I’ll be the first to admit it — I am a nerd. A concert nerd to be specific. Someone that spends a vast amount of free time and money on a subject most others find uninteresting. Star Trek for some, computer programs for others, live music for me. In my 21 years on this earth, I have seen an obscene number of live shows. In the past year alone, I have seen 14 concerts — 15 if you count the Run DMC spectacle that appeared at the Kohl Center last spring, but that’s being generous. Regardless, in my concert going life, I have spent no less than a quarter of a million dollars — mostly on tickets, although I have been known to by a T-shirt or a flashing neon baton in my day. I have dropped enough money into the Barenaked Ladies to clothe the entire five-member group for a month. I have made great contributions to the college funds of U2’s children, and I have seen Sting more time this year than the dentist. Some girls like suede jackets, I like good sight lines at a rocking show.
I tell you this not as bragging, because, let’s face it, this is nothing to be proud of. Instead I am trying to provide a service to you as I pass on some vital tips I have learned in the concert barracks, so that you may prepare for the summer concerts still to come.
First, you must have a ticket to see a concert. This simple dogma can be quite complicated. I have purchased tickets through the tyrannical Ticketmaster, at the counter, over the phone and online. I have also gone through fan clubs, scalpers and the like. I have even won tickets once. Bottom line, everyone rips you off (the won tickets were nosebleeds). If you are planning to score tickets to a gig that is at least somewhat popular (and I have neither the time nor the energy to get into the merits of seeing “popular” musicians versus independent artists that record their albums in their mom’s basement with the aid of tinfoil and Kleenex, just plan on shelling out the big bucks and get over it.
Then comes the matter of who to go with. Although, rocking out alone at a show has its advantages, we can all agree it is more fun to go with someone. I stress the singular on that someone. The minute you start adding your friend’s friend, his cousin, her ex-husband and the homeless guy that lived on your stairs at your old apartment on Mifflin, you got trouble. The fewer the number of people, the better seats you’ll get in the first place and it will cut out stress when it comes to driving and meeting up afterwards.
If it is a general admission show, bigger groups are okay, but the individuals become more important. Do not bring Annoying Ann, who has the loudest and most obnoxious voice on the planet. As much as you try to avoid her, it is inevitable that she will be right next to you through the entire show, talking through, then screaming over, song after song. Also, one to leave behind is Claustrophobic Cliff. He likes space, something there is precious little of at general admission shows. Once he faints and security hauls him over the rail, you’ll be free to rock out, but why not cut out that middle step? There’s no need to buy a ticket for Negative Nelly either, because nothing is ever good enough for her and she probably hasn’t gotten over ticket prices yet.
So you got your posse and a good position on the floor. Only 3 hours to go until the opening act comes out. This is followed by a good half hour of set changes and then the proverbial 15 minutes of main act suspense building. Get comfortable. If you have seats, this entire section is a moot point. If you are in the general admission trenches, you have quite a war ahead of you. Once you have your spot staked out, guard it with your life. Do not sit on the floor. It is annoying to those around you with better etiquette whom are standing and tripping over you. It also minimizes your space when you stand back up. In addition, do whatever you can to avoid leaving your area. It helps if you do not drink anything for the entire day leading up to the show. Think of it as preparing for a concert colonoscopy; flush your system out before hand and make sure you are dry, dry, dry. Also, there’s no sense leaving your spot to relieve your hunger. Stadium food is a hideous and unhealthy attempt at sustenance. Plus it costs about as much as your ticket. Avoid it and stay put.
Be kind to the opening band, they have a rough job. They need to be just good enough for you to not throw things at them, yet bad enough to make the headline look good. Most opening acts have the second part down pat, but that is no excuse for rudeness. Let them play, talk quietly amongst yourselves, shift your weight, they’ll be gone in 40 minutes.
So finally the moment arrives, the main act has been rocking out in front of you for a whole ten minutes. You have been clapping and stomping with the arm and leg you have remaining after ticket prices. But wait, what’s that sound? What’s that smell? And why do you have half as much room as you did just ten minutes earlier? It’s the inevitable cast of characters that come with every concert. The sound is the extremely drunk woman that is three people to your left. She, with the help of her 12 Budweisers, believes she is a back up singer to the main act. In two more, she will believe she is the main act. She is completely tone deaf and manages to be louder than the 1.21 jiggawats that are pumping through the 1300 speakers.
The smell is the man in front of you – the one with the retched body odor. Every time he raises his hands for the big “YEAH!” that comes at the end of every song, you raise your hands to your nose and shout “NO!” But thanks to the melodious lady lush, he can’t hear you. If you’re having a good day, these characteristics are found in the same individual.
The new lack of space is due to the sweet young thang that has just arrived at the concert because her limo was late. Despite her tinted sunglasses that she is wearing inside a darkened arena, she can still see her way to the front row and she plans to get there. Yet people with the proper protocol of standing their ground and ignoring her tiny “‘scuse me” have got her stuck right next to you.
You have a few responses at your disposal. You can tell the singing lady to shut up, but chances are she won’t and you’ll miss something on stage. You can pass some deodorant to the man, but chances are you won’t have any on you nor will do any good at this point. You can tell the girl to move it or loose it, but again, she may just fling her hair and ignore you. The best advice is to just go with it. Poetic justice may strike in that the girl gets next to B.O man where her height puts her fortuitously directly into his arm pit of stench. I’ve seen it happen. But if the main act is a good as they usually are, it is all ignore-able.
About 2 hours later, it will all come to a beautiful crashing end. It has been a night that will not be forgotten soon, especially with all the reflection time you have when you attempt to exit. When getting out of the arena itself, be patient and go with the flow. Do not attempt to link up and hold hands Red-Rover-style with your group. You will only annoy those around you. Gently meander through the flowing river of people. If that doesn’t work, pick a meeting spot, say the car, and it’s everyone for themselves. Once in the car, coincidentally, be patient and go with the flow. Those nice parking officials who, at the beginning of the evening, directed you into your spot with a smile, have disappeared, no doubt perched atop a nearby building laughing at the traffic jam they artfully created. Inch your way out the exit, let cars in when you can, be aggressive sometimes too and make sure you have plenty of Mountain Dew and CDs with you.
All in all, it will be worth every penny. The sights and sounds of a live show are priceless. Musicians, most anyway, like performing and will give you a good show. You can share the stories with your friends and pass them on to your children, who will no doubt roll their eyes at the “uncool” bands you were seeing. No matter, the memories of a live show will last a long time, longer than a suede jacket anyway.