Never See A Band In New York City

“Some bands think playing in New York is a drag,” Wolf Parade keyboardist Spencer Krug said years ago to a packed Terminal 5, a New York City venue. The crowd booed. He went on to say he was actually having fun. People cheered. The show moved on.

Still, he confirmed what I’d been thinking for some time: The best place to see a band is outside of New York.

But, but, but New York City is the greatest city in the world! It’s the world’s biggest and brightest stage. “If you can make it there…” Yeah, I know.

But if you can see a show in Spokane, Washington. Or Raleigh, or Austin, do it. Anywhere but New York.

New Yorkers are a strange bunch. We are worldly. We try new things. We want to be in the middle of the spectacle, which is precisely why we make terrible concert mates.

New Yorkers have options. Friday nights in New York aren’t like Friday nights in somewhere like Spokane, Washington. Here, there are dozens of events that would make the world shrivel with envy. On rooftops, in basements, on Broadway, or at a beer garden, there is something to do. Spokanians have Chic-Fil-A. A school play, if they’re lucky.

When a big artist comes to town, it’s an event. Spokanians might ask, “Why Spokane? Did the tour bus get lost?” They are beyond appreciative. New Yorkers don’t worry about that. Everyone comes here. They have to. We make or break you.

Spokanians are humbled. New Yorkers are not automatically impressed. Bands are not doing us a favor. They are playing on our stage.

Every summer, New Yorkers are lucky enough to see top acts for free. Thanks to annual programs from Celebrate Brooklyn, SummerStage at Central Park, and others, the options are plentiful. But even I, a native New Yorker and a self-proclaimed concert nerd, am guilty of taking them for granted. The idea of seeing Metric or The xx for free should be a no-brainer for fans of alternative rock. But I almost didn’t go. My logic? They’ll have to come back to New York again.

??Tom Chaplin of Keane once wondered to a crowd at the Williamsburg Waterfront why nearly half the crowd was segregated away from the stage. The venue inexplicably designated a section where people could drink beer. As good as Brooklyn Brewery is, given the price of a 30 dollar ticket and the peerless quality of Chaplin’s vocals, I expected fans to wait until after the show to enjoy a seasonal ale or two. But for some New Yorkers, it wasn’t a concert to throw themselves into. It was simply a casual and clear summer night by the East River, perfect for a beer and a band.

Artists demand engagement from their crowds. The energy required for memorable nights is reciprocal. The commitment of the crowd to the performers is vital to everyone’s experience.

??The difference between seeing a show in New York and elsewhere was never clearer than when I saw the Swell Season. I’d seen them earlier that summer in North Carolina. Led by the dynamic vocals of Glen Hansard and the gentle power of Marketa Irglova, they put on a memorable set I’d never forget. Literally. Someone in the crowd filmed my enthusiastic reaction to the show. I was being crazy, yes, but they’d earned it.

I seized the chance to see them again at Prospect Park for free. As expected, the crowds were hipper. More sophisticated. And more dull. When the music began, I stood up. The groans started immediately. A program was thrown at me. One 20-something woman, demanded I sit. She went so far to push me. “Don’t be ‘that guy,’” she sneered.??

“That guy?” Really? Was I being obnoxious? Maybe. But at a rock-n-roll show by a rock-n-roll band, I wasn’t going too far out on a limb by standing. The place for picnic blankets and a spread from Whole Foods is Central Park. ??Thinking back, there are other times I’ve seen bands both in and out of New York and I’d always pick outside New York. Passion Pit in Philadelphia. Yeasayer at Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina. The Naked and Famous in Virginia.

??Certain bands can break through New York apathy. Performing in front of their home crowd of Brooklyn after their critically acclaimed release Dear Science, TV on the Radio had the crowd locked in. There is potential for great sets there. But they are just too few in my experience.

I love being from this city. New Yorkers are amazing. But the qualities that make them amazing, their attitude and swagger, their insistence on perfection and their savvy, suck the spontaneity from live shows.

