A Little Less Conversation: Tips For A Great Concert Experience
Spring is here, and you know what that means: It’s time to kick concert season into full gear. Kansas City promises something for every type of concertgoer — from fans of large-scale, big-arena productions to up-close and personal settings, from those who take advantage of every presale to those who save up to see that one big show every summer. Maybe you’ve already broken the bank to catch the Gorillaz on their first tour in seven years (they hit Sprint Center on Sept. 22), or you know you’ll be camping out at Knuckleheads on May 8 to get a front-and-center spot for John Paul White. Regardless, there’s something else you have to know. The logistics of a concert can make or break the experience. And I’m not just talking about the performance itself. I’m talking about the dreaded moment when people start clapping on the 1 and 3. Or the belligerent, careless chatter during a heart-wrenching song. Or when I spot the tallest man in the audience, because I know he will inevitably end up right in front of me (the struggle is real). So, before you set your sights on those coveted concert tickets, take some tips from a few live music enthusiasts and experts to ensure a top-notch experience for yourself and everyone around you.
Tim Finn, music writer for The Kansas City Star / Back To Rockville
Favorite KC-area venues: I love the [new] recordBar, Crossroads KC, Knuckleheads and the Kauffman Center. I’m also a big fan of Liberty Hall in Lawrence, [Kansas]. But Starlight Theater is the perfect confluence of sights and sounds, and I’ve seen some of my favorite shows ever there — Bowie, The Cure, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Shows you’re looking forward to: Tom Petty. Roger Waters. Middle of the Map. Boulevardia. Willie Nelson with Dwight Yoakam. Elvis Costello. What are your concert “rules”? Don’t be annoying. Be considerate of people around you. If you’re not interested in the band/music, leave the room. Speak at low volumes. Don’t cut in front of people if there’s no room to do so. Act like you’ve seen a damn show before. Where do you prefer to stand? Typically I stand by the soundboard because it seems logical that the best sound will be by the sound person. At Sprint Center, I have a place that gives me a great view and, typically, a good sound perspective. I rarely barge to the front, for several reasons: mostly because it’s not a good place to take notes. Biggest pet peeve? Talking is by far my biggest pet peeve, from the audience. As far as bands go, I wish more bands would talk to their audiences more and give them a deeper sense of who they are and what they represent, even if it’s a rehearsed speech or a bit of shtick. What encompasses your ideal concert experience? The best shows end with the band lined up across the stage, applauding the audience before it, which is going berserk because the show was so good. Nothing better than watching the band beam about its experience with a crowd going home happy.
Julia Hamilton, musician
Favorite KC-area venues: My favorite venue in KC was always the old recordBar, but the new one is just as cool and intimate in different ways, so it's still my fave. I also love the vibe at Davey's Uptown. The sound is always on point, and the people are always chill. Shows you’re looking forward to: I'm practically vibrating with excitement to see Bishop Briggs at the Midland in a couple weeks. Also, I saw Muna at recordBar recently and heard they are coming back at the end of June to do a show with Bleachers, so I will 100 percent be there. Muna put on one of my favorite shows of all time in February. Absolutely love their music. What are your concert “rules”? I think it's really rude to skip the opening act or to leave early if the final act plays late. The fun of the concert experience is hearing music that may be new to you. For instance, Lo Moon opened for Muna, and I'd never heard them before then. Now I listen to their music; they're so good! Where do you prefer to stand? It depends on the venue, whoever is playing and whoever I'm with. If I'm seeing a band I love, I'll try to stand at the front so I can see them well. I saw both Leon Bridges and Tove Lo at the Uptown Theater last year, and for Leon Bridges, I was crunched up in the front, dancing and taking videos because it was such an exciting, high-energy show. When I saw Tove Lo, I went with a whole group of friends, and we stayed towards the back of the venue because we weren't as invested. I had fun at both! Biggest pet peeve? It's not really my place to judge, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when a musician/band doesn't seem interested in the audience at all or comes off as not wanting to be there. All I can think is… you're touring with the music you've invested so much in. You're living my dream! I like it when the musician seems enthusiastic and brings a good energy to the stage. What encompasses your ideal concert experience? A great audio mix, a captivating performance, and a room full of people who are all there because they love the music. How does being a musician alter your experience? Being a musician, if anything, makes watching other musicians more exciting. When I see a performance that excites me, it inspires me. I look up to musicians who have achieved some level of success, and hope that someday I can be their peer.
