Monthly Archives: July 2009

You Think You Get Bad Audiences?

DECEMBER 11th COMMENT: Recently, a friend of mine and I were talking about horrible opening acts we’d seen. I was referring to the one from this concert, and he was referring to a Regina Spektor concert he had gone to. After a few minutes of comparing notes, I asked him who the opening act was. It turned out to be the same one. Someone needs to find out who their booking agent is.

This post is a rant on what not to do as an audience member, opening band, or sound technician.

Yesterday morning I found out that one of my favourite bands, The Guggenheim Grotto, was playing in WTMD’s First Thursday* event. I of course went tosee them, getting there about an hour earlt. The concert was outdoors, at the foot of the real Washington memorial. The one in D.C. doesn’t count because 1)it doesn’t have a statue of Washington at the top, and 2) because if it did, I doubt Washington would be wearing a toga.** But back to the concert. When my parents and I got there, sound checks for the opening band, Pressing Strings, were being done. Based on the volume, we decided to sit a little ways back from the stage. This proved to be a very bad decision.

As it got closer to 5:30, the park started to fill with camp chairs, blankets, and people asking each other if they had cash to buy cotton candy and beer from stalls that had been set up. Once most of the space in the park had been filled, a group of people set up their camp chairs about a foot in front of where I was sitting on the ground, effectively blocking my view. The worst part? If they had set up one chair a few inches to the right, which they had room to do, they wouldn’t have. They then spent the rest of the evening talking about radio stations.

Prize quote: “But I’ve already pledged to NPR. Can I still pledge to WTMD?”

The concert started with our lovely local band, Pressing Strings. Before we start critiquing them(and by critiquing, I mean criticizing), let’s review what an opening band is supposed to be. An opening band is a group that has a complementary sound to the main act, and plays for about a half hour in order to get the audience excited about being at the concert. Now, Pressing strings was introduced as a mix of acoustic rock, blues and reggae. Go to their Myspace page, which I linked to above, and listen to one of their songs. It doesn’t matter which one, they all sound the same. Now, listen to this song by The Guggenheim Grotto. Does this sound at all like something you’d expect after Pressing Strings? Not only that, Pressing Strings was horrible at talking to the audience. It felt like after every song they said something along the lines of “First Thursday is a great event, it’s great to be here, our mailing list is over there, and you can buy our CD as well, are you excited about Guggenheim Grotto?” After the third repetition of this, I would have been excited about watching comatose patients undergoing group therap, just so Pressing Strings would get off the stage. It took them a good hour and a half to leave.

If their music was decent, I wouldn’t be complaining quite so much, but I believe the reason, they repeated this spiel was so that the audience could tell where one song ended and another started. Remember how I said an opening band is supposed to get the audience excited about being there? This is usually accomplished by playing upbeat(or at least uptempo) songs that are fun to listen to. Not only did it all sound the same, Pressing Strings’ music was amazingly low-key. I think this may have contributed(though I severely doubt it was the sole cause) to the audience’s horrific behavior.

The audience seemed to think that these bands were the outdoor equivalent of their stereo. They almost completely ignored the stage. I saw many who were sitting with their backs to it. Everyone talked loudly to their friends, everyone was constantly getting up to get more cotton candy and beer(obviously since the members of The Guggenheim Grotto are Irish, there has to be beer, right?). And what do the sound technicians do to deal with this noise? They turned the mics down. Yes, down. Audience members, these bands are coming here specifically to entertain you, they don’t even get paid for this gig. They’re not only sacrificing the time they’re on stage, they’re giving you the time and money it took to get here, the time and work it took to rehearse, to set up all their instruments, and do the sound check. If you’re that desperate to talk, go somewhere where you won’t be being rude. The most painful moment was when The Guggenheim Grotto told the audience they could sing along with the chorus of their song Fee Da Da Dee, and no one, at least no one anywhere near where I was sitting, did. I don’t think the majority of the audience even noticed.

So now that I’ve spent about 750 words on complaints, I will go into the good part of this concert. Three words. The Guggenheim Grotto. They were incredible. They were funny, and so, so talented. I don’t think I’ve ever heard two people create such a full sound before. They were signing CDs afterwards, and I bought one specifically so that I could tell them they did a great job. I also signed up for their mailing list. Pressing Strings, take notes. Mentioning the CDs and mailing list once or twice, good, after every song, I won’t do it because you were so annoying about it.

To close off, were there way too many annoying people? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely, but only because it was The Guggenheim Grotto. I left the concert all giddy and wishing I had a CD player on me.

*WTMD is Towson University’s radio station. They host First Thursdays, free outdoor concerts in West Mt. Vernon Park, which is in downtown Baltimore.

**Not kidding.

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