You’ve met me before. If you’ve ever been to a concert or listened to a live recording, you know who I am, and you have some opinion of me.
I’m that guy who yells stuff at the band between songs.
I admit it, I embrace it. I go to concerts to be unencumbered and hang loose, and if I want to yell that “you guys are the freakin’ best, man!” to the band, with my voice cracking on “best” to hilarious effect, then I’m going to yell it. And I think that’s OK.
I had my conviction on this matter challenged last week at a Deerhunter show in New York. They’re one of my favorite bands, and I figured they needed to know. So in between “Don’t Cry” and “Revival,” I shrieked something to the effect of: “You guys rule! Hell yeah! Rock and rooooll!”
Despite my mellifluous tones, a woman standing in front of me took issue. Sensing (correctly) that my one-way conversation with Deerhunter might continue at a few more junctures during the show, she turned to me and said: “Do you have to be ‘that guy?’”
Being “that guy” at a concert is a delicate role. It doesn’t mean singing along to every song. It doesn’t mean shouting “Free Bird.” It doesn’t even mean shouting anything at every single break. It means being a little too enthusiastic and letting people know.
Normally, this is not acceptable behavior. But at a concert, even if the woman in front of me apparently finds it obnoxious, I apologize, but I think it’s OK.
We don’t go to concerts to be alone. What I love about a concert is being part of the mass, the semi-stoned hive mind of the crowd. We’re there to experience music, which has always been a communal ritual, together. But part of being in that throng is that we lose our personhood a little bit; the guys onstage can’t make out our faces or hear our individual voices when we cheer.
We also go to shows to interact, in some way, with our favorite bands. But although this big blob of crowd can emote, it can’t really communicate. So people like me, lacking inhibition, step in. We don’t really speak for the crowd, but as the crowd, filling what might otherwise be dead air between songs with some attempt to reach out directly to the performers onstage. It would be awkward if it was silent as the band switched guitars or whatever, like we were just watching them from behind glass instead of being taken along for the ride with them.
It’s all manners of self-important and pretentious and generally absurd to call myself a prophet of the crowd or something like that. I don’t mean to say that I speak for everyone when I shout, “yaaahhh I love that song man!” at the lead singer. I don’t. But connection with the band is vital to a live show, and part of that is communication. Bands themselves seem to entertain “that guy” when he inevitably makes himself heard. On Wilco’s “Kicking Television” live album, “that guy” yells out, “KANSAS CITY!!!” in between songs. Jeff Tweedy doesn’t ignore him or shush him, but instead thanks him for coming, adding, “How dignified is it to drive from Kansas City all the way to Chicago to see Wilco?” The crowd responds with a tidal wave of approval. In essence, Tweedy asked the crowd, “Do you all love us as much as someone who drove from Kansas City to see us?” (In the interest of full disclosure, later on in the set, Tweedy thanks the fan again for another shouted endorsement before adding, “Now be quiet.”)
If everyone else in the theater’s reaction was, “That guy needs to stop wasting the band’s time,” then maybe being “that guy” wouldn’t be a great thing. But at the end of the show, I think the crowd remembers those moments and adopts them as their own interactions with the band. We all hear it together, and usually, whatever “that guy” says is pretty universal (unless it’s “KANSAS CITY!!!”). When the band responds, they aren’t responding just to the one guy, but to everyone. I’m sure everyone at that Wilco show remembers “that guy” from Kansas City. I’m sure they remember what he said and that, in a way, he yelled on their behalf. And I bet they’re OK with that.
I doubt anyone heard, much less remembers, what I yelled at the concert last week. I hardly do. But to the lady who was standing in front of me: Someone has to be “that guy.” And it might as well be me.