It was an unseasonably cool evening last August at St. Paul’s recently reopened Palace Theatre, and California hip-hop rocker Beck had just ripped through a string of high-energy deep cuts to kick off his first Minnesota concert in nine years.
But you would never know it by the torpid audience in the balcony, whose rear ends remained firmly attached to the venue’s burnt-orange seat cushions.
As he launched into the funky bilingual banger “Qué Onda Guero,” the artist gestured to the sedentary bodies on the second floor and issued an unusual — and quite frankly embarrassing — recommendation.
“You can get out of your seat!”
Pockets of people scattered around the upper deck seized the opportunity to get up and move, but far more remained seated. As City Pages’ Erik Thompson noted in his review of the show, it wasn’t until much later in the 100-minute set, naturally during Beck’s most recognizable hit, “Loser,” that the bulk of the crowd finally found its feet.
I wish I could say this was an anomaly. In the 25 years I’ve been seeing live music, I can’t recall ever going to a rock show in which a huge percentage of attendees chose to sit through the whole performance.
That is, until I moved to Minnesota a few years ago. It seems like every time I see a rock band in one of the Twin Cities’ lovely historic theaters — from Sigur Rós to Robert Plant and even Wilco — sitting down in the balcony (and sometimes on the floor) is the norm.
When discussing the strangeness of this local idiosyncrasy, I’ve heard anecdotes from other standers who say they’ve been on the receiving end of jeers from fellow fans and complaints to security. One woman on Twitter said her friend who dared to stand at an Xcel Energy Center concert was grabbed by a man seated behind her. This is no way for a civilized people to behave. Just because a chair is provided doesn’t mean you have to use it. If someone in front of you stands, like a normal music fan, there’s nothing to stop you from doing the same.
Besides, theater seats are uncomfortable! I’m not even tall and my knees usually touch the back of the chair in front of me. After 45 minutes, my leg is asleep. All of this can be easily avoided.
Maybe there’s just something in the air here. In her account of the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium for GQ, author Caity Weaver noted this bizarre phenomenon during Justin Timberlake’s dance-floor-friendly set:
Justin Timberlake’s halftime show was one of the eeriest events I’ve ever witnessed. For nearly his entire performance, the tens of thousands of people seated in the stadium sat motionless. They did not dance. They did not sing. They did not talk. They simply stared politely forward, the way you might if someone were giving a mildly engaging talk just before lunch at a business conference.
Granted, the Super Bowl was not really a crowd of Minnesota music fans. But one can only wonder if the disproportionate number of Minnesotans in attendance somehow peer-pressured the out-of-towners into catatonia. Do you think the rain-drenched crowd in the stands at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium sat through Prince’s legendary 2007 halftime show? (Spoiler alert: They did not, as several shots in the NFL’s documentary on the performance clearly show.)
Sure, there are sit-down shows. Sitting is fine when you’re taking in a jazz quartet at the Dakota, a folk balladeer at the Hook & Ladder or a night at the orchestra. But if the music you’re listening to sounds best at high volume, standing up and, heaven forbid, acting like you’re actually enjoying the performance is the most natural thing in the world. Unless you’re confined to a chair for medical reasons (and just about every major venue makes special accommodations to ensure that the disabled or injured have clear sight lines) it’s virtually impossible to rock out when you’re on your butt.
Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to your favorite musicians. Artists ranging from James Brown to J-Lo to 50 Cent have all sung the praises of getting up. How many hits not written by Otis Redding are about sitting? And even that one is about lounging next to a body of water, not at a rock show.
But if you choose to sit, and that is certainly your right, don’t expect everyone else to do the same — and don’t ever shame people who stand up to get their groove on. They’re doing nothing wrong.
For my fellow concert standers, forget the haters and let the immortal words of Bob Marley be your guiding light:
Get up, stand up.
Stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up.
Don’t give up the fight.