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Bad Opener Choice or Bad Crowd?

As someone who attends about 3 non-DIY concerts every month, I’ve seen too many opening acts to count, and that number is only going to increase. Recently, I’ve been to a handful of shows where the opener wasn’t necessarily bad, but their presence seemed misguided more than anything. But this begs the million dollar question: bad crowd, or bad opener choice?

The crowd of mostly hairbow-donning 16 year old girls at Faye Webster’s show was absolutely silent for pure punk band Upchuck, whose music was most reminiscent of the pioneering British Punk bands like Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys. By contrast, Webster presents wistful, groovy balladry complete with a smattering of lap steel guitar. The connection between Upchuck and Webster is their hometown of Atlanta. Webster formed a tight friendship with Upchuck frontwoman Kalia “KT” Thompson after dating her brother. Those circumstances were, unbeknownst to them, a slippery slope for spicing up the night for those aforementioned teen girls. Their anemia-ridden arms were unable to handle what would’ve otherwise been a flawless stage dive/crowd surf attempt, especially minutes after having water spat on them by KT herself. The set went on for nearly 45 minutes (which even I thought was 10-15 minutes too long), and it was the stillest punk set I ever have and probably ever will see. 

It’s safe to assume that Upchuck’s opening slot was a friendly favor from Faye to KT, but unfortunately for everyone involved, a lot of younger fans are determined to be in the front (typically for prime videotaping angles), but simply did not have the energy a band like Upchuck demands for their performances to be effective and engaging. In a better reality, music fans should be open minded, but considering Faye’s audience is increasingly younger and mobilized via TikTok, this arrangement was destined to backfire. 

A similar scenario also occurred at the recent Boygenius halloween show at The Hollywood Bowl. Hyperpop duo 100 Gecs opened for the supergroup, and several attendees described the audience during their set as “completely still.” You'd Think two champions of the chronically online would rally at least a good chunk of the crowd (on halloween, no less), but that just wasn’t the case here. The headlining Gecs show I attended this past spring was full of energy, excitement, and nonstop moshing, to the point where a few of my friends left the venue with minor injuries. Breakcore duo Machine Girl supported that tour, and I don’t think they could’ve made a better choice. If anything, Machine Girl’s inclusion moved more tickets for the tour, and made fans even more excited to attend the show.

Sometimes, a bill of three wildly different acts unexpectedly works extremely well. All hailing from Baltimore, Snail Mail and JPEGMAFIA opened for Turnstile on the North American leg of their tour last fall. Recounts from attendants on JPEG’s subreddit were universally positive, which is likely attributed to all 3 acts being indie darlings in one way or another, attracting concertgoers that are more likely to have significant cross-genre taste. The opener for Weyes Blood’s recent North American tour saw a professional whistler as an opening act. It was fun and silly, and better yet allowed for a story. There is much to consider about the benefits of diverted expectations. Have we not learned about the road less traveled? Why should we always expect these logical (and sometimes redundant) pairings?

All that being said, this topic has everything to do with the well documented shift in concert etiquette after the pandemic-induced pause on the live music industry. The phenomenon of hyper-individuality in younger audiences has tainted what it means to attend and enjoy a concert. There’s now this ethos of “I bought the ticket, I should be able to act however I want.” The recent surge of strange and/or outright disrespectful behavior during live performances is absolutely due to this line of thinking. Screaming bloody murder during utterly depressing verses and heckling performers like they owe you (specifically) something is a result of a socially manufactured need to be stamped in the footnotes of an artist’s career. It should not take a cultural investigation to calm the fuck down, but it’s been two (2) years and here I am still talking about it.

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