What Puts People Off When They Should Be On On On
May 24, 2012
Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco a couple of nights ago provided some hints at the sorts of things that concertgoers will and will not tolerate.
I asked a bunch of friends to join me for an appearance by the Seattle-based band Hey Marseilles (pictured.)
I had heard the group at the SXSW festival in Austin, TX in March and was rather taken by its loose, fluid melodic style and gypsy-jazz tinged instrumentation as well as the lead singer's husky-wholesome, folksy voice.
I personally had a great time. Hey Marseilles did not disappoint: The musicians looked entirely happy to be with us in the room (especially the cute cellist who kept smiling a secret smile,) the music chugged along with energy and I could have kept bobbing around to the Hey Marseilles sound all night.
My friends, however, bailed before the band had even played its first note.
The two main reasons for the exodus had nothing to do with the band's talent. The main issues were to do with timing and one of the supporting acts.
There were two bands that preempted the headliners. The first was pretty great -- two young women with silky yet powerful voices playing keyboards and backed up by an astute group of musicians. Their mainly indie rock sound had melodic and rhythmic drive to it.
The second, however, was a complete disaster. Again, two women were involved. But this time with no band behind them. The music the women played was utterly drab. Its dirginess lacked any kind of melodic or harmonic direction. All the rhythmic joy of the first group dissipated when the second act came on stage and we were stuck with them for what seemed like an eternity.
By the time this terrible twosome left the stage, it was about 11pm. My friends had had enough. The music sucked and it was a Tuesday night with an early start for them the following morning. They left without even bothering to listen to a single track by Hey Marseilles.
My friends weren't the only people driven away by the awful music of the second supporting band. When I looked around, it seemed that the room had emptied considerably. The first group of musicians had brought in the crowds. Those that followed them managed to empty the space, leaving the headline act to perform in front of an unnecessarily modest crowd.
A third and perhaps less important factor that seemed to put my friends off was the website of Hey Marseilles. The home page is basically a merchandise page. The band shoves things to buy down visitors' throats when it should foreground its music. (Merchandise may make the band more money than music at this point, but that's not a reason to focus on commercialism on the website.) This fact alone nearly put my friends off buying tickets and coming out at all. But they liked what they heard of the band on YouTube and changed their minds.
I spend a lot of time in theatres and music venues and I have some understanding of what it's like to be a performer. So my tolerance for the things mentioned above is perhaps higher than most. But there are lessons to be learned here both for presenting venues and for bands:
1) Venues should more carefully monitor supporting acts. They need to be strong.
2) On weeknights, particularly early in the week, it might be a good thing to only have one supporting act. Or if there must be two, make sure both acts and particularly the second one is very compelling.
3) Don't make the homepage of your band's website a storefront. It puts people off.