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Saturday, 17 March 2012

One’s company, two’s a crowd: in praise of the gigs that no-one goes to

Live music is, I suppose, all about the moment. The fact that you’re there as it happens. Most live music is loud. There’s a fair bit of choreography of lights, stage gear, fancy moves … all that nonsense. But mostly, in the rock environment anyway, it’s simply loud. Compared to your really-not-as-good-as-it-needs-to-be hi-fi at home or (god forbid) your pathetic little personal music player, it’s very loud.

OK, I can dig that. But what else? Ah, yes, the audience experience. The crowd. It’s doubtless a function of age and misanthropic grumpiness, but to me this is more or less the worst thing about gigs. The other people! At best, they keep out of your way, don’t spill their drinks over you and don’t step on your feet. Yeah, with luck they don’t bash into you (probably without even noticing), they don’t talk like idiots over quiet music and they refrain from whooping and hollering as if they’re natural born Brooklyners. At worst … well, it’s the madness of crowds.

What are the good things? They’re few and far between. The occasional heckle-cum-shout-out can be amusing, people around you nodding their greasy heads or swaying around a little is … kind of OK. Mostly, though, I think the value of other people is just that they prevent the gig from being empty. Because an empty gig is rubbish …

Or is it? Actually, I’m not so sure. Years ago I used to think it normal to go to medium-sized gigs in concert rooms holding 100-200 people, or at least about 50-60. These days it’s usually 20-30 people, sometimes fewer. Last night, for example, there were - depending on how you calculate it - precisely zero people in the audience (if you discount a guy who had come with the one band playing). Nevertheless, the undaunted outfit played two sets, getting little splatters of applause from me (DJ duties), the sound engineer, the barman, the friend (of course), and a couple of other regular-drinker blokes (habitués, who don’t watch the bands but get drunk and sometimes clap loudly from the other side of the bar). Showbiz, eh?

This crowd's coming like a ghost crowd.
A packed audience for The Specials in 1979

To be fair, I’ve also been to some well-attended gigs that worked well enough, but generally the crowded events are awful. Those rammed, jam-packed, can’t-bloody-breathe ones, where there’s no hope of getting near the front or of circulating in any way. A torment!

And I hardly ever remember the bigger gigs. I think it’s the smaller-scale stuff that stays with you - Turner Cody playing to 7-8 people in New York, Thee Vicars playing to 15 in east London, Herman Dune to 25 in Leicester. Also George Thomas and David Thomas Broughton entertaining exactly 12 (I counted) in Coventry. In the last one DTB incorporated into his set a brusquely theatrical bit of stage business where he went around the room packing up the empty chairs that had been laid out in rows (rather optimistically) for the show. It was a memorable moment of Broughton-esque oddity and also, perhaps, a sort of artistic comment on the ghosts in the audience.

As the title of this blog has it, no gig’s too far or audience too small for me. In fact, the smaller the better.

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