Being the metalhead that I am, concert-going is a pretty steady habit of mine. I scour Last.fm, Ticketmaster, Facebook, MySpace, and many other destinations across the ‘net to make sure I can figure out all the acts coming to town that I must see. I’ve been to many bad shows, many mediocre shows, and a handful of great shows. In the metal world, you most likely won’t make it if your live show doesn’t hold up (unless you get lucky and are heavily backed by some powerful people in the genre). How do you do that, you ask? You play your fucking hearts out.Merely showing up and playing doesn’t cut it, though. Any idiot with half a brain can figure that out (and still somehow, bands manage to get this first step wrong). Aside from not showing up or forgetting how to play your own songs, this isn’t really that hard of a step. If you’re a small band, it’s pretty tough to be so bad that the half-drunk people scattered around the bar for your opening performance outwardly dislike you. Once you’ve shown up, proven that you can actually play the music you wrote and (hopefully) play on a regular basis, you’re halfway to have a decent show.
If you decide that you’re fine being lifeless statues on the stage, playing your music (rhythm guitar for Between the Buried and Me I’m calling you out) then leaving, that’s fine – you can just enjoy having people not care about you or your band. You play metal, for Christ’s sake, you shouldn’t be so damn boring while playing your music. That is unless you hate your own music, and in that case why are you playing it at all? Do everyone a favor and at least make it look like you’re not dead, and that you actually enjoy playing music.
How about playing the same songs in the same way every night? Well, since the people there might know and like them, that’s a pretty safe bet. Think outside the box with me here a second, what if you actually (dare I say), improvised? I know, it seems a bit strange to think about, and it requires plenty of trust and comfort level with your bandmates. Don’t you think you would have built that up through practice and living in a van with them while on tour? At the very least, switch up a solo or two, perhaps play a great cover song – give the fans something new and exciting. No one is ever going to leave your set saying “Oh my god! Did you see [guitarist] play that solo from [song with a solo] the same exact way he does on the album? IT WAS AMAZING.” unless you’re one of very few people/bands (The Faceless, Tosin Abasi, Paul Masvidal and All Shall Perish being a few of these).Some of the best sets I’ve ever seen have been entirely unorthodox, or special in some way. It’s really not that hard if you have a little creativity – which you should, being a musician and all. I can vividly remember seeing Razormaze at Great Scott in Allston, MA for the CD release of their debut album The True Speed of Steel being one of the greatest sets I’ve ever witnessed. The guys were full of energy and passion, and the entire crowd was stoked to see them. Toward the latter stages of their set, their rhythm guitarist’s (Alex Citrone) guitar ceased functioning, and without really skipping a beat the band continued their set with a cover of Mötorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” You may scoff at that, or think it’s silly, but the crowd (including myself) thought it was the greatest thing ever at the time.
Sometimes bands can actually not pull out any surprises, but just bring it so hard it doesn’t matter – that’s the case with bands like The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza,Irepress, Isis, and The Faceless. With these bands, crowd involvement is often key. The more intense and into it the crowd is the better the performance feels. For instance, when you have a constant stream of body surfers flowing towards the stage as you’re screaming through your most brutal verse as a band, it’s hard to not be completely stoked about everything around you (that was the case when I saw Danza).
So bands, put on the show of your lives every single night, the fans will definitely appreciate it. Fans, make it known that you want a good show!
Also, you want the fans to show that they appreciate the music. I’ve had quite a few people come over after a gig to tell me they thought we rocked, but I didn’t see much movement in the audience. So far we’ve really only had one gig where the audience was really into it, and we’ve played about 30 concerts…
As a band, you need to play like the audience is freaking out and enjoying themselves no matter what. Even if it’s one dude. No matter how big or small the band, there will always be a “bogus” show. You will affect someone when you write and play with sincerity and energy. That is what makes a band successful. The message delivered. Art actualized.