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What can audiences add to concerts?

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Wednesday, Oct 29, 2008

I’ve wondered about this when I’ve listened to James Brown’s Live at the Apollo and B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, two classic pre-psychedelic era 60’s live albums, where the crowds themselves are so boisterous that they become an important part of the live recording.  In both cases, what’s going on with the performance is enhanced by the audience reaction- I talk about this in more detail in an upcoming PopMatters article about yet another classic 60’s live album, Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison.


I also wondered about this when I saw three bands at CMJ: Monotonix, DMBQ and AIDS Wolf. Other than the noise-rock connection, another thing that these three bands have in common is that they don’t like to be confined to the stage.  AIDS Wolf’s show at the Knitting Factory inspired a mini-mosh pit near the front of the stage, which sometimes spilled over there, encouraged by the band.  Diminutive singer Chloe Lum (aka Special Deluxe) also ran into the audience and writhed on the floor.  Nothing new unless you’ve never heard of Iggy Pop but seeing this kind of act up close is still exhilarating and definitely added something to the music and the performance. 


Japanese band DMBQ recovered from the tragic death of their drummer in an ‘05 car accident. Live, singer Shinji Masuko (a noted music journalist) donned a Lighting Bolt-type mask with a mic tied to his face and climbed onto the ceiling’s pipe fixtures.  Guitarist Toru Matsui frequently held his whole guitar in his mouth while bassist Ryuichi Watanabe frequently made his way into the crowd.  As for drummer Shinji Wada, he threw his kit into the audience and encouraged the crowd to hold it up as well as his drum stool.  He jumped up on the stool and played his kit, elevated over the crowd.  Surely Iggy would appreciate such crowd participation.


After that, I didn’t think that Monotix could top that in another venue but they did.  The crazed Israeli trio, subject to bans in their hometown, spends little or no time on a stage.  Like DMBQ, their drummer (Haggai Fershtman) likes to play in the audience, frequently moving his kit around.  The singer (Ami Shalev) and (Yonatan Gat) soon join him there.  Sometimes, the drums wind up at the back of a club or more frequently on top of a bar, where Fershtman goes to play them, with the rest of the band following along.  At one point, Shalev emptied a garbage can and put it over Fershtman’s head before he took it off and climbed in it himself with the crowd passing him and the can around, over their heads.  Shalev also put a drum on Fershtman’s head and played it there while the drummer himself played the rest of his kit.  Later, Fershtman moved his kit to the exits and Shalev literally herded the crowd back there to join him.  I’d seen them do something similar at another show but this was still great entertainment to witness.  For the newbies, they couldn’t imagine anything being any more exciting afterward.  Sadly, the club put on the house music, which drown out their sing-a-long finale but by then, the crowd was gratified enough.


See what crowd participation can do?  Tough to duplicate at home for sure unless you have a nice big rumpus room and don’t mind breaking some furniture.

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