John Keck, musician
Favorite KC-area venues: RecordBar has always felt like a home of music, run by musicians with a purpose and focus on great music from all genres. Since they’ve moved, the vibe of the space has elevated to a new level. I’m also a fan of the Westport Saloon — you know the music will be of a certain standard when you go there. I end up at the Green Lady Lounge almost every night because one should always have jazz before sleep. The Brick is home too — intimate but loud without losing your hearing. Moving up in scale and outdoors — when CrossroadsKC’s season starts, you know spring has sprung. The Midland is the next larger venue I would drag anyone to, and Knuckleheads should round off the list as an institution that keeps growing. Shows you’re looking forward to: Willie Nelson at Starlight — he’s an idol of mine, and I’ve never seen him before. Everything at Middle of the Map — Emmaline Twist is a hell of a show, and it’s been too long since I’ve gotten to see Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds. I’m not sure how I’ll be in two places at the same time, but I’ll try. Honestly, I seldom plan too far in advance because there is literally a show every night I would feel lucky to be at, and if I don't find it, I go to the Mutual Musicians Foundation and finish strong. What are your concert “rules”? I come to hear music; I don’t want to have a conversation. When someone is creating sound out of thin air in front of you, it’s too magical to interrupt with words shouted over drinks. There’ll be plenty of time to talk, so don’t ruin the show. Don’t check your text messages, go to the bathroom or step outside when someone is playing. You’re not engaged in the moment, and you aren’t being receptive to the art form you paid to see. Take photos, share videos, then stash your phone and be in the moment! Where do you prefer to stand? Parallel or next to the sound booth is ideal when you are hanging on every note and lyric. If the vibe is right, I’ll go to the back and see how the act is managing the crowd. At that point, I’m taking on notes on what I want to do to be a better performer. But if the band is on fire and everyone is losing their mind, I want to be in the front. Look, if Not A Planet is kicking ass and taking names, I want to feel that bass drum hitting my chest. Biggest pet peeve? Talking at the wrong time. People who feel the need to draw attention to themselves have no idea how long the person practiced for this spot, how much effort it took to get the opportunity to perform, the courage it took to get in front of the crowd. Give them the respect of listening or leaving. I actually love it when bands do annoying things because I store that as a thing I should never do. I once went to a Cake show and they complained about playing their hits. If I ever have a hit, I’ll play it five times in a row if that’s what the audience wants. What an honor to have something requested. Also, if there is a rock band on stage, go to the front. Be the first person to do it, and don’t worry if no one else follows. Be in the moment, dance your dance. What encompasses your ideal concert experience? I want to be moved, I want to hear a song that I connect with, and I want the music to deliver something. The best concerts for me are those when you walk away with nothing on your mind except the art you just experienced, then you go home and play your guitar (or whatever you do) until you fall asleep.
Chel O'Reilly, live music enthusiast
Favorite KC-area venues: The Brick, CrossroadsKC and Knuckleheads. A divey feel (but with a clean bathroom - whaaat?!) is always a good feeling. A good sound person also makes a big difference. Even if you're not a musician, you still know what a good sound person is like. I prefer indoor venues mostly because I sunburn like the Irish girl I am, and because of sound quality. Once an outdoor venue gets too big, the sound quality goes way down. Part of the joy of live music is that it sounds better than what would come out of an old boombox, and stadiums can sound like an old boombox. Shows you’re looking forward to: Very soon: Erin McKeown at Uptown (this Friday). Anywhere headcount.org sends me. What are your concert “rules”? Rules vary by venue and style of music. If it's jazz improv, don't even look at me, my darling best friend — I'm busy. However, with jazz, a whoop from the audience is totally not an interruption. If it's mellow/quieter music, like folk, wait for a song to finish to get up for the bathroom or bar. If it's a raucous concert and the audience is singing along, don't worry — no one expects to hear nuances amid the crowd. Sing on. Where do you prefer to stand? Sit or saddle up to the front, but never interested in pushing. I'll stand more to the side and front if the front center is crowded. I'll stick to the downstage right corner because most guitarists are right-handed, and I can see their chording. I prefer to be closer to the stage because I watch the performers. I care about the nuances of what they’re doing — the side-eye, the head nod, the things that make a band tight. It’s different than listening to a recording, not just because it’s a new rendition, but because of the Rube Goldberg machine that any live performance is. Biggest pet peeve? Good lord, if you can't clap, just stop. Talking can only be done in bigger crowds (like CrossroadsKC) and keep it to the way back. Dancing is awesome, but if it's one person just pulling focus, please don't distract us with an attempt to upstage. As for the performers, yes — please acknowledge us, but 500 of us do not make the entire city. Saying "hi" to just who's there is totally fine. Know what state you're in. What encompasses your ideal concert experience? Certain crowds are just nicer people. I like bands that tend to be positive, and I like my people that way, too. A venue that knows what they're doing, from sound to security, is appreciated. Oh, and availability of bar and bathroom.
