Rock show behavior gets rockier all the time


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You know about the trash.

It’s clear visual evidence of what results from a country show at a stadium, and Mayor Bill Peduto has vowed to take steps to prevent or at least send the promoter a bill for the cleanup.

Nonetheless, fans will be walking over crushed cans, red Solo cups, broken glass, smashed hot dog buns, burnt charcoal and maybe even a couch or two when Jason Aldean comes to PNC Park Saturday.

Stadium country shows have been a hotbed of extreme fan behavior, but there are lots of other annoyances that greet concertgoers these days.

Cell phone light show

Indie rockers, who tend to be blunt with their fans, have long been requesting that shows be cell phone-free zones. Some have even posted signs.

Walking into Mr. Smalls in 2013, fans were greeted by a message from British band Savages, saying in part, “We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. ... Silence Your Phones.”

Jake Bugg, performing at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in June, asked that fans get their pictures out of the way on the first couple of songs and then put their phones down.

The standard for media shooting artists has long been the first two or three songs, to get past the distraction, avoid giving away parts of the show and also to capture the artists while they are fresh and new on the stage.

With everyone having a smartphone, artists have lost that control and know that bad photos and live video will pop up on the Web, including unreleased songs they would prefer people hear from the studio first.

Like Savages, Jack White, who does not own a cell phone, believes that they detract from his performance. The singer-guitarist, who performs at Stage AE next Sunday, told Rolling Stone, “People can’t clap anymore because they’ve got a [expletive] texting thing in their [expletive] hand, and probably a drink, too! ... If they can’t give me that energy back? Maybe I’m wasting my time.”

Steve Miller, who performed at the First Niagara Pavilion last month, said in a recent teleconference that he‘‍d like to kick the guy taking the selfie in front of him “right smack in the middle of his ass.”

Ben Bridwell, of indie rock group Band of Horses, said this week that bands just get used to it.

"When we first started, I guess it was like 2004, I was very self-conscious about it — like anyone could have a camera and film you! It was really unnerving, man. I could’t understand why someone would need to take this with them. It really got to me. Ever since then, we’ve just kind of adapted to it. The only time I really get a annoyed by it is when I’m in the crowd and the people in front of me are doing it, and you can't see the band because someone's screen is lit up with a tiny little miniature version of the show I’m trying to watch. As far as being a performer, it sounds like a cliche, but I’m just glad that people care."

Patty Swank of Plum can relate to the fan part of that comment. She told us that during the recent Paul McCartney show at Consol Energy Center she was behind a pair of women in their 60s holding up cell phones to record the show.

“The light from the phones glared in our eyes and was a total distraction all evening. Why would people spend the money and the time to attend a concert like this and then sit with a smartphone in front of them, fussing with the controls and flipping it around, trying to record all evening? Why don’t they just go buy a DVD? I really don’t get it.”

As people’s attention spans have grown more spastic, people also tune in and out of the show to check their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram updates or text with friends, drawing energy away from the stage and maybe distracting people around them, especially in a theater. (I write my reviews on my phone, so do I have a pass?)

On the flipside, cell phones are the new lighters, and we’ve all seen times during the big power ballad when the singer prompts fans to raise them up for that glorious digital glow.

Stand or sit?

This is the age-old question that’s getting more heated with the aging of concert fans. It’s also a reason a fight is just as likely to break out at a Paul Simon or Steely Dan concert as at a Mayhem show.

If there’s a chair, some people naturally want to use it. Others feel there’s no place for sitting at a rock concert. Back in ’‍79 (just to show my age) when the New Barbarians, a side project of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, played the Civic Arena, fans took the folding chairs and threw them toward the back of the floor.

These days, there’s no stand-up/sit-down show with an argument or fight over who’s doing what. The Cleveland Scene recently posted a reader rant about people telling him to sit down at a George Thorogood concert. He railed against the “perpetrators of complacency” bent on turning rock ‘‍n’ roll into “dinner theater.”

Some want to use the seat they paid to rent.

“What invariably happens,” says longtime concertgoer Michael Albright of Greensburg, “is a chain reaction: Some people decide to stand, and then people behind them have to stand, and pretty soon, everyone is forced to stand and no one can see very well at all, where if everyone just sat, everyone could see.”

That might seem like a perfect solution — until you start feeling, “Wow, the crowd isn’t really into this show.”

The most popular concert venue in Pittsburgh, Stage AE on the North Shore, skirts that issue by going chair-less inside and out. It makes an exception for the ones that draw an older crowd, like the Beach Boys, and the more subdued, folk-based shows such as Lyle Lovett and Feist.

Won’t. Shut. Up.

On his first trip to Stage AE in October 2011, Ray LaMontagne had a rough time rising above the chatter, leading him to curse the talkative members of the crowd and offer them a refund to leave. Generally, people talk more and talk louder when they’re standing, so this summer, the folky singer-songwriter looked out on a polite crowd sitting nicely on their chairs with their hands folded.

It wasn’t so smooth at Counting Crows. With the outdoor venue packed last month for the ’90s band, the rock songs went over, but the tender ones were overwhelmed by bar chatter around the periphery.

This is not an issue if you’re seeing Rob Zombie or A Day to Remember or Brand New because it’s CRANKED. It’s also less of an issue for teen shows like .fun or Ed Sheeran because the fans are fully immersed. Same goes for the music-geek events like Sigur Ros or Belle & Sebastian.

Fan interference is more rampant at the nostalgia shows, particularly at the ‘80s-‘90s ones, which are presented more as parties, or at shows where tickets are discounted via Groupon or “papering,” drawing listeners who are there just to post an Instagram pic that they’re there, who know two or three songs and couldn’t care less about the rest.

Everything else

Getting drunk, fighting, falling on people, spilling beer, taking mollys and passing out, not picking someone up in the mosh pit, projectile vomiting on the seat in front of you (as someone did at the Springsteen show at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial) ... all frowned upon, and usually the acts of people wildly out of control.

And then there’s the “constant request guy.”

Yes, you want to hear Modest Mouse do “Float On,” so does everyone else, but you don’t have to holler it out after every song. Most likely, it’s on the set list. In fact, Google the last few set lists — before you leave home or right there at the show on your cell phone (it would be less distracting) — and you’ll have a good sense at which point the band is playing it. If the big hit isn’t on there, like Counting Crows not doing “Mr. Jones,” by all means, scream away and go ahead and encourage your friends to join you. Bands should play their hits.

But don’t whistle ... that much.

On my personal hate list, second only to someone puking on me (it happened at Slayer) is “the whistler.”

At certain heightened moments of a show, yes, a whistle can help charge the atmosphere. But pick your spots. At the recent Neko Case show — seated, in the Cultural District landmark Byham Theater — the guy behind me let loose EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. And even during the good parts of some of them.

Noise band Swans, which recently played the Rex, cranks the volume so loud that the band passes out earplugs at the door. And they barely make a dent. But the whistler inflicts a higher level of pain. I could have stood with my head pressed against the speaker at Swans, and my ears still would have hurt more after Neko.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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