In the past couple of weeks it’s all gone a bit crazy on the gig front again. There’s been a great set from Twin Atlantic, a classic nostalgia-fest from Helmet, another couple of shows from Turbowolf, including their hugely exciting Therapy? and Black Spiders shindig (a review of that one simply has to happen, so stay tuned), and a more modern metal experience with Parkway Drive.
It was probably at the Parkway Drive gig though that I realised just how times have changed, and maybe how old I feel. I’ve mentioned before that my first gig was the Manic Street Preachers back in 1994 and since then, I’ve taken in a couple of Doningtons as well as gigs from everyone as pop as Kylie to the indie rock of Ash all the way up to the sheer power and brute force of Pantera, Slayer and Deicide. Hundreds of gigs later, I couldn’t help look at the crowds of kids queuing outside the Academy for the 14+ Parkway Drive concert, with car-loads of dyed black hair and low slung trousers being dropped off by Dad outside and reminisce about the times when we would do the same.
We’d ask to be dropped off round the corner from the Bristol Bierkeller, but our parents seemed to take great pleasure in dropping us off right outside in front of the queue (I don’t blame them, call it payback for having to taxi us around). We’d then get in line, proudly showing off our latest band tees (usually a long sleeve under a short sleeve for extra warmth whilst queuing) and our tickets prepped for entry, ready to unleash some bouncing on an unsuspecting club floor. The next day at school, our necks and knees may have been in agony, but every bit of pain was worth it in order to fully enjoy some of the best bands of the era.
It was only about three years ago that I started up my gig-going again and realised how much I missed it. Hearing classic songs live with more mature (albeit slightly more deaf) ears is a joy, as is taking in new songs by old favourites and getting to see some exciting support bands (looking at you Gentlemens Pistols, Black Spiders, Rival Sons). So, while I’ve been away, have audiences and the overall gig-going experience changed? Yes and no.
Some gig prices actually don’t seem to be that different to how they were over a decade ago. Newport Centre gigs were always about £15 (from memory) and you can catch a decent band at the Academy nowadays for similar (if you ignore the Nazi Ticketmaster booking, handling, polishing and carrier pigeoning fees). Even better, the Jagermeister tour with Therapy? et al was deliberately pitched at retro prices (£5!) although fees still ramped up the actual price to nearer £8. Nevertheless, venues sold out, so the plan worked.
Crowds at gigs are also similar to how they were. I remember seeing Napalm Death and Carcass in about 1996, and you’d be able to spot the die-hard kids down the front, moshing away to their album du jour, whilst denim-clad 80s metallers towards the middle and back would clench a pint and nod along. All in all, the atmosphere was one of brotherhood and sheer unadulterated fun.
You’ll have to excuse me if I use the phrase “back in the day” at any point, but I can’t help but think that times have changed a little for the worst. Case in point number one: pint throwing. When I first went to gigs, pints came in glasses. Yes the odd one got smashed, but largely, there weren’t injuries due to idiotic behaviour, because people respected the person next to them, in front of them and behind them. Nowadays however, with the excuse that the pint pots are plastic, the things get lobbed about like nobody’s business and it’s rare to emerge from a gig without some suspicious sticky substance covering your shoulder. I’m not being over-sensitive about this, but Michael McKeegan from Therapy? narrowly avoided one (presumably thrown in good will?!?!?) and instead it coated loads of the band’s electrical equipment. Nice one. Well done mate. What do you get out of trying to ruin the gig for everyone by either taking out one of the band or their instruments? At a Volbeat gig I admonished someone for lobbing a plastic glass in between bands after it struck a lady square in the face. Over-reaction prompted by miss-placed chivalry? Maybe. But to me, it just seemed idiotic (what sort of heat of the moment excitement prompts you to do it in between bands?) and highlights the disregard that people have these days for manners. More importantly, pints cost a fortune at gigs nowadays, so it seems a hell of a waste.
Secondly; bags. Now I fully appreciate as I often go to gigs straight from work, I have on occasion had to take a bag to a gig with me. But once there, I’m either at the back out of the way or I make use of the cloakroom facility. This doesn’t seem to cross the mind of the hundreds of knapsack wearers constantly knocking me, my drinks and my acquaintances with their massive tortoise shells, with no apology. What on earth do they keep in there that is so precious they keep it on them, but not so valuable that they don’t think twice about risking its contents down the front? Idiots.
Thirdly, filming gigs. Although I felt the security staff at Bristol Academy were just on the wrong side of Hitler, I was amused by their efforts to stop one guy filming the Therapy? gig on his mobile. I kind of understand why people do this, it’s a similar “capture the moment” premise to taking a few snaps, but why do people insist on recording entire gigs? Not only is the sound and picture quality poor anyway, they also end up watching the gig themselves through a lens and annoying a hell of a lot of people behind them who can’t see through the sea of thrust-up camera phones.
Lastly, general violence. Yes I go to metal gigs, and yes I expect a bit of rough and tumble, but whatever happened to helping out your fellow mosher when he goes down and just having a bit of fun, rather than trying to flying karate kick everyone in sight or knock people out with flailing fists? I’ve probably seen more injuries at gigs in the past two years than I did at all the events I went to during the previous 15. Seemingly part-copycat and part macho competition, I wouldn’t mind it if those doing the ‘damage’ could actually see when their ‘opponent’ has obviously had enough. I’ve still gotten involved down the front in recent times, but only at gigs where people seemed of a similar mind-set (and okay, age) to me. But this was always how we made new friends back then, coming together for one thing; the joy of the music.
So, am I too old for all this? Should I just buy the tour DVD and shut the hell up? No. I appreciate that not every gig I used to go to featured fluffy bunnies being tickled in between songs, and I know times change with modern attitudes and trends very different to how they used to be. I just don’t think that we should completely ignore how things used to be and what made the rock and metal scene the one that could hold its head up high for its respect and unity.
Yes, I’ll continue to loiter more towards the middle these days (without the denim-wearing) to avoid most of the above problems with modern day gigs, but I just hope for the those in front of me that we’ll see a reversal of some of the negative attitudes that have crept into a genre that deserves far, far better.