Too often, we don’t see live music as an escape or an excuse to let go of the mundane parts of life. We, in New York, see it as an audition or just another stop on a long Saturday night. TC mark

image – marfis75

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  • Bealtaine

    That’s one of the things I love about concerts in Dublin. People are psyched that someone bothered to come play for us.You have the bant with the band and there is much delighted screaming and lyric singing.I’ve always taken this to be normal.Thanks for making me appreciate it :)

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    I could see people thinking Swell Season was not for standing.

    I was at the Wolf Parade show.

    This article’s argument is correct.

  • Ashley

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I saw one of my favorite live bands in New York last summer, and the crowd made the experience miserable. Even when Paul McCartney was in town last summer . . . I was super stoked. The people around me were shooting daggers with their eyes because I was dancing around. Everyone else stood there. It’s strange to me.

  • lolz

    wow this guyz taste in music iz so obscure

    • Anonymous

      Way to miss the point.

    • gina

      if he was trying to impress us with his taste in buzzbands i don’t think he would have listed the xx……..or keane……….or the swell season……… go back to trolling the comments on hro

    • confused on internet

      i agree i’m not sure if thought catalog is kewl or lame.  it sometimes has relevant writers and thoughts but other times articles reference wilco or korne, and then there’s that chelsea lady who writes about olive garden or whatever twice a day

  • Anonymous

    So true. Speaking as a comedian, the same thing happens. It’s always better to do comedy outside NYC because that show is the event of the night for the people coming to see it. They’re more likely to be grateful and ready to laugh.

  • Myjohnsonis12incheslong

    I actually like the fact that they threw things at you and made you sit. I’ve always been fascinated with people who are at a concert with hundreds or thousands of other people, but feel as if it is there personal how in their living room and proceed to obnoxiously dance around, push through and stand directly in front of you (as if once they are in front of you, you cease to exist), and flail or song along obnoxiously loud. I’m not saying “personal space” rules are in effect in a teeming crowd, but maybe have some consideration that you aren’t the only person their. Another point, is that I think its fucking cool to see a national act while casually drinking beer at the bar or sitting around. It’s like the top acts in the world are our bar bands and dinner music. Fuck all that starfucking, worshipping crap. What are you a teenager obsessed with a mediocre band? They are DOING US A FAVOR?!? Um, dipshit- I paid $100 each for that favor, so if I want to stand off to the side and drink beer, I will. And I’d like to do so without some smarmy hipster music nerd judging me for not being as good an audience member as someone from Spokane seeing a shitty band.

    • annie

      You had me for about a second but… i think there’s an etiquette you should follow when going to a concert so you’re not impacting other people’s experiences negatively. That being said, when i go to a concert, personally i like to give my full attention to the band, but hey, i don’t live in new york, i only go to concerts once a month or so and i consider live music something pretty special. There’s also something to be said for respecting the band playing live music for you. they’re going to give back what you give to them, so the show is always going to be better when the audience is engaged. 

      Also i think the hipster attitude is to be bored and unimpressed, you may have gotten that backwards. That’s what i expected of the shows ive seen in new york, since, like it says in the article, new yorkers have access to great live music pretty much every night of the week. i’ve been pretty lucky with shows in new york, but mainly i see bands around connecticut and northampton, and bands pretty often comment on how receptive the audience is, often just having played a show in new york. robert wohner has a point.

  • Myjohnsonis12incheslong

    I actually like the fact that they threw things at you and made you sit. I’ve always been fascinated with people who are at a concert with hundreds or thousands of other people, but feel as if it is there personal how in their living room and proceed to obnoxiously dance around, push through and stand directly in front of you (as if once they are in front of you, you cease to exist), and flail or song along obnoxiously loud. I’m not saying “personal space” rules are in effect in a teeming crowd, but maybe have some consideration that you aren’t the only person their. Another point, is that I think its fucking cool to see a national act while casually drinking beer at the bar or sitting around. It’s like the top acts in the world are our bar bands and dinner music. Fuck all that starfucking, worshipping crap. What are you a teenager obsessed with a mediocre band? They are DOING US A FAVOR?!? Um, dipshit- I paid $100 each for that favor, so if I want to stand off to the side and drink beer, I will. And I’d like to do so without some smarmy hipster music nerd judging me for not being as good an audience member as someone from Spokane seeing a shitty band.

