On Friday, we saw AC/DC at Wembley Stadium. And they rocked. With a capital R.
It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t classy. It was tacky, it was loud and it was fantastic!
Last night, we saw an altogether different act. Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park. He was classy – but still loud and fantastic.
It made me think how many gigs we’ve been to over the years – it’s in the hundreds somewhere. And over time you notice patterns, some of which I’d like to share with you now.
The first thing you notice about a gig is the venue. People have different tastes when it comes to venues. Some people like the raw grubbiness of the Kentish Town Forum, whereas some like the clean toilets and shiny escalators of The O2 or the new Wembley Stadium. Personally, I prefer the latter. In the same way that I don’t believe that music sounds better through the crackle of vinyl, I don’t believe that a gig is better when your shoes are stuck to the floor and the whole place smells of beer.
The second thing you notice at a gig are the people around you. Gigs are fun, they are energetic. People sing and people dance. But some people just behave like tossers. There’s a difference between getting into the show and throwing yourself around into everyone who’s standing around you and asking really loudly during every quiet song who would like a beer from the bar. Just because it’s a gig, there’s no need for your respect for those around you to go out of the window!
Then you get to the opening number. The setlist is very important at a gig, and nothing is more important on the setlist than the opening number. The opening number sets the tone, it sets out your plan for the evening, and it reminds the audience why they came to see you. You need something to grab their attention – an act should not slowly sidle onto the stage and say “hello, I’m going to sing a few songs if you don’t mind”. Bruce Springsteen opened Hyde Park with “London Calling”. AC/DC opened with a huge steam train rolling onto the stage and a barricade of pyro. Make it big, and make an impression with the first song!
As the night progresses, there will inevitably be some songs thrown in from the new album. Everyone does it. But there is a habit of playing a well known song to bring the audience up, and then slipping in a song from the new album in the hope that nobody notices and that the high energy flow from the hit song through the one that nobody knows. If you have a new album out, you will know which songs are good and which are filler. Be honest with yourself. Slip in a few of the good ones if you want, but don’t play any filler as it’s not going to win you any more album sales!
We’ve been to some very long shows (a few headline sets of over three hours!) and some very short ones (I remember the Manic Street Preachers doing barely an hour at Brixton a few years ago). If it’s your show, people have come to see you. They’ve either sat through several dull support acts, or left home late in the evening and they are eager to see you. An hour isn’t going to cut it, so make sure you’ve a set long enough to be worth seeing.
If you’re the kind of musician (or drummer) who likes to play a self-indulgent solo two thirds of the way through the show, then you’re going to have to accept that for 90% of the audience, it will herald a trip to the loo. Solos are not popular – especially drum solos. When people are clapping at the end of a drum solo, it’s from a sense of relief that you’ve finished – don’t take it as a signal that they want to hear more and strike up again. Ever.
After a couple of hours (typically) of music, it’ll be time to close the show. Picking the closing number is almost as important as picking the opening number. It’ll shape the memories of the gig that the audience take home with them. Choose wisely. No album tracks. No filler. Make it a good way. A serious song will send the audience away thinking serious thoughts. A joyful song will send the audience away with a smile.
Finally, if you’re going to come and do an encore, do it quickly. If you wait five minutes before coming back on stage, most of the audience will be standing in the doorway clutching their coat and half-drunk bottle of water and not really in a position to enjoy the final song.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a proper ending to the show. Don’t just stop suddenly