Previously on Sweating With Strangers: Kelly Jones takes drugs and has a bad haircut in an Exeter cowshed.
What makes a gig a bad gig? What makes anything a bad anything for that matter?
Enjoyment? Expectation? Whose?
Talent? Skill? Those are highly relative.
I’ve been to gigs which many others could have argued were awful, but which I loved every second of; I’ve been to gigs which I’ve hated, but thousands of people around me have been orgasming to; and I’ve been to one gig where I’m pretty sure 99% of the people in the NEC Arena agreed it was a giant waste of money.
Any one of them could qualify as a bad gig, but I bet even the worst one had something to redeem it, and at least one person that enjoyed it, so how can we write it off completely?
If I tried to give you an undeniable example of a bad gig, I’d probably use the first one that I and my former band – the occasionally missed Product Recall – ever played, at The Shed, Leicester, in 2009.
Talentless? Check. I had no idea how to really play the guitar, I just hammered 3 power chords in repetitive patterns for 3 minutes at a time. For the two songs in which I had to do some simple picking, I would stare intently at the plectrum in my hands throughout, often having moved to an area of the stage where the light was better so I could see what I was doing.
Lacking professionalism? Check. I had to borrow an amp, which I couldn’t turn on, so the first song started without me. Both guitars broke strings in the first 2 songs, and we only had one spare guitar, so I had to play the rest of the set without a G string (wahay).
Crowd? Everyone that was there came with a band member and was there purely for moral support. I’m 100% sure they all hated it.
But enjoyment? I fucking loved it! It was probably the highlight of my life to that point, and I was massively proud of myself for doing it. So even if I was the only person in the whole town who thought it was a worthwhile exercise, what right has anyone else to say that it was an objectively bad gig? (Well, anyone who bought a ticket has that right, and I apologise to them wholeheartedly.)
So when I say that the All American Rejects at the Academy in Bristol in 2003 was a bad show, I guess what I’m really saying is that I hated it, and so did the people that I went with. Or to put it another way: four out of the four people we asked said *thumb down, blows raspberry*, and that’s enough for me.
So what was so very, very awful about this show?
Well, firstly, and importantly, I should say that we really wanted to like it. I’m not writing this now while snobbily eye-rolling at twenty-one year old me for going to see AAR, I loved their debut album, from the first moment I heard ‘Swing Swing’ on the radio. It was three minutes of emo-pop-punk perfection, and the rest of the album backed it up.
There were no weak tracks on that record, and a handful of outstanding ones, such as ‘Happy Endings’, ‘Drive Away’ and ‘Last Song’, and it strangely became the rarest of things in my uni house: an album that all four of us enjoyed!
For those of you following along, the ‘four of us’ at this point were me, with my love of (let’s face it) Status Quo, Stereophonics and other white-men-with-guitars bands; Cass, who liked scary metal bands and ska-punk; Bobby, who liked pretty much everything except Status Quo and Stereophonics; and our new recruit Basil, who liked every British indie band I hadn’t heard of and Muse. Actually, maybe Basil didn’t really like the All American Rejects, maybe Bobby just peer-pressured him into it in the same way he peer-pressured him to drinking heavily every night for the first two weeks he lived with us, which resulted in him crying in the shower fully dressed at 3am. Bless him, he just wanted to fit in!
Either way, the important thing is that it was very unusual to find a band or an album tha we were all in agreement on, and yet here we were, all super-excited to go see the All American Rejects, particularly so as it was at the brilliant Bristol Academy, for which I have previously declared my undying love.
Basil drove us up from Exmouth (which could be another reason to think he was largely dragged along against his will), and the journey included us peer-pressuring (which I keep using because it is preferable to ‘bullying’) him into driving his old Nova 90mph on the M5, in order to catch up to a car we thought might contain a pretty lady. I know that’s massively missing the point of a blog post about a gig, but it was genuinely the highlight of the trip – especially as we declared it had been a waste of time once we caught back up to the car – so I felt it should go in.
On arrival, still riding a giggly-high every time we remembered Basil’s terrified face during the preceding car chase, we were struck with the first moment of disappointment: we seemed to be comfortably the oldest people there, and we were only
Should we have known? Well, we were but poor students with no interweb and no MTVs, so we had no way to tell who liked the band. I doubt I even knew what they looked like to be honest, all I knew was their music sounded like pop-punk for grown ups, and I was all about that. I wasn’t all about jumping around with pre-teens on a Friday night however.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t still have liked the band or loved the album if I realised it was mainly little kids that were into them, but you know what it’s like when you’re twenty one, fifteen year olds might as well be babies, so lets just say it might have affected whether I bought standing tickets to their show. Or maybe I just would’ve got more drunk before getting there. Whatever, the point is we felt like the only people over sixteen that hadn’t brought their offspring, and it was off-putting to say the least.
