This is my first post in what I imagine will be a series on the dynamics between performers and their audiences. I’ve never posted on audience-performer dynamics before, and I really don’t know whether the things I’ve observed have been representative of larger trends, whether they’ve gotten better or worse (however one defines the terms), or whether they’re reflections of my own changing feelings about concert attendance.
I went to a free Battles concert tonight in Central Park. Battles, for those as yet unexposed to their music, is a band that deals in repetitions of minimalist patterns and overlays of same. At Stage Right was a guitarist who doubled on keyboards, often playing the two at once. In the center was another guitarist who also doubled on electric bass. At Stage Left was another guitarist who doubled on keyboards and sometimes on electric bass. In the middle was the drummer, who played very simple patterns with slight permutations over time, a sort of Steve Reich interpretation of disco, rock and funk drumming, if you will.
The music I found simultaneously intriguing and infuriating—the former because the gradual accent shifts and compulsive repetition combined cleverness with a sort of clinical obsessiveness, which together piqued my curiosity; the latter because clinical, repetitive obsessiveness has a really short shelf life for me as a listener, and because the impersonality implied by the repetitiveness I find kind of scary and repulsive.
Perhaps my reactions were not unique, because I observed something at the end of the show that I’d never seen before. The band finished its set and walked off the stage. The crowd gave them some applause, but certainly not an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Then someone appeared backstage (to far stage right) and began prompting the audience for signs of enthusiasm so as to induce the members of the band to return to the stage for an encore. The audience was malleable enough and responded on cue.
So here’s the first question: Have you ever been to a concert during which the audience had to be prompted to provide a rationale (in the form of demonstrable enthusiasm) for a band’s return to the stage for an encore?
I realize that everyone (me included) is dead tired of those tired “things were so much better back in the sixties” arguments. I don’t intend to add my blog posts to the pile, certainly. But having been to a lot of concerts from 1969 to present, I don’t recall ever before observing efforts to convince audiences to demonstrate that they like the artists as a condition for an encore. We went to concerts because we wanted to see our favorite acts—a shocking concept, I know. No one had to tell us to clap and cheer—we did those things because we admired fervently the artists whose concerts we attended. Was the audience reaction (or lack of same)tonight due to the alienating reductionism and obsessive repetitiveness of the music? Or are audiences just less engaged in general with the music they see performed live? Have we become the pod people depicted in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Inquiring minds want to know...
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