  • Hey

    Same thing happened to me. Told to sit down by the ushers at the Paul McCartney show during the song, I kid you not, “Dance Tonight”. Seeing concerts in New York is the worst.

  • Josh Gondelman

    I’m more of a quiet enjoyer of things. But I also like to be around people who are non-quiet enjoyers. I know I’m part of the problem if I’m not part of the solution, but it stinks to be at a show with upbeat music and no one dancing, even if I am not dancing.

    Regarding Gaby’s point, New York comedy audiences have a SUPER hard to impress attitude. It’s frustrating to see as a performer and a fellow audience member.

    • http://twitter.com/robwoh Robert Wohner

      Josh, I truly do believe that people have a right to enjoy a concert or any live event however they please. If I leave satisfied having fist-pumped all night and you leave satisfied having headnodded all night, I think it’s a win-win for both of us.  I don’t expect everyone to be like me at a show. And I do think there’s definitely concert etiquette people should follow, mostly summed up by “don’t draw attention to yourself.” Meaning, stop moshing, stop crowd-surfing, take a quick picture and then keep the camera phones away, etc. 

      I try to feel out every situation and the vibe of the crowd. Because I don’t want to be “that guy”. But in a way, I’d like to think I’m an example to my fellow goers. That it’s okay to not be so uptight. 

      Sometimes I think bands don’t even realize that the crowd is with them, because they don’t have visual or audio cues that they are. Which is why chatting and drinking at the bar can be a little disheartening and deflating for performers. 

      • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

        i’m a headnodder and occasional arm waver haha. just doing what feels right.

  • guest

    Being a “hipper” New York crowd certainly does not translate to being more “sophisticated.” Both audiences obviously had the the same taste in music. Projecting apathy is what high school kids do to appear sophisticated when they’re lacking in it. 

  • Guestropod

    I moved to Seattle early last year and everyone just stands perfectly still at all the shows I’ve been to.  It’s really weird and uncomfortable.  

    • TheFinger

      Can’t agree with you more, Seattle is really weird and uncomfortable.

    • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

      seems to be the concensus

  • http://twitter.com/Joao_Nuno João Nuno Álvares

    The Naked and Famous is one of the best concerts I’ve seen here in Portugal. I can say that concerts of good bands and artists are something common here and we have good music festivals in the summer, I would say we are a middle term between Spokanians and New Yorkers, anyway I think we try to be the best crowd in concerts, so we make them into better experiences! And about seeing The xx for free, lucky guys.

  • TheFinger

    The title should actually read, “Never see a band in New York City unless the only place they play is New York City.” Usually in those gas stop towns like St. Louis or Austin shows (both large and small) aren’t free and the people got nothing better to do and those obscure bands with cute names are gonna get more attention. 

    • Guestropod

      STL and Austin are hardly gas stop towns

    • Guest

      Austin has long been considered a live music capital…of the world.  I suppose that includes gas stop towns. 

      • fizzfuzz

        Austin is a live music capital of the world, kinda like Park City Utah is a film capital of the world

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with this.  I’m going to see Florence + The Machine at Radio City in May and I got terrible seats even though I had 5+ people trying to get me a (one) ticket.  If I lived in say, Davis, CA, I would be able to go GA and wiggle my way up front. 

    But that’s a big name – go to Bowery Electric or the Bowery Ballroom if you want a more low-key music scene.  Or Brooklyn for that matter.

  • guest

    ew, keane?  really?

    • http://twitter.com/robwoh Robert Wohner

      My first concert? Keane at Rumsey Playfield. May 30, 2007. I just pulled out the ticket stub from my wallet. It was incredible. And it actually remains the concert I compare all others to. You really do never forget your first. 

    • Kook

      Hey, why u hatin? Keane isn’t half bad! 

