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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shut The Fuck Up . . . Please.

Last night, I swung by Higher Ground to check out indie-folk songwriter Jose Gonzalez. It was one of those increasingly rare opportunities for me to go see live music with my critical brain turned off and simply enjoy the show. I wasn't attending as "Dan Bolles," Seven Days Music Editor. Just Dan, a dude who really likes Jose Gonzalez — deep down I'm a sensitive guy, I swear. And I was really looking forward to it.

Gonzalez' performance was stunning. And yes, I'm writing that statement from the biased perspective of a fan, not a critic. Though I'm typically prone to rolling my eyes when I read some lazy blurb about an artist being "the next" anyone — Dylan, The Beatles, Gram Parsons, etc. — I can almost get behind Gonzalez' designation as "The Latin Nick Drake." If you can get past the fact that he's actually Swedish — though he's of Argentinian descent — the  phrase actually does an adequate job of summing up his sound. In fact, there were moments during last night's show where he could justifiably be accused of aping Drake. Sometimes we  lowly scribes get it right. Sometimes.

Though Gonzalez was a pleasure to behold, the crowd was something else entirely, to the point where actually listening to the music became a frustrating challenge. I don't mean to get off on a rant, but . . .

Why the fuck would you spend 17 bucks to see a show, and then spend the entire evening talking? And I don't mean just whispering to your friends in between songs. I mean full-blown, outside-voice conversations about subjects entirely unrelated to the music (By the way, if some guy named Jordan is reading this, that cute brunette you've recently started dating finds you too effeminate and isn't really in to the "hugging thing." Sorry, dude. Just something I overheard.).

Throughout the night, from the opening act — Twi The Humble Feather, who would likely be a lot of fun to see at a venue like Radio Bean or The Bakery, but were virtually inaudible in the Lounge this night — through Gonzalez' encore, the din of conversational chatter was impossible to escape. It didn't matter where I tried to watch the show. I stood ten feet from the stage. I stood in the middle of the room. I stood on the sidelines and in the back by the bar. Everywhere, people talking incessantly.

I get that people go see live music for vastly different reasons. Some folks go just to be "seen." Others go because it's something different from just going out to the bars. Some people go to meet people with similar tastes. And some people even go just to LISTEN TO THE FUCKING MUSIC. Perish the thought.

At this point, some of you are probably saying to yourselves, "Hey, dickhead. It's my 17 bucks and I'll comport my self however I choose when I go out. This isn't grade school. I'll talk whenever and as loudly as I want." To which I humbly respond, "Go fuck yourself."

Other people pay hard earned money to see shows too. And the reason they're willing to shell out big bucks for tickets and overpriced drinks is because the experience of seeing your favorite artists in person can be transcendent. But only if you can hear it. (At one point in the show, Gonzalez finished a swelling torrent of fiery classical guitar work by descending into an intimately gorgeous bridge. Most of the crowd followed along and for a beautiful moment, the idle chatter ceased . . . except for the massive tool loudly discussing the nuances of strumming open chords in drop D tuning. Thanks a lot, douchebag.)   

Some crowd noise at a loud rock show is no big deal. The raw energy of an ass-kicking live band largely negates it. But mellower shows such as Jose Gonzalez have a subtle, but nonetheless powerful, energy of their own. Too bad so many people there last night missed it.


Mike C

I was actually going to write an open letter to the City of Burlington (via Seven Days) expressing these same sentiments. You beat me to it, man.


I think you should do it anyway, Mike. I was toying with the notion of closing my column next week with a plea for concert-goers to be respectful of the listening rights of those around them. A letter to the ed would be even better!

Curmudgeons unite!


this is something i encounter a lot playing live. thats why my live music has moved more into louder noisy territory because anytime i try to do something quieter, more detailed, or subtle it just gets lost in most venues.

ive found that the majority of american audiences dont have the attention span or patience to really open up and listen without prejudice. most people go to shows for everything but actually listening to the music. i think this speaks to the role of music in today's society and the oversaturation / overstimulation from constant media input.

sorry to hear about your bad experience at HG. maybe jose gonzalez wouldve been better suited at a different venue.

Tyler M

Agreed on all counts. I was kind of surprised because at most indie rock shows that I've gone to in Burlington, the crowd has been super respectful and quiet. Last year's Do Make Say Think show was probably the quietest show I've ever been to. The band even commented on it. And it was great.

I've always found that there's a lot more talkers at, like, jam band shows. (Erm, not that I go to those regularly.) But Medeski Martin and Wood, earlier this year--worst crowd I've ever seen. Half the people were super into the music (or the drugs) and dancing some bizarre dance moves and crashing into people, and the other half were blabbing away about their meaningless insignificant lives. And MMW is essentially jazz music, so it's the sort of thing that you need to be paying attention to. And so is Jose Gonzalez.

As with many things in life, I think Jeff Tweedy puts it best...
(from the Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest DVD)


Chris and I have wondered this so many time at or after shows. Why? Of all the places in the universe they could go to spew their vacuous yakking, why do they have to poison live music shows with it?

I think we should unite and have buttons so we can identify each other. That way you can see if there's a kindred spirit or two nearby to back you up before you ask Mr. and Ms. Fucktard to keep their voices down.

karen d

other people's noise-- yes... ughghghg... it's the bane of my existence. it feels more intrusive than any other kind of pollution. but in the case of a music venue, the owners are in the best position to take on the issue. Is there a disincentive if they are selling drinks hand-over- fist to the loudmouth twits and oafs?

Maybe it's time to find the coffee house music scene (like the 60's/70's) in the crosshairs again, and let the Higher Grounds of the world deal with less sensitive masses.


I used to work at a music venue/bar where we would just ask people who were talking really loudly during quiet acts to "please go out to the courtyard" most people would immediately shut up. Only a few actually moved. it worked though

Justin Boland

"By the way, if some guy named Jordan is reading this, that cute brunette you've recently started dating finds you too effeminate and isn't really in to the "hugging thing." Sorry, dude. Just something I overheard."


But hey, this is the future of live music - only rich assholes will be able to afford it. This ain't 3030, this is less than a year from now, when the US economy is three times worse than it is right now and middle class folks can barely afford meat, let alone Higher Ground tickets.

The obvious solution: be like Mars Volta and play way, way, way too loud for people to hear themselves.

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