People don’t mention it much, but a big part of musicians coming across well when they’re playing live is how they act on stage. Things like how much they talk, etc. Here are my top 10 annoying stage behaviours:
1: Talking too much
I've blogged on this before so will keep this mercifully brief (always a good idea), but quite a few musicians do this, some chronically so. Being on stage is apparently interpreted by some performers as a licence to drone on about whatever’s on their (not very well-stocked) minds. The atmosphere (if there was one) is nearly always destroyed by the stage ramblers. Please! Shut up and play your music. (On the other hand, it’s got to be said that a few people are really funny/interesting between songs and can get away with it. Not many though).
2: Explaining songs before playing them
Slightly different from the above. It can admittedly be OK, even good - making a song more meaningful when you know about its history or something - but quite often this is boring, unnecessary and effectively destroys any artistry with over-explanation.
3: Attacking the audience
Kind of obvious, but more complicated than it looks I reckon. On the one hand the audience-baiting behaviour of punk could definitely be enlivening. I’ve got this nice tape of the Sex Pistols playing in Stoke-on-Trent in 1976, with Johnny Rotten saying “Ooooh, they don’t like us!” Also, one of my most exciting gigs was a Selfish Cunt one about five or six years ago, where the singer kicked beer glasses against the wall (broken glass showered the audience: not nice) and strutted - bare-skinny-chested - into the crowd, spitting at them and barging them out of the way (I got some rather large Mr Cunt gobbets on my suit jacket). SC were particularly good in that period so I kind of made allowances (maybe wrongly). Meanwhile, I’ve been to gigs where the band have complained about the lack of people there (“this is a fucking joke”, said one singer at a low-turnout gig in Leicester on one occasion). Er, is that really something you should complain about on stage?
4: Having no interest in the well-being of the audience
At the risk of contradicting myself (surely not!), it’s offensive when a band is uninterested in whether people are getting hurt by stage-divers and moshing (I’ve blogged about this before). C’mon bands! You’re the ones they’re moshing to, so don’t pretend it’s got nothing to do with you if people are getting trampled on.
5: Over-thanking the audience and other bands
Yeah, too much civility is deadening. Boring. Yes, they may be your best mates/touring buddies, they may have been good/OK/bearable, but do we really need you telling us how “brilliant” they were (or are going to be)? Meanwhile, repeatedly thanking those at the gig for “coming out tonight” or (worse) being “a great audience”, is … dull. Almost 1970s showbiz. Please, treat us with more … er, distance.
6: Banging on about their merchandise
Speaks for itself if you ask me. I've complained more than once on this blog about the bands that keep plugging their merch stalls. I don’t want your crappy t-shirts etc …
7: Re-tuning instruments for lengthy periods
Yeah, you’re such musical perfectionists you’ve got to tune that guitar for five excruciating minutes while we just stand there waiting. Some musicians seem to have forgotten they’re not in a studio, they’re at a small venue in south London playing to 25 people (nothing wrong with that BTW). Get over your over-precise selves. (Over!). They normally don’t sound any better after all that anyway …
8: Acting famous
Bit hard to define, but you see this with musicians who self-indulgently say things like “Here’s one you might know” (usually I don’t), who overdo the lighting and “stage craft”, and, well, sound self-important in general (most especially playing bloated, “dramatic” music). A leather-trousered band in New York from earlier this year were the epitome of this to me. Big stage, dry ice etc. Come back Thin Lizzy/The Mission, all is forgiven.
9: Telling the audience to be quiet
Bloody cheek! This is quite common at the hush-everybody-we’re-playing-mature-new-folk gigs. I really like a lot of this music, but I hate being told to be quiet. (In general. But especially at gigs). One singer once compounded the offence by saying “Quiet please. You’re not in Italy now”. What the fuck?
10: Playing boring music!
Aha! The worst of all, and I can forgive all or most of the above if they play really interesting stuff.
Ah, the hyper-critical, ungrateful audience: me. What a fickle bastard. Meanwhile, my fellow audience members get on my nerves as well. So badly behaved! I’ll have a rant about that another time …