    • Michhatt

      go check some live videos of Keane on youtube. you might want to see them live afterwards

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1260853149 Lauren Burns

    *Chick-fil-a

  • Megaaaa

    people do this is LA as well though, and it annoys the shit out of me. they all just stand there. i usually end up being “that girl” because chances are i didn’t come to see one of my favorite bands to just stand there and hold in my excitement and how amazing the experience feels. but i think people are too scared and don’t want to break how cool they look just standing there with a pissed off look on there face, super unwelcoming and rude thing. must be a lot of fun. people are weird

    • MEGAAA

       THEIR *** ohh nooooo

    • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

      i get annoyed when the crowd is boring and idc if i’m the crazy one. i want the band to know SOMEONE is not embarrassed to be into it.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

         No. It’s about enjoying the music and the performance inwardly and not wanting to be the center of attention like you seem to do.   And it’s not about being embarrassed, it’s about being self-aware enough to not annoy those around me who are there to enjoy the show; something you seem to lack.

      • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

        Who said I annoyed those around me? I know when to tone it down obviously, when I would think someone would be inconvenienced in their enjoyment. 
        That’s why I try to get around a couple of people have more or less the same idea of being at a concert. Which does not mean I ‘dance or scream’ per se. Just moving in your own space and  showing enthusiasm when when appropriate (ie. end of a song, banter)
        I am aware they can be into the show, but from my experience the bands usually comment/seem more into it when they get a greater enthusiasm from the crowd.
        There just needs to be a balance. I know some friends of mine who have told me they have felt self-conscious about getting more into it, which is why I referred to it.  Either way you can tell when someone is really enjoying it, whether they outwardly show it or not and that can be felt too, so I see your point there.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    The shows i’ve been to in Chicago, the crowds mostly start off kinda boring but towards the end get into it, and the sold-out ones, are mostly great from the beginning, like of Montreal last night.
    I think it’s so rude for people to talk during the openers though.
    There is always some annoying group of girls talking really loudly behind me for some reason.
    I like to keep a good energy even for the openers and if I paid to be there I’m going to enjoy it and move around (not TOO crazy though). 
    I’ve tried to accept some people just stay still for whatever reason, but it’s still kind of weird to me.

  • Guest

    As an avid concert-goer in New York, this article actively bothers me. Maybe if you only go to obnoxiously overcrowded and overpriced shows at places like Terminal 5 this is the case, but its not at all true of the smaller venues which are not only 20x cooler and less expensive, but the people are more friendly and more into the music. Unless you include places like Knitting Factory, 285 Kent, La Poisson Rouge, Glasslands, & Bowery Ballroom , to name a few, into this rant of yours  you have no right to judge the new york music scene man, fuck you ~~~ 

  • zlady6

    whoa, knock it off w/ the spokane bashing. native washingtonian here

    • http://twitter.com/robwoh Robert Wohner

      Confession: I was born in Tacoma. My parents moved to NYC when I was 7. I would never disrespect your state!

      • Anonymous

        This is slightly unrelated, but as someone who currently lives in Tacoma and went to school in Spokane, it behooves me to let you know there are no Chick-fil-a locations in the greater Spokane area. We’ve got Carl’s Jr though.

        Also not important but still a fun fact: “Spokanites”, not “Spokanians”.

        Your points are correct though, I was always surprised and amused when good bands would end up in Spokane. It was definitely an event rather than the norm, and as a result usually far more enjoyable.

      • http://twitter.com/ninjatek Chris Leher

        Additional Fun fact, Inlanders (People from the Inland NW) ‘lovingly’ refer to Spokane as Spokompton.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

    Most recent band I saw in NY was Wilco, in the park, IN THE POURING RAIN – and the crowd ate it up – it was nuts!  So maybe the article’s bent should be to not see shitty bands in NY…

  • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

    This sounds exactly like seeing a band in Nashville (“Music City”). There are so many options every night that crowds are generally apathetic. It ruins the vibe of most shows.

  • http://twitter.com/JonTargaryen Carly Fowler

    I saw Thursday at Terminal 5 and then again at Toad’s Place in CT. The Connecticut show was insane, even though it’s just a state away.

  • Sophia

    I never thought about this before, but it’s interesting. I guess I’ve always taken an excited, adrenaline-filled crowd for granted. It adds so much to the concert experience. 

  • Nickaschneider

    I don’t understand the point of going to a show if you’re just going to stand there with your arms crossed and a scowl on your face. Even when I see a mediocre band I have a modicum of gratitude they they are willing to put themselves out there in order to entertain me.  Apathetic show goers piss me off.

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