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Concert etiquette: Be polite and lower that phone, please

Cellphones light up the crowd at a Go-Go Gadget concert. Excessive texting and video recording can be annoying, especially if the person waving that phone is tall.
Cellphones light up the crowd at a Go-Go Gadget concert. Excessive texting and video recording can be annoying, especially if the person waving that phone is tall. File photo

I was approached at a concert recently by someone who wanted to complain about something: people who talk during concerts.

“You really should write about this,” she said, agitated. “It’s so annoying.”

Setting aside the irony of the situation — she was talking to me during a concert — she had a point that can’t be emphasized too often. At too many shows, too many people behave with little regard for those around them. One nuisance can ruin a good experience, whether it’s someone who won’t shut up or someone who is video-recording the show, smartphone held aloft.

There is such a thing as concert etiquette. Let’s go over some of it.

Talking during the show.

This is the most widespread offense and usually the most annoying and distracting. I’ll never understand why someone would drop any amount of money, whether it’s $10 or $100, to go see a show and then spend much of the night talking with friends and ignoring most of the music, sometimes with their backs to the stage.

At some shows, this is less of a problem, like, say, when you’re watching a loud rock band like the Foo Fighters and your conversations can’t be heard above the music.

But when Mark Knopfler is singing a ballad, and you’re at the back bar in the Midland talking with your buddies like you’re in a sports bar? Nope. It’s the same as talking during a movie.

I wish more performers would object to this: Stop the show or the song and call out the rude behavior. Jeff Tweedy did it at least once, famously telling a crowd, “I want to make you happy, and if you’re happy talking, why did you come here?” Exactly.

Singing along.

If it’s part of a mass singalong among everyone in the theater or arena, it’s fine. It’s even encouraged.

If you’re singing along by yourself to Alison Krauss or during a sit-down show at the Folly, it’s neither fine nor encouraged. No one wants to hear you, no matter how good a singer you think you are.

Yelling stuff.

Don’t yell out song titles, especially if you’re just trying to impress the rest of the room with your vast knowledge of the songwriter’s B-sides and deep album tracks. Most performers have a set list and stick to it. Consequently, I dislike shows where the performer asks the crowd for requests. It leads to mayhem and 10 people shouting out song titles all at once throughout the show.

And if you toss witty banter at the band or performer between songs, you are also annoying because you’re not that funny.

Smartphones.

Three or four times a year, someone will come over to me at a show and tell me to stop texting, put my phone away and pay attention to the show. I explain that I’m not texting, I’m using my phone to take notes for a review. And I resist the urge to say, “Why don’t you stop watching me and pay attention to the show?”

Smartphones are everywhere, and people are on them all the time. There’s no stopping it, and I’ve become oblivious to them unless their use becomes an intrusion. To make mine less of a distraction, I stand in the back of the room behind everyone or next to the soundboard, where there are already lights glowing.

But some people can’t tolerate seeing other people on their phones during shows. Neil Young stopped a show once to humiliate a woman in the front row who had been texting. But if that’s all they’re doing, without making noise, I couldn’t care less. I’m watching the band, not the crowd.

However, video-recording on phones has become rampant and can be really annoying. If you’re above-average height and you’re holding your smartphone in front of you at eye level or higher, chances are very good you are blocking the view of people behind you. Chances also are the sound quality will suck, and you’ll watch it only once and delete it. I’ve seen people record entire concerts on their phones. For what?

Don’t jump the crowd.

At general admission shows, the best spots on the floor go to those who get there the earliest. Yet too often people who show up late — sometimes even after the show has started — feel entitled to a closer view and will barge their way through the crowd and stake a place in front of people who have been standing there since the doors opened. You get extra jackass points if you do this and you’re tall.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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