I was at a gig last night and a few things happened that made me want to write a few words about the experience as a whole.
Firstly, let’s discuss who you take with you, if anyone. I mostly end up going on my own to lots of gigs now for a few reasons. Usually none of my friends like the same music as me so they are not interested in attending. Or it’s on a ‘school night’ and they don’t want to be sticking to the floor of a venue on a Monday night. I also travel a lot and people just don’t want to go or can’t afford to venture across the country to see someone for a couple of hours.
All of these are very reasonable arguments for not going and I appreciate that I am in a position to do such things whereas others may not be. I would never get annoyed if someone didn’t want to come with me as it’s totally their choice at the end of the day. I think that going to see an artist that you love in a live environment is such an intimate thing that you want to focus and enjoy being there.
Which brings me onto point two, which is when someone does come with you but doesn’t actually want to be there. This has happened to me more times than I can mention and it riles me up I have to say. I have been really looking forward to seeing someone and got there only to have the person next to me radiating annoyance on such a level that I end up having a rubbish time. I find myself being more worried about how they are finding it that I don’t actually enjoy the gig myself. I’ve had to leave before encores quite a few times as the person I was with wanted to leave as they’d had enough. I missed about 20 minutes of Neil Finn once due to this and I still haven’t got over it years later.
This happened again last night as my companion didn’t like the band we were seeing and I could feel him edging out of the door as the second encore was taking place. They ended up doing three encores and I deliberately stood with my back to him while they were on stage so he couldn’t get my attention to leave. Tactics have now come into play.
I am very happy to go along and pretty much see anyone perform live as the experience for me is being part of the crowd and witnessing the artist let go on stage and share their music with the audience. I get that it’s different for everyone and that some people only like big arena artists who give more of a show to their fans whereas some folks like the smaller acoustic shows in dodgy pubs where you can get up close and personal. I’m a fan of both to be honest and will go wherever my favourites choose to play as the venue doesn’t particularly influence my enjoyment of seeing them. Apart from that one place where it was subzero and I had to wear an extra jumper of course…
Another thing I noticed last night was that the PA system seemed to be a right load of old rubbish. There were times when I couldn’t hear the singer as he was drowned out by the instruments and it wasn’t just loud, it was too loud. When you can feel the vibrations in your chest and you’re standing towards the back of the room, there’s a problem.
I cannot deal with the sound being too loud and for the last few years I have taken to wearing earplugs at every gig I go to. Even when I’m seeing an acoustic set I still take them with me just in case I need to put them in. This started for me when I went to see Therapy? at Rock City years back and ended up with ringing ears for three days afterwards. I had experienced it in the past, but never to that extent and I don’t mind admitting that it seriously freaked me out. Bearing in mind I listen to music all the time, one thing I would be devastated to have impaired is my hearing. So I bought a pair of ‘proper’ music earplugs and have been using them ever since and I have to say it doesn’t stop me enjoying the gig in any way. They let in the right amount of sound and I can still hear everything that is going on. The only drawback is you can’t really speak to anyone else when you’re wearing them and I had to explain this to my mate recently when we went to see Teenage Fanclub. I had to warn him that I wasn’t actually ignoring him throughout the set it was just that I couldn’t talk back to him. I think it was possibly one of the reasons he enjoyed the gig more than usual.
Anyway, why am I mentioning this? Well, last night I was watching one of the sound guys near to the stage just before the band came on and he went through a really elaborate method of hiding the fact that he was putting earplugs in. He made out he was stretching and then scratching his head in the hope that no-one would notice he was putting them in his ears. I was a bit bemused by this as I just put mine in and don’t care if anyone sees me doing it. I would much rather be laughed at and have my hearing in tact rather than worry about what people think.
Hearing loss and tinnitus is a big deal and I know lots of people (including musicians) who now suffer with it due to going to gigs and having the volume too high or standing too close to the speakers. My friend Roger is in his sixties and tells me the story of going to see Status Quo or some such when he was 18 and his mate passed him some cotton wool to block the sound out. Of course it made absolutely no difference and when the volume started to vibrate his internal organs he realised that he might be in a spot of bother. He now has tinnitus and has been putting up with it for years. This makes me quite sad as he loves going to gigs and much as I do and this will be affecting his enjoyment.
I always remind my companions to bring earplugs with them whenever we go to gigs nowadays and it was very amusing going to see Feeder recently with two mates and all three of us stood there and put our plugs in simultaneously as the band took to the stage. And we all had a wonderful time without having the dreaded ‘buzzing’ when it finished. I have no embarrassment in taking mine with me and I would highly recommend that if you attend lots of gigs that you should invest in a good pair. Drop me a line if you want to know which ones I wear.
I’ve written about venues before and how they can make or break the gig and I think the company you keep can also be a big part of your enjoyment. I do think it’s really nice of friends and partners to go along and keep you company when they don’t know the artist as it shows their support for you. They may not like it as much as you do, but at least they’ve given it a go and they might be surprised and enjoy it. My brother is very good at coming to concerts with me and has actually got into some of the bands we’ve seen which makes me happy. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for some of my other companions, but what can you do? I guess that maybe I should just expect that going alone is the way to go or maybe find someone else with the same taste in music as me. And that’s the hard part.