Sunday, July 1, 2012

We Need To Talk About Talking

Austin I love you but you're bringing me down. We live in a center for great, communal, cultural events and we need to talk about some ground rules. Last night I had the opportunity to see Widowspeak at 29th St. Ballroom. The venue was great, we parked on site for free, the cover at the door was only $5, they had a great outdoor area with picnic tables and a food trailer. Inside, the venue was spacious with plenty of area to sit or stand, the bar is isolated from the performance space, the lighting was great and the sound was excellent. Widowspeak played a great set performing some unreleased material as well as some of my favorites from their eponymous record. I will also say that 95% of the people in the audience were attentive and respectful. The problem I have is with the other 5%. They talked loudly throughout the band's ENTIRE set, they photographed themselves with their back to the band and they generally acted like the self-centered pieces of shit that they clearly are.

I find this behavior at shows is becoming the norm rather than the exception and it is all of our responsibility to make sure that is not the case. I feel there are several roots to this problem. The first is that we live in a city with TONS of live music, many of us go to several shows a week or even several shows a night. This lends itself to an unappreciative atmosphere. We are so inundated with live music that it has become a sort of white noise, we go to shows to say we were there but not to actually enjoy a performance. We're also a generation of documentation, I'm guilty of this one as well, if we don't photograph, video, post or tweet an experience it is less relevant. I can not hate on people for wanting to photograph themselves or a show experience but I also feel like there is a threshold. When pro photographers are shooting a band, they can only shoot the first three songs. Can we make this an audience rule too? If you want to post show photos on your Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter can you try to get it all out of the way at the beginning of the set?

This brings me back to the point about talking. After last night's show I sent out an angry tweet pondering why people pay to get into a show only to talk through an entire performance. I received a couple of responses from people chiding me and explaining that a show is a social event and lots of people go, who don't care about the music. I can not disagree with these statements what I CAN do is highlight times and places for these things. If you go to shows just to socialize, don't go into the performance space. Almost every live performance venue in Austin has a great area away for the stage where you can inanely chatter 'till your heart's content. As I mentioned, 29th St. Ballroom has a really great outside area and the bar area is away from the stage, in a separate room. At the Mohawk you can go outside during an inside show or inside during an outside show. Emo's has a patio, you can stand near the door at Antone's, at the Parish stand near the door/merch area, at Stubb's there are picnic tables near the bathroom. Or better yet, if you don't care about the music save yourself some money and go to any of Austin's hundreds of bars that are designed, SPECIFICALLY, for hanging out with friends and talking.

This was my biggest problem at Austin City Limits Festival last year, people go to go, not to hear music. As a music blogger, I go to musical performances to hear musical performances not to hear you talking. These performers spend lots of time and energy to be on that stage and it is incredibly rude to try to talk over their performance. It is inconsiderate of their hard work and it is inconsiderate of your fellow partrons. Perhaps dropping $30 to talk through a show at Stubb's is nothing to you but to someone working a minimum wage job, they had to work 4+hours to earn the money for that ticket and you're ruining the show for them.

So, where do we go from here? What's the point in me bitching without laying out some sort of plan? First, you can share this post with anyone and everyone you know, maybe the message will spread like those goddamn smug Wonka things all over Facebook. The other thing we can do, is stick our neck out at shows and ask our fellow patrons to be quiet. The venues can not police all of the chatty Cathy's at a show so it is up to us to peer police. Sure, it's awkward to ask someone to stop talking at a show and it may result in a confrontation but if we continue to stand by being quietly annoyed then they will continue to be so self-absorbed as to not realize they are being a disruption. Usually the confrontation goes something like this,

"Hey can you stop talking during the set?"

"Fuck you, I paid to be here, I can talk if I want to. It's not like you can't hear the band"

"Well sir, or miss I also paid to be here and I didn't spend money to listen to you talk through this whole set. I can hear the band but I can also hear you, which is very distracting. Please talk somewhere else or after their set is through."

Around this point the talker is usually shamed into realizing they are a disruption. I have actually had people apologize to me at this point and my fellow attentive patrons usually thank me.

Before I conclude things here, I want to note that I'm not saying you have to stand in absolute silence during a performance. Saying a few things, asking your friend if he needs a drink or telling your girlfriend you'll be right back is no big deal. I'm specifically referring to people who are having loud and extensive conversations, which have nothing to do with the performance. I often have remarks for my boyfriend during a performance but I cup my hand over his ear and I make it brief. Those of us who love the live music experience need to band together against these assholes who just want to say they were at the cool show. I'll have your back if you shush people at shows, if you do the same for me we can shut the fuckers up one show at a time.