re probably not supposed to do that, and it’s not going to look (or sound) good anyway. Unless “lots of arm-jostling” is the aesthetic you’re going for.
Sure, throw your hands in the air. Do some above-the-head clapping. Do what feels right. Let the music move you. But be careful you don’t accidentally throw ‘bows with your neighbor. Sometimes the boundaries of personal space are non-existent: From time to time, you’ll find yourself in a sold-out show standing shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-back, ass-to-crotch with everyone else in the venue, so close to one another you have to lean to one side to free one of your arms. Some shows are like that. In New York, there’s a venue like this called Terminal 5. Occasionally, it’s fun to have a sweaty sing-along with strangers all enjoying the same thing as you: I went to one of the last LCD Soundsystem shows there in 2011, and it was like that. You’re going to be all arms and legs in other people’s areas. But no matter how big the act and packed the space, you don’t have license to be an ass. “Excuse me” or “pardon me” never hurt anyone.
Striking up a natural conversation is one thing, but as with the club, keep your grinding to yourself. Don’t be a creep. It sounds simple, but it’s harder for some men than others. If a girl doesn’t invite you to dance with her or give the clear body language-based clues, don’t get all up in her personal space. Also, don’t try to yell some lame pickup lines over the UNS UNS UNS of the bass. Between sets is a good time to talk. You’re both (hopefully) there in the name of hearing good music, anyhow. But if your approach is of the sweaty, close-talking variety, don’t bother.
It’s not your responsibility to ensure everyone in the venue has an unobstructed view of the stage, but a little self-awareness doesn’t hurt. If you’re super tall and see that you’re standing right in front of someone much shorter than you, move to the side a bit. Or maybe find it in your heart to let them move to the spot in front of you. And generally, no matter your height, consider this for a minute: Do I really need to be up at the front? No! You really don’t!
I’m not tall, and I usually like to find a good spot somewhere in the middle, before it gets super packed, at a spot in the crowd where I still have room to move. If you want to be way up close, though, get there early. At some point, you might get separated from your group, or you might have to go to the bathroom, only to weave your way through the crowd to find your people. Be polite. Say excuse me. But don’t do that whole “red rover line of people with hands clasped” maneuver through a packed house to get a better spot. People who rush up to the front through a packed venue after the show has already started are jerks. Doing that is rude and annoying, and I will assume you’re young or sociopathic or too fucked up or all of the above.
What about girls getting on guys’ shoulders to see better? I’m short, and I’m all for it, given the right venue and show. For example, the sappiest part of a Bon Iver jam is probably an inappropriate time; I also wouldn’t recommend it at a Michael McDonald gig. But for something young and up-tempo, like Calvin Harris or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, go for it. It’s so much fun. It must be cool to be tall. Also, getting on shoulders is something that you’re usually better off doing at an outdoor venue than in a small club; it’s probably better to stay on the ground if you’re at a club or something. Pay attention to people around you when you go up, and don’t kick anyone in the face. Don’t wear out your welcome up there, either, because although you may be getting a better view, you’re also briefly blocking someone else’s.
So you’re going to pop a molly at a Danny Brown show or drop acid during a Fatboy Slim set. Congrats. But don’t be a jerk about it. Be discreet, and don’t overdo it, either. You won’t have a good time, nor will the people around you. What’s worse, you could get in serious trouble. So plan ahead. Sure, it’s easier to find the substances you’re looking for at a festival or outdoor show of a certain (i.e., not Katy Perry-related) variety, and it’s not frowned upon to ask around. But don’t do that at a club. If you’re smoking weed, roll a joint ahead of time or use a one-hitter. If security asks you to stop, do so, or you’ll get booted from the venue or worse. Oh, and if you’re without weed, it’s always good to make nice with the guy next to you who’s passing a joint around.
This is pretty simple, because you usually know when these things are appropriate. If people are moshing, join in if you’d like. But know that you run the risk of going home sweaty, and with a fat lip or a lost tooth. Stage-diving is for rock stars, unless you’re invited. I’ve only crowd-surfed once in my life, and it was years and years ago; that can be fun, but it’s not my fault if you get dropped. And once again, this is probably not the kind of thing you’d want to do at a Bon Iver show. Know your audience.
There’s a legendary story of how Ryan Adams once kicked a guy out of a show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for repeatedly requesting “Summer of ‘69,” a song that’s of course by Bryan Adams. The American Adams may have caved and covered the song more than a decade later, but that’s beside the point. Don’t heckle. It’s rude to the artist and disrespectful to those around you. Don’t yell out requests, either. “’FREEBIRD!’” You’re annoying if you’re the “Freebird” guy. Enjoy the show. Don’t be an asshole.
What are some reasons for a concert to be a bust? The sound was off, the performance was bad, the artist was too hammered to get through a song, etc. Sometimes a show just sucks. But you particularly hate those shows that you enjoyed, but the crowd was bad. A crowd can make or break the experience. So be part of the solution, not the problem. Concerts, by nature, are not polite events, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be reasonable, and relatively quiet.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby
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