Sound Off

Don't Be an Asshole or: A Few Words On The Subject of Concert Etiquette

Hi, my name is Mike Escoto and I like music. In particular, I enjoy live music. As you might reasonably guess, my enjoyment of live music is why I contribute to Up on the Sun, in addition to co-running my own blog, Electric Mustache. It's a little crazy, but I actually get paid to go see concerts. Whether or not I actually deserve to get paid for my reviews is a discussion for another time, or, you know, the comments section of this blog post.

By my count I've reviewed 34 concerts for Up on the Sun since 2009, and I've probably been to another 30-or-so in that time frame either for another publication or my own personal enjoyment. Most have been enjoyable; a few have been amazing and a few have been total shit.

Usually, my enjoyment is based on the performance of the band or musician I'm going to see that night. That is, in my opinion, how it should be. But occasionally, external factors creep in. Sometimes it's the sound mix, or the lighting, but lately, I've noticed an increasing problem at the shows I go to. It's likely a problem you have experienced yourself.

That problem? Assholes.

I realize that whether or not someone is being an asshole is subjective. Just because you think someone is being an asshole doesn't really mean they are. For example: Someone steps on your beer, or steps on your foot, or bumps into you causing you to spill your beer. Your immediate reaction is that this dude is being an asshole, but you know, they probably aren't. Concerts are crowded events, the dude just bumped you. No harm, no foul. He apologies, and all is forgiven. (Of course if he doesn't apologize, or at least give you an apologetic head nod, you might be dealing with an asshole.)

But sometimes, there's no getting around it. Sometimes the asshole-ishness is undeniable.

This is the kind of asshole I ran into on Saturday night's Wilco show.

As Wilco began their performance at Gammage Auditorium, a couple sitting in front of my wife and me stood up and started to dance. This in and of itself was not a problem. I know it can be annoying when someone blocks your view by standing -- but that's honestly just a hazard you're going to run into at concerts. You can stand, too, or sit, and just deal with it. So it goes.

But the problem wasn't dancing; it was the manner in which they were dancing. It was as if they were doing their own interpretive dance to Wilco's "One Sunday Morning," and it was completely distracting, something akin to John Malkovich's dance of despair and disillusionment in Being John Malkovich.

Given how much energy they used up in just the first few songs of Wilco's set, I assumed there was no way they would keep it up, and would eventually tucker themselves out. But, amazingly, midway through the show, they were showing no signs of slowing down. Judging by the looks of everyone else around me, these two were just as distracting to everyone else as they were to me. I felt the need to say something.

The question was should I? After all, they had paid for their tickets just like I did. Who am I to tell them how to enjoy the show? They're just enjoying the music, right? I decided to not say anything and instead just silently judge them in my head. I'd try to enjoy the show as best I could. Unfortunately, I could only hold my tongue for so long. They weren't just having a good time. They were making a total spectacle of themselves, and bothering everyone around them. One guy, sitting a few seats down from me, had to use his hands as blinders to keep from being completely distracted by this couple and their unbearably bad dancing. It only got worse during Wilco's encore, when most of the people in their row decided to leave rather than suffer through more of these people's bullshit.

Enough was enough. I tapped them on the shoulder and asked them if they could sit down for the rest of the show. Their response was, as expected, that they were "just trying to have a good time." I politely pointed out to them that I was all for them having a good time, but that their good time was causing everyone else around them to have a really bad time, and that simply put, they were the worst two people on the planet.

In fairness to this couple, I'm really not against anyone who goes to a concert from having a good time. In fact, there have been lots of times that I wished Phoenix concertgoers would show a little bit more life. If they had wanted to dance the night away a venue like the Marquee Theatre or The Clubhouse it would have been totally acceptable. I would have just simply moved away from them. But we're talking tickets. We're talking assigned seating.

This pretty much brings me to my point, and it's not just directed at this specific couple, but also to the excessive woo'ers or the guy who shouts out the name of his favorite song he wants the band to play next over and over again, and especially the guy sitting in the middle of the row who gets up twenty times during the bands set: Please be aware of your surroundings, and that your "good time" is affecting everyone around you.

In Jason Woodbury's review of the show, he mentions in his Critic's Notebook that he overheard one concertgoer say, "I've never felt this good leaving a concert." I wish I could say the same thing. I wish that when I looked back at this show I'd remember how awesome Wilco's performance of "Via Chicago" was, or how awesome it was when Jeff Tweedy did a "modified version of the running man." Instead, I'm going to remember it for the two assholes shaking it in front of me.

Honestly, I'm glad I said something to them. I often don't. Do I really think it will make a difference? Probably not. They probably drove home after the concert and talked about what an asshole I was (ironic, isn't it?). But hopefully, crawling into bed that night, the thought burrowed like a worm in their minds. "Were we, indeed, being assholes?" Maybe, just maybe, someone will read this and recall a time they were an asshole at a show. It happens to the best of us. But it doesn't have to. And if just one person takes that away from this discussion, the world will be a much better place.

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Mike Escoto