Concerts are something special. Whether we’re a regular concert goer or someone who occasionally enjoys live music, there’s always something memorable about each performance that we attend, see and feel.
Over the last few years, I’ve gone to more music concerts than I can count: pop and rock 30,000 stadium capacity shows, intimate independent artist gigs, classical symphony orchestra performances, music festivals, both seated and general-admission standing shows.
At the time of writing, the last concert I went to was Green Day earlier this year. I’m quite a fan of this punk-pop-rock band and grew up listening to their music since the early 90s. Oddly enough, rock concerts never appealed to me. It wasn’t until the night before the band’s second Melbourne concert a few months ago that I got tickets on a whim.
Every artist and performer has a different kind of approach to the art they create, a different kind of rhythm, a different kind of stage presence, and so a different kind of concert. Often artists evolve their craft over time and so generally each concert is a once in a lifetime experience – each concert is enjoyed differently.
Whether we’re a small or big fan of a well-known or obscure artist or band, there are a few things we can do to have the best time possible at their shows:
1) Know the artist or band
Being familiar with an artist and listening to their music, there’s every chance we’ll connect with them on a deeper level when we see them live. Researchers from the University of Leeds proposed in 2008 that the music we listen to lets us become ourselves and assists in the emergence of a stable self, especially during our younger years. That is, memory is the narrative of our lives. When we hear songs that have spoken to us all these years performed live, there’s every chance we’ll feel the person whom we really are – profoundly feeling the musicians’ stories as ours in the present moment of reality at a live concert. That said, there’s no reason why we can’t go to a concert without having heard about the act – no spoilers, go with the flow of the show, and let the show surprise our emotions.
The night before the Green Day concert, I looked up the band’s setlist for their (current) tour. They were playing songs from their past and present catalogues, all of which I knew. My mind flashed back to the time I saw Taylor Swift live, sang along with the crowd to her past and present upbeat pop songs – and felt like I was the energetic, spirited person that I am and have always been..
2) Arrive early
Go early, get some merchandise and perhaps enjoy the warm up act. Avoid being late, settle in, soak up the atmosphere of anticipation and once in a lifetime concert moment.
I’m a pretty short person at 1.48m and never expect to see much of the stage at concerts. But I’ve been lucky. For all three electronic violinist Lindsey Stirling’s concerts I’ve been to, I arrived 3 hours beforehand, queued to get in and wandered to the front of the mosh pit. At Florence and the Machine’s Melbourne concert two years ago, the rebel in me arrived as the doors opened, sat in my allocated seat, then stood up, walked past security…without getting stopped, squeezed past other concert goers and reached the front barrier at the stage. At the Green Day concert, when I presented my nosebleed section seat ticket to the usher, she pocketed it and gave me a relocation ticket: the concert didn’t sell out, and I got relocated to a seat at the front section.
Sing the songs played live, feel the rhythm and stories performed together along with the crowd. Psychologist Shira Gabriel argues that going to concerts fill the need for human belonging, that concerts are unconscious collective effervescent experiences. Humans are innate social creatures. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing in tune: the band and crowd will carry your voice along. Everyone sounds good for one night, part of one voice.
Some have said they’d rather not sing along at concerts, preferring to listen to live music with as little distractions as possible. Fair enough when you want to appreciate a performance as it is performed, think opera or theatrical performances. When I saw American folk singer Kina Grannis a few years ago, I sat through pretty much her entire show entranced by the rhythmic strumming of her acoustic guitar. Seeing Josh Groban perform and wield his baritone voice with such control last year, I was speechless.
Right before the Green Day concert, Bohemian Rhapsody played over the speakers and the crowd sang along to the 1975-released song word-for-word – thousands coming together at the drop of a hat because of one song, magically chilling.
4) Move and dance
Move to the beat, head bop, jump like a pogo-stick, wave, cheer, do the peace sign. If you’re at a heavy metal show, there’s a chance you might not only be a part of crowdsurfing but also a part of the Wall of Death – the mosh pit splitting into two sides, running and charging at each other (not my kind of thing, though). Everyone really is there to see the performer, not judge your dance moves or singing. Be part of a collective voice, be a part of a collective body, mind and soul – and hence feel the energy from the stage, be that energy united as one. Your tribe, one tribe for one night with the same moves, same heart.
A few years ago, I attended Handel’s Messiah performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. At the end everyone stood up, swayed to the beat and sang along to the last chorus ‘Hallelujah’. At the Green Day show, after the band played their first song, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong asked the crowd to stand and stand we did for the next three hours, cheering to ‘No Trump!’ chants and the moment when a girl got a free guitar on stage.
5) Watch the show. Put the camera and phone down for a bit. No talking.
See and feel a concert as who you are in that body of yours in the present moment. Let go of your inhibitions, see and feel the crowd, energy, enthusiasm and freedom all round. Enjoy every bit of concert with your heart by feeling another’s warmth with your senses as who you are, sharing in the moment together.
That said, some will insist on taking photos and filming concerts, documenting the show from their perspective, creating their own digital concert souvenirs. This can be distracting to other concert goers and arguably one isn’t fully experiencing the show. I’ve been guilty of taking photos during concerts but I don’t do it for the entire show. It’s one thing to try your hardest taking a non-blurry photo and another to hold up your phone haphazardly and losing yourself enjoying the music.
What I actually remember from the concerts I’ve been too is singing along. How the drummer played the drums at a certain part of a song. The moment Florence and the Machine came close, looked me in the eye and sang to me. The moment Lindsey Stirling knelt down arm’s length away from me, looked at me and smiled as she played her violin. Indescribable feelings.
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A concert is a social experience as much as an individual one. Often we go to concerts to experience a singer or band that we’ve always loved for our personal gratification. However, it’s fun to share something with someone who feels the same way.
That said, about 90% of the concerts I’ve attended, I’ve attended alone. Not many of my friends share the same taste in music as me. Also, I’d much rather go by myself than with someone who isn’t a fan of the performer: what if my companion gets bored halfway or starts playing with their phone (I’ve seen other concert goers do this at almost every concert I’ve been to, even dead-centre up-front in the mosh-pit…). A fan would be more deserving of their ticket. Moreover, concerts aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, some saying they feel ‘stuck’ when they’re in a crowd or preferring to enjoy music privately at home.
Perhaps our taste in music changes over time, and we have different expectations of concerts at different points in our lives. In Australia, 50,000-crowd big annual music festivals such as Soundwave and Big Day Out have seen their demise due to expensive ticketing. Boutique music festivals and inner-city niche music subculture hubs are more popular these days, with smaller crowds and scenic secluded venues. Watching the confetti rain down on a cheering crowd after Green Day played their final song, I felt a bit sad – I didn’t want the show to end. A concert can very well be a journey that touches upon our innate wildest dreams as we fully connect with the depths of our individual mind, heart and soul through music, and a journey that may also make us realise how all of us can actually be happy together in this world.
And so live music concerts can have a positive, lingering impact on us, be it alone or with a bunch of friends. A study conducted by the Centre of Performance Science shows attending a live music event reduces a person’s stress hormone cortisol. In 2016, Deakin University surveyed 1,000 Australians and found Australians who attended communal musical experiences such as music festivals reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being with their lives. It’s not every day we get to go to a concert; it takes time to save up and travel to get to a show – it takes the right timing to be at a concert. Coupled with this, there’s something special, powerful in knowing one is not alone when it comes to sharing something personal, subconsciously connecting with those in the same tribe.
Sometime a great concert experience not the case. The recent concert incident in Manchester that involved explosives and fatalities was a very scary experience for those who attended. According to GirlAtTheRockShows, some might attend a concert and feel disturbed by violent and sexual connotations on stage, feeling the line between theatrics and complete inappropriateness has been crossed.
So far, I’ve enjoyed all the music concerts I’ve been too. This is even despite: not having anything to drink for 5-6 hours because outside food and drink are banned from the venue and I refuse to buy hideously overpriced refreshments at the venue. Being pushed in the back by moshing crowds every thirty seconds while standing up front. Having a tall person stand in front of me…only to have them trade places with me when I asked.
It’s hard to choose which is the ‘best’ concert I’ve been too since each concert is unique in its own way. With the Green Day concert, I’d remember it for bringing out the punk-rocker chick girl in me once again, the girl who sang emo songs many, many years ago. The morning after the show, I woke up feeling very stiff all over, parched throat and heavy eyes. Couldn’t even bend my toes. I spent the rest of the day in bed, dreaming of doing another concert sometime soon. Perhaps my body is telling me to slow down, but music and concerts will always remind me how young I can always be.
What is your most memorable music concert?