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When Performing Turns Dangerous

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With the recent blow-up over Guns N’ Roses at the Reading Festival in the UK, a pattern has definitely emerged. This now marks the third recent incident where an audience has had a severe issue (in some way shape or form) with a performer.

Strike one: Billy Corgan cut a gig at the Viper Room short due to heckling. Strike two: Tila Tequila is attacked (no, seriously) at the Gathering of the Juggalos. Strike three: Guns N’ Roses at Reading (and, to a lesser extent, Leeds).

Let’s do this in chronological order. Corgan, by all accounts played a great show before his incident. He’d played some newer stuff, sure, but he kept the stage banter to a minimum and brought quite a few of the hits that people (in all likelihood) came to hear. He did his part to entertain; it was when he wanted the audience to follow him in doing something different – in this case, breaking out a ukulele to do a new song. Not the most “rock and roll” thing to do, granted, but nothing too out there. The audience, who had been into the show up to this point, turned like a pack of vipers (no pun intend–aw, who as I kidding?) and basically booed him off the stage.

Tila Tequila…there are quite a few circumstances surrounding what happened to her. You could argue that she trashed the Juggalo crowd before the festival (which, apparently, didn’t happen)…you could argue why was she booked for a crowd like that in the first place…you could argue that she was warned ahead of time that things were gonna get ugly…BUT, at the end of the day, she went out and gave it the ol’ college try. The music may have sucked out loud (and, trust me, it did.), but…throwing rocks at her on stage and chasing her back to her trailer and do what they could to continue the assault? That’s flat-out uncalled for.

Guns N’ Roses showed up at Reading an hour late. Which, for Guns N’ Roses, is early. The problem seems to be there that the crowd was booing even the mention of their name throughout the day, let alone once they finally arrived. (It didn’t help that several other bands that day mocked them as the festival went on – including Blink 182 who, frankly, don’t have a whole lot of room to be casting stones.)

Be that as it may, the problem didn’t seem to be so much with Guns N’ Roses as it was with Axl Rose. By all accounts, the band was pretty good, but Axl changed outfits five or six times, and then met the crowd’s hostility…well, the only way he knows how – by reflecting that hostility and throwing it back at them. Stories of whether or not their Reading set was sabotaged from jump (Rose certainly seems to think it was) could be argued, but the fact that the crowd was against him even before they showed up can’t.

Three different performers. Three different sets of circumstances. All having the same result – a performer giving their all is rejected by the crowd that came to see them (especially in Corgan’s case, since that wasn’t a festival appearance). The concert industry has taken a hit this season; between exorbitant ticket prices and a struggling economy, many artists have had to cancel shows or, in