It’s been an ongoing phenomenon at concert halls and clubs for years: audience members who, in spite of booming rhythms or funky beats, spend the evening just kind of standing there. Sometimes you’ll get a head-bob, sometimes a bit of a sway, but often times it’s an arms crossed, eyes forward stoic trance. In certain circles, getting a concert crowd moving is certainly no easy task, making groups that manage it hot items when they tour.
But this certainly isn’t anything new, there’s a memorable scene in the seminal 1966 film Blow Up where the protagonist wanders through the crowd of a Yardbirds concert, and in spite of the raucous song and the band sporting both original guitarist Jimmy Page and replacement Jeff Beck, who stomps the hell out of his guitar, the audience remains catatonic save for a pair of dancing weirdoes in the back:
So what’s going on here? Is this apparent lack of enthusiasm cooler than thou hipster showboating, or just a sign that folks are paying really close attention? Nobody can say for certain, but that doesn’t mean that bands haven’t developed theories of their own. Below we’ve compiled a few songs that riff on this trend of lead-footed concert-goers.
The Maybe This is a New Dance or Something Theory:
“Do the Standing Still” by The Dismemberment Plan
In Fargo, six or seven kids watched the Plan in a strip-mall/I thought they were bored out of their skulls but it turns out they were having a ball/Oh-whoa-ohwell I finally knew they were doing a brand-new step everybody isn't moving to.
It has to be frustrating for a band as energetic as The Dismemberment Plan to have a home base of Washington, D.C., a city whose crowds aren’t known for their wild rug cutting. No doubt tired of asking themselves “are these people having fun or we just that bad?” singer Travis Morrison and co. calmed their nerves by making up a new dance craze where audiences can show that their enthusiasm by moving as little as possible. The song works too--as a dig at lazy audiences, a dare to get kids moving, and as a self-depreciating gag, because after all, maybe they do suck. Even today, nearly a decade after the band called it quits, folks are still doing the Standing Still at shows across the nation.
The Tired Theory:
“I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” by Scissor Sisters
You think that I could muster up a little soft shoe gentle sway, But I don't feel like dancin', no sir, no dancin' today.
Gay-fab glam-rock group Scissor Sisters have no problem getting their fans moving on their feet, but if this song, from their second album Ta-Dah, is any indication, the group can sympathize with concert-goers who would rather hang in the back and spend the evening drinking water and rubbing their temples. Written by Sisters’ members Jake Shears and Scott Hoffman alongside Elton John, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” spins a familiar yarn of waking up, head throbbing, hair fudged and then having to hit the clubs with friends despite feeling physically and emotionally wrecked. Worst yet is going out with someone you like who is all gung-ho doing the soft-shoe and the two-step when you’d rather just be home getting laid.
The Pitchfork Effect Theory:
“Whoo! Alright - Yeah...uh Huh” by The Rapture
People don’t dance no more, they just stand there like this/They cross their arms, and stare you down and drink and moan and dis.
New York City dance-punk band The Rapture skyrocketed to indie stardom when the still burgeoning Pitchfork Media named the group’s first full length album, Echoes, album of the year in 2003, right around the time when Pitchfork was solidifying its place as the primary tastemaker of the internet age. But as a living testament to Pitchfork’s newfound power, the band also became one of the first victims of the indie blog circuit’s cerebral analytics and crushing back-lashes. With their second album, the band side-stepped the jangled style of Echoes and released a brighter, synth heavy dance rock album that shunted criticism and widened their fan-base. The most scathing of the albums tracks is “Whoo! Alright- Yeah… Uh huh,” which acts as a spazzy, cowbell infused middle finger to the brainy buzzkills that wrote them off for no good reason. Presenting an argument between the band and a heady girl complaining about the group’s blunt allegories and broken rhyme schemes, The Rapture goes on the attack against her for sucking the fun out of dance music and then after the audience for standing around and staring at them like they’re the a-holes for trying to get them to move their feet.
The Suburban Malaise Theory:
“Month of May” by Arcade Fire
I know it's heavy I know it ain't light, but how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?
The anxiety of coming up in the suburbs has been a favorite topic of Arcade Fire’s since the band’s inception. On the group’s newest, Billboard topping, Grammy-winning album The Suburbs, the group spins these tales of adolescents dealing with artistic impulses and adult emotions in the creative desert of suburbia for the length of an entire album. But getting through to these kids (or grown up versions of them) isn’t always easy considering that they’re often too broken down by the grey blob of suburban life to respond to stimuli. It can take a lot to break through, so with “Month of May,” Arcade Fire goes nuclear. An abnormally raucous track for the group, “Month of May” cranks up the amps and takes aim directly at the kids in the crowd who, arms crossed, get too stuck in their own heads to let go of their problems for an hour or two.
The Stabbing Each Other Theory:
“They Don’t Dance No Mo’” – Goodie Mob
We used to break doin eighty-three, 2 Live dropped, and we was Throwin That D, They don't fight with fists, they bring they piece, pat everybody down, before they leave this piece.
The hip-hop world offers a more difficult and dangerous situations when it comes to disengaged concert-goers, as outbreaks of violence at such concerts became common fodder for Metro headlines. In 1988, after a show featuring Eric B. and Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, and others ended with outbreaks of robberies and violence, a New York Times headlineasked “Have Rap Concerts Become Inextricably Linked to Violence?” Not much has changed in the ensuing 20 years—a free June 2010 Drake concert in Manhattan made national news when a riot broke out before the Canadian rapper even hit the stage. By the 1990’s, fears of outbursts of violence at rap concerts became such a concern that venues began subjecting fans to police barricades and metal detectors just to get through the door despite similar outbursts at sporting events or rock concerts. Regardless of the regrettable racial implications, the heightened security and looming danger, sensationalized or not, cast a pall on crowds just trying to have a good time.
The track “They Don’t Dance No Mo’,” off of Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob’s second album, 1998's Still Standing, laments the violent overtones cast over hip hop culture, acknowledging that buzzed heads and antagonistic security can often lead to confrontation, which tends to be a major drag on anyone enjoying their evening. Between the sweat of others’ bodies, the growing weariness of age and security that borders on martial law, there’s not much left to do at a show than stand around dis.
Photo Credits: Courtes Nasty Little Man // Photo credit: Kevin Westenberg