by Aithi Hong

3351556658_894c6cb182Photo by McMike-

When I go see a concert or a movie, I will obsessively check before the show begins that my phone is turned off. After about the sixth time I’ve snuck a look at my phone, the impulse will have died down, but the person I am with will have begun to feel a bit weirded out (“Sweetheart, you can’t see the time because your phone’s turned off”).

Still, throughout the show there will be the nagging fear that my phone will suddenly go off, that the phone will acquire a mind of its own and switch itself on, and then, right then when the orchestra rests and the violin solo is carrying the movement to its emotional finish, when the star-crossed lovers after decades of separation are finally reunited and the audience all around me are wiping away tears – right then will my mother decide that it is a good time to call and remind me to do my laundry, and to say that the lady who lives next door just got a new haircut and it looks horrible.

There are, I suppose, worse fears to have. At the very least, it’s probably better to be afraid of being an interruption than to not care at all. Who wants to end up being that person who is trying to provide DVD commentary throughout the movie and keeps wondering aloud what the characters will do next, when they can just shut up and wait seven seconds to find out. In a similar vein, you don’t want to be that philistine who’s whispering and trying to read his or her program in the dark during a classical music concert –– an event that, whether justified or not, has a reputation for demanding a strict code of conduct for its attendees to follow.

Rock concerts, on the other hand, don’t have this stigma. Most people aren’t afraid of going under dressed to a Foo Fighters show. A rock concert is supposed to be laid back; people drink and dance and smoke things that are less than legal. There’s no need to follow society’s stifling rules for how to behave. Enjoy the music – no being uptight here.

That being said, it’s a lot easier to be a disturbance at a classical music concert than at a rock concert. Rock concerts are, surprise, surprise, loud, and it is much more difficult to be a distraction at an event where the most effective way to communicate something to the person next to you is to text them. At particularly intimate venues, like the Troubadour in West Hollywood, it is especially hard.

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So, to the guy who was standing behind me during the As Tall As Lions Concert on February 18: I congratulate you. Over the deafening music you still were able to convey to everyone standing a few feet away from you your opinion that the second opening band had been playing too long for anyone to want to listen to them anymore. Hey, let’s shout how the opening band’s set list sucks, and that they should get off the stage! Let’s shout it three feet away from the stage during a soft song! Yay!

Now, I can see why you might have thought you were justified in making your comments. Like most of the people there, including myself, you were there to see As Tall As Lions, not the opening bands The Diamond Light or Audrye Sessions, a sentiment made audibly known by a buzz of muttering throughout the two sets that was, if a bit annoying, not necessarily something to get upset over. In addition, with a naturally loud voice and a grand ability to project, it makes sense that your voice carried over the sound of everything else. And it’s not like I was completely quiet the entire time either; I too would whisper and exchange comments with a friend. On the other hand, I was not constantly yelling to people how the drum set was reminiscent of an aquarium. Congratulations! You recognized that the drum set was blue.

It’s not just the inherent lack of respect for the performers and fellow audience members in such actions that is bothersome. In a society that constantly underestimates the value of art in people’s lives, and instead focuses on what is practical and what makes money, experiences where we voluntarily set aside time for art, such as attending musical concerts, should be cherished and held sacred. Such rude interruptions potentially ruin what could have been a meaningful experience. And there are few things like an intimate rock concert that can create such experiences. There is a vitality and immediacy in live music that cannot be found in recordings. In small venues, where the audience is more than just a giant mass of waving arms and cell phone lights, an extraordinary sort of energy travels alongside the vibrations of the instruments.

As Tall As Lions’s performance was a perfect example of this special communication between the performers and the audience. Luckily, when the band came on stage, Mr. Obnoxious moved away and fell quiet, and the reward for his silence was fantastic. With an enthusiasm fueled in part by the recording of their new album, the Long Island group brought their signature energy to their set, playing both older songs and new compositions. As the audience immersed themselves in the wild, joyful crash of guitars, frantic drums, steady bass and keyboard, the smooth, sweet sound of the trumpet soared overhead, tying everything together and lifting it up, way up, traveling on the rhythms coursing through the air. For their last encore, the band invited members of the audience to join them on stage and played a fan-favorite, “Love, Love, Love.” The evening ended on an ecstatic note: a room of people, arms over each other’s shoulders in a symbol of camaraderie, swayed united, singing the praises of love.

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