Todd Zimmer, concert photographer
Photo: Suzanne Günther
Favorite KC-area venues: There is something interesting, individual, irritating and exceptional about every venue, and KC is very well-endowed when it comes to spaces for live music. I love that you can get close enough to catch a headstock in the ear at The Brick, Blind Tiger and Davey’s Uptown; the recordBar has fantastic sight lines, perfect stage height and the ability to light it up; I’m really excited the Madrid is back in the game, and the Uptown and Midland Theaters are beautiful places. If it weren’t for The Riot Room and Westport Saloon, I probably wouldn’t find myself in Westport at all. That’s just KC. In Lawrence, I really dig the intimacy and rawness of the Replay Lounge, the green room and personal history of The Bottleneck — that was the first venue I frequented when we moved here in 1997 — and the Granada and Liberty Hall are monsters. I mean, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Morphine at a half-stones throw? I look for good lighting and sight lines in a venue. I want to see a performance. Intimate settings are what I am drawn to, though I do like the volume that comes from a large venue as well. Shows you’re looking forward to: I am really looking forward to finally seeing Echo and the Bunnymen with Ian McCulloch at CrossroadsKC, and the Black Angels at the Madrid. What are your concert “rules”? I have a lot of rules but they get broken constantly, and I have difficulty in their enforcement. Here’s a few: Don’t hold your phone in the same place and in someone else’s sight line forever. Don’t stay in the same spot for more than two to three songs if you have the larger size camera. Don’t text or social media post in plain sight of the band while they are pouring their hearts out to you, especially the front row. Don’t carry on like nothing is happening on stage; there are bars geared specifically toward groups of people being loud and oblivious to their surroundings. Where do you prefer to stand? I prefer to be in my own space most of the time at a show. That might mean in the back, at the side of the stage or in front of the speakers. I move around a lot. Biggest pet peeve? Big banter is not my favorite thing. I like when the band acknowledges their fans and the crowd, especially when I can understand what they have said, but I don’t like to hear long diatribes. There are some exceptions — Elvis Costello was really interesting to listen to when he played at the Uptown a couple years ago, as well as Adia Victoria at The Riot Room last year. Inconsiderate and oblivious people in the crowd are annoying; I hope I’m not one. I could only care slightly less if a band calls KCMO “Kansas.” Good luck playing East Farndon and remembering that you are in England and not Wales. What encompasses your ideal concert experience? I come away from a show changed when a band is so passionate about their music that if the crowd is lame, they don’t even notice, and if the room is on fire, they are the gasoline. Music has the ability to inspire, heal, bond, empower and enlighten. If I come away from a coffeehouse gig, a stadium performance or a club show with any of these, it was an ideal concert. You attend many shows as a photographer instead of a concertgoer. How does that perspective change your concert experience? As a photographer, my perspective on purple light has been skewed to an extreme that a concertgoer may not fully appreciate and, in fact, might even consider an interesting creative use of light. To me, purple is the marriage of both ends of the visible light spectrum and the fruit of that marriage is a lot of extra time correcting the white balance in post-production. —Michelle Bacon is probably shorter than you and hopes you won’t stand in front of her at a show. Even more so, she hopes you will clap on the 2 and 4, or just don't. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter at @michelleobacon.