7 rock concert clichés that need to die

The Internet is full of articles about annoying behaviour from concert goers. I agree in the most part, but I’d like today to reverse the angle and look at annoying behaviour ON stage.

I’ve been going to rock concerts for almost 30 years. I’ve seen the level of professionalism rise tremendously over the years, as bands (and touring) transformed from a loose rag tag band of rebels to a finely tuned corporate machine. It seems to me that through the 90’s, a lot of the excess and empty artifice of rock concerts went away, and the shows got better for it.

But in the last few years, I’ve seen some of the old clichés re-appear. Worse: the younger crowd laps it up as if they were new and ground breaking. So please allow me to rant, and list out 7 clichés that should be struck from any artist’s stage act.

7- Stopping the show because the crowd isn’t loud enough to your liking
Doesn’t the fact that we all paid a lot of money to see you play stroke your ego enough? On with the show!

6- “Hello [name of city], you guys are the most amazing crowd of the tour so far!”
Alternate: [name of rival city] was so much louder than you guys! 

Yeah, yeah. It’s a cheap pop; the crowd goes wild because the rock gods have taken notice of the city’s name coming in. We know you’re saying that everywhere. Of course, when they come to MY town, they really mean it.

How about doing a little homework, and talking about the city you’re in, and what’s going on in the lives of its citizens. That would be much more impressive!

5- Drinking booze on stage as part of your act.

Yeah, we understand, you’re badass. You’re a rebel. And I’m not talking here about having a beer on the drum riser. I’m talking about taking 5 minutes of your set to showcase you’re expertise in imbibing Jägermeister. (I’m looking at you Tommy Lee)  Or doing a “bass solo” that’s mostly you drinking Jack Daniels (paging Mr Michael Anthony). Which leads me to our next entry:

4- Instrumental solos by average musicians.

Instrumental solos are technical tour-de-force displays of virtuosity. Or they should be. In rock, they’re mostly piss breaks, for the band and for the audience. So let’s make a few things clear:

  • When the guitar player keeps playing notes on the neck while lifting his picking arm in the air, he’s not doing any magical superhuman feat of dexterity. He’s applying (usually sloppily) a basic guitar technique called hammer-ons and pull-offs. Seriously, you learn that in your first 6 months playing guitar.
  • When the drummer stands up, hits the bass drum continuously while hitting his head… he’s not really making the noise with his head. He’s doing the kind of stupid trick that goes over very well with my 6 year old. But even he is getting bored with these.
  • When the bass player hits one deep note, and it echoes and reverberates for half an hour throughout the arena, you’re actually cheering for an electronic machine called an effect processor. The machine records the sound to its internal memory and feeds it back at a set interval to make it appear infinite. Singers like to do that one too.

So unless your name is Neil Peart, Virgil Donati, Les Claypool or Jordan Rudess (and a few others), drop the solo. It sucks, and you know it. This is especially true of the members of Poison: you’re not allowed to solo. Play another song instead, it’s not like your 50 minute set is killing you anyway.

3- Splitting the crowd in two

Audience cheering isn’t a competitive sport. We’re here to hear you play, not blow out our voices trying to win a shouting match. And did you ever notice that it always ends up a tie? Play another song. If the singer needs a break, write an instrumental. Make it hard to play so you can roll  all your solos into that one. Oh, what? The solos are your piss break? Go before the show and lay off the beer then!

2- Over long audience participation sequence

Alright, yes, a rock show is an interactive event. It is. But there’s a fine line between getting the crowd worked up and dragging it out. That 3 minute “Hey ho” call & response section could have been filled with a Ramones cover.

1- The fake encore.

What is an encore? It is actually a french word that means again, as in “wow, you were awesome, play again”. In the classical world, an encore is often a reprise of a piece that was played during the concert, hence the name.

Encores are supposed to be a request from the audience, not another pretend cheering contest. If you still need another piss break, you may have bladder issues, which wouldn’t be surprising considering the age of some of our classic rockers. If all your “must play” hits are in the encore, you’re really not getting what an encore is supposed to be.

Kudos to bands who don’t play an encore, or at least build their shows to be complete in themselves. The encores are just extra fun stuff, not all the hits that were missing from the first 90 minutes. At least some bands poke fun at it. I saw The Doors of the 21st Century a few years back, and coming back on stage, Ray Manzarek told the crowd “You didn’t think we’d leave without playing Light My Fire, didn’t you?” Let’s just say we had a hunch.

And as to why don’t we see real encores anymore? Well, it often seems that by the time the lights go up, half the equipment is already in the truck! So why bother?

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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