It’s a rock ’n’ roll show, folks. It’s supposed to be chaotic. It’s not supposed to have rules. Lighten up if someone or something is bothering you.
Then again, concerts are also supposed to have a communal spirit, and let’s face it, idiots and over-spirited bozos are all too common on any given night.
As someone who goes to concerts for a living and as a favorite pastime — significantly different experiences, by the way — I’ve seen, heard and smelled it all. I’ve been spewed on and spilled on, run into, bawled out and bowled over numerous times. Even randomly punched once.
I’ve learned to go with the flow. Not like my brother-in-law has, mind you. He once had a guy too lazy to walk to the portajohns flow right down his leg in a packed crowd waiting for Tool at Harriet Island in 2013. (Pete’s cool response was to wipe his leg on the guy’s shirt; I’ve never been prouder of him.)
Through all that experience, I’ve noticed many less egregious annoyances at shows that could be avoided with just a little polite guidance. Here are some suggested rules for everyone to follow so everyone can have a good time.
1. Know when to take a stand or take your seat. Sure, butts should remain planted at a mellow show, at least until the encore. I’m amazed, though, how often at rowdier concerts — especially arena gigs — I see someone ask/demand that people in front of them sit down during what is clearly a moment to get up and get down. Aside from the obvious sections for the physically challenged, stay home if it’s so essential to stay immobile.
2. Only jerks yell song requests. Neil Young’s acoustic shows last winter were marred by idiots yelling out “Old Man” and the like, as if ol’ Neil suddenly forgot which tunes are his biggest hits — or has ever given in to demands. Hollered song titles are annoying at rock shows, too. Exception: If the performer actually asks for requests. Even then, though, they’re often just being polite.
3. And asking for “Freebird” is the worst. That joke got old even before the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash.
4. Don’t yell anything else, either. Aw, does somebody need some attention? Then get a lap dog, stay home and stop barking at the performers. For starters, most of them can’t hear you. And when they can, they usually choose to ignore you. And when they don’t ignore you, it’s usually because whatever you said was so inane that they have to say something. Seriously, over the course of 3,000 concerts, I’ve maybe heard 15 truly smart or laughable things randomly yelled from the crowd. Don’t play the odds.
5. Tall people need to arrive early or stay back. If you’re over 6 feet — or 5 feet 9 for a teeny-bopper or Lil Wayne show — you are a lowlife if you cut into the crowd right before showtime at general-admission (g.a.) venues like First Avenue or the Armory. If you get there in time for the opening band, fair enough; the rest of us can file in around you. Otherwise get lost. And if that seems unfair, so does getting picked last for pickup basketball games and shopping in the boys’ department at age 19.
6. Talkers also stick to the back. That’s fine if you’re not completely into the band, but please remember that most of the people around you are. If you have something more to say to your friend besides a quick comment on a song or a joke about the bass player, head to the back corners and gab away. Unless it’s a show at the Fine Line, in which case you should just leave; that venue has been plagued by audible audience chatter for decades.
7. Let people through. Also a problem at g.a. venues: Many concertgoers act like you’re a Hell’s Angel at Altamont if you try to politely cut through the crowd to hit the bar or bathroom mid-show. News flash, folks: Music venues make their money off bar sales, not tickets. So those drinkers actually have a stronger claim to their spot than you stiff-elbowed ninnies.
8. But don’t be a dink if you’re going to drink. Stand closer to the bar and restrooms if you plan on really hitting the sauce, or get a ticket on the aisle if it’s a seated show. Then keep to yourself. Don’t talk to people you don’t know. Don’t think you’re cute because you decided to spend $100 on a concert-to-remember and then paid $75 more at the bar to forget it. Concerts are never, ever to be mistaken for a frat party, except for obvious exceptions. When is the next Chainsmokers show, anyway?
9. Tap beer, mixed cocktails and packed crowds don’t mix. Order a can or bottle of something if you need to push your way back through the audience during a performance. Otherwise you’re likely to spill half your libations down people’s backs.
10. Don’t put the “F” in art. Sure, we won’t hear it, but the sound isn’t really the bad part about letting one rip in a crowded, poorly ventilated room. And we’ll know who dealt it anyway: We can tell by the way you’re conspicuously trying to ignore everyone within arm’s/aroma’s reach.
11. Remember we live in a post-Sept. 11 world. Don’t bring a 25-pound purse or a Bowie knife necklace or a tinfoiled zucchini in your pants, then make everyone in line behind you wait while you argue with the security guard. Expect a good pat-down, even at smaller venues.
12. We also live in a phone-y world. OK boomers, this first part is mainly for you: Unless a venue or artist posts rules strictly prohibiting it, people are going to take pictures and shoot video on their phones at a concert. Get used to it. It’s part of the experience nowadays. And when clips are shared on social media, many other people get to experience a little of it, too. Most artists appreciate the promotion. As for you kids: Your dad or Lyft driver won’t be able to pick you up if your battery is dead at concert’s end. For many more reasons than that, though, don’t spend half the show looking at the stage through your screen. Don’t lift your phone high overhead. Don’t livestream, period. And at quieter or more intimate shows, don’t even think of killing the vibe with your killer new iPhone 11. Here’s a good rule of thumb, quite literally: Whenever you pull your phone out at a show, imagine it’s like pulling off your gloves in 20-below cold. You need to put them away swiftly, before frostbite sets in.