“More rock, less talk” isn’t just an FM radio mantra — it’s the rallying cry of everyone who ever went to a non-metal concert and wondered why their favorite songs served as mere backdrop for a social mixer.
Any musician who dares to get as fed up with the constant stream of chatter at a show as the silent majority is destined to be hailed as a hero, however little success they might have in stemming the tide of inappropriate audience extroversion. The latest to be thus celebrated: Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, currently touring acoustically with guitarist brother Rich Robinson in advance of an electric arena tour by their band, which many audience members apparently thought they were already at and needing to shout over.
Although Robinson didn’t get nearly as feisty as other performers have, much less make good on his vague threat to end the show prematurely, fan-shot videos of his pleas to keep it down have nonetheless gone viral among a nation of music fans that thinks flapping jaws do not count as a bonus rhythm section.
“It would be nice if we could hear ourselves,” Robinson tells the crowd at a Philadelphia club in one of the videos, “so if you could just shut the f— up a little bit…” (The singer’s relative calm about the situation, versus rage, is evident in his tagging “a little bit” onto the profane part of his plea.) “But that’s cool, because it’s like, what are we here every f—ing week doing this s–? It’s impossible sometimes to play music when all you hear is…” He paused to let the dull roar be evident. “…that. We’re not gonna be up here for that long, so if you could show us a little respect, we’re happy to see you. But it’s a waste of our time to have to stop and ask (you) to be polite while other people are performing. So thank you.”
Later in the show, Robinson asks if “you can’t concentrate for a few minutes while we’re doing this, you know what I mean?” A sympathetic fan shouts out: “We apologize! We are sorry! We love you!” The singer continues, “I get it, we’re happy to be here, but it’s not any fun if we can’t get into it, and we can’t get into it when all I can hear is conversations. Like, what’s the point? I really want to know… You’re f—ing grown adults and you paid your money and you should f—ing pay attention. It’s one guy with a guitar and one person singing, you know what i mean? Again, the vibes are so good and everyone’s happy, but we have to stop because we can’t hear ourselves. Like, seriously, man, get it f—ing together! Or we can just play ‘She Talks to Angels’ and f— off, if you want. Which would be very punk-rock to do that, by the way.”
Ultimately, the Robinson brothers played their full set. And on any given night in America, there’s probably some name act who’s had enough and can’t take it anymore who finally tells the crowd in the gentlest terms possible that it would be nice if, like, there were a kind of hush, all over the world. Most of these moments never go viral.
But some musicians have made good on a vow to split. Aaron Lewis is famous for a couple of solo acoustic shows apart from his group Staind where he got more aggressive. He actually stopped mid-song once to say: “Shut the f— up!… Listen, I’m f—ing good… Listen, if you don’t shut the f— up, you can’t even hear the guitar. So shut up. I’ve got three more f—ing minutes. Three. Can you please, for once?… It’s so f—ing ironic that this f—ing song is a ‘thank you,’ and I can’t get you to shut the f— up to hear it.” Ultimately he dropped his guitar mid-tune and walked offstage.
You could blame it on loud arena rockers who’ve booked themselves in their acoustic incarnations into SRO clubs that have never previously been mistaken for study halls. But as anyone who goes to concerts regularly knows, the garrulousness is epidemic in almost all settings outside of the actual classical concert hall.
God save the performer who books a corporate gig and expects a moment of attention. Fiona Apple exited the stage at a Louis Vuitton-hosted gig in Tokyo in 2016 after telling the crowd to “shut the f— up” — a very familiar refrain — and saying, “Predictable! Predictable fashion, what the f—?” She reportedly tried dinging a small bell to get the audience’s attention, a level of subtlety that works at wedding receptions but not in rock ‘n’ roll (or the solo piano-playing singer-songwriter version of it).
Even at the arena level, if you’re wondering if pure pop performers notice that no one seems to be paying attention to them… they notice.
As he attempted to sing the ballads from his catalog at a Manchester gig four years ago, Justin Bieber also expressed his frustration, although he seemed to be alone in not saying “shut the f— up.” “Try and stay as quiet as possible,” Bieber urged the audience. “You can scream as much as you want afterwards, but while I’m singing, try and stay quiet.” This fell on deaf ears — gone deaf from the sound of their own voices, possibly. “I just thought I could have a moment to say something. I can cut the bullshit if you want. I’m trying to engage, but if you guys don’t want to, I’ll play the music,” he said.
The implicit reaction of the talker class to shushing hints: Shut up and sing… so we can catch up amongst ourselves while you sing.
In 2014, a widely circulated essay from Seattle’s The Stranger got to the heart of the matter. The headline bore the F-phrase sadly near to every attentive fan’s and artist’s heart: “A Polite Request for Showers to SHUT THE F— UP.”
“Even if you’re involved in a deep existential discussion, you still deserve a face slap,” wrote Dave Segal. “Take it outside, Jean-Paul Sartre… One always feels the urge to shush or give the evil eye to these boors. But doing so usually results in charges of you being an ‘uptight asshole’ and other forms of derision. Plus, when a good 30-50 percent of the audience is offending, how do you get ’em all to STFU? You can’t. Moreover, you cause yourself to miss out on the performance while trying to quash their rudeness.” Indeed, anyone who works up the gumption to play librarian and put fingers to lips in a friendly gesture to the chattering class is familiar with the glare that results, or, better yet, the spoken justification that they paid for the privilege of discussing their workday, relationship issues or favorite tequila brand over a live heart-and-soul soundtrack.
Of course, when the band leaves the stage to mop brows during an encore call, there’s the ultimate irony: No one actually makes noise to demand an encore anymore. Fans typically stand there quietly — maybe for the first time all night — just assuming that the artist will return to the stage without any particular clapping or vocalizing on their part.
More and more artists are demanding that patrons deposit their smartphones in locked pouches on the way into shows, as if that were the worst problem. The first performer who can find a way to lock up fans’ voiceboxes for an hour and 45 will truly be an international hero.