*side note, I made a similar but MUCH WORSE mistake going to see Sundara Karma, alone, in my thirties. ‘How can it be I don’t know anyone else that likes this awesome band?’ I thought. Well, it turns out that’s because I don’t know any fourteen year old girls. But that’s for another time.
Once inside, we decided to plonk ourselves up against the barrier in front of the sound desk, so as to still have a great view of the show, but not to get involved in the heaving pit of prepubescence that was already forming during the support acts.
Allow me an old-man rant, but this is perhaps what really annoys me about gigs that are mainly populated by teenagers. They always seem to get so f**king excited to be at a rock gig, that they go “ooh I know what people do at gigs, MOSHPIT! PUSH SURGE SWAY!” even when not remotely moved to by the music. It’s the goddamn All American Rejects, not Megadeth you little chumps. Calm down and enjoy the show!
Even during the support acts groups of LADS were hilariously pushing the crowd forward, which would of course cause the crowd to surge back, and this would in turn crush us against the barrier. Remember how much more mature and cool we (thought we) were than these young jerks, and you can imagine how happy we were about the situation, and this was before the band had even come on.
The third element of disappointment I have in this show, is that Motion City Soundtrack were the main support act and I DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT THEM! I only know they were there because Bobby told me recently. They would go on to become one of my all-time favourite bands a decade later, but on that fateful night in Bristol, they washed over me. Maybe I was too busy watching out for annoying kiddy crowd surges, but in any case, one of my favourite bands left no impression at all on me that night, and I blame young people.
Finally, the most disappointing aspect of the whole night, was the All American Rejects themselves. They. Were. So. Annoying!
Tyson Ritter squealed introductions between every song, gurning constantly and screeching things like “I can’t fucking HEEEEEEEAAAAR YOU!” in a grating American whine, when he definitely could fucking hear us. During the tracks he was far more interested in making faces at his bandmates or doing his strange wide-eyed glare at the crowd than worrying about how awful the sound was or getting the songs across properly.
Meanwhile, the crowd surges were getting to ridiculous levels. If the band are going to largely ignore you and make their songs unrecognisable, what are teenage boys hopped up on Smirnoff Ice going to do if not attempt to crush little girls to death for their enjoyment.
It finally culminate in a back-surge so severe that those of us by the sound desk went into the barrier so hard that it came up off it’s fixes. Security and sound technicians, understandably reluctant to have their bodies or equipment crushed under a wave of teenage Bristolians or four moody adults, pushed back on the barrier – hard – and the bottom of it rammed back down towards the floor – scraping along the back of both of my heels along the way. I screamed in agony as I sensed inches of skin coming away from my legs, Tyson Ritter screamed back “FUCKING YEEEEEEEAAAH! ROCK AND ROOOOOWWWWLLLLLL BABAAAAAAYYYYYYY!”, and the barrier clicked back into place. I was certain I had suffered serious heel damage, and I could feel the sticky warm blood inside my socks, but my zero medical training told me that if I didn’t look at it, or touch it, it would be ok. So that’s what I did.
Thankfully, the sight of the barrier breaking and the possibility of all our impending deaths seemed to mildly calm down the crowd, and I was able to further distract myself from the life-altering damage to my legs by almost enjoying some of the final songs. But even so, by the time Ritter screamed “How ’bout we end this rock and roll show with a ROCK AND ROLLER?….. I SAID HOW ‘BOUT WE END THIS SHOW WITH A MUTHAFUCKIN ROCKANDROLLLLLAAAAAAAH?”, my main thought was still ‘How about you just end the show?”
So yeah, that was the first bad gig I ever went to, and you know what, I’m pretty sure thousands of teenagers went home that night saying it was awesome, and that’s infinitely more people than ever left a show of mine saying it wasn’t shit, so what do I know?
I do know that I didn’t listen to that first AAR album again much after that. But I did give them a second chance a year later at a festival, and they were even worse! I know, I was disappointed as well. After that I didn’t listen to them at all for years, and when their second album came out I ignored it for months.
But then I happened to catch ‘Move Along’ on Kerrang, and then I heard ‘Dirty Little Secret’, and I thought they were both brilliant. So I gave the new album a spin, and you know what? It was excellent! So I listened to the debut album again as well, and that was still excellent! They’re both still excellent now, I know, I’ve listened to them this week.
For someone like me, who puts such high stock in bands being able to ‘do it live’, it’s difficult to admit, but maybe, just maybe, live performance isn’t everything. Or at least, maybe being a bad live act shouldn’t detract from a band’s impressive back catalogue. Or maybe I was just in a foul mood that night in Bristol, and the All American Rejects do in fact kick ass live, who knows?
Oh, and when I got back to Exmouth and took my shoes and socks off, I had a very mild pink grazing on the back of my heels. What a man!
That’s all we have for today. It took four times as long between these last two posts as there was time between the actual gigs, so I’ll try to refocus and come back soon, for another post about me paying someone to drive me to see Status Quo.
In the meantime, why not leave a comment about the things you hate? What a positive message in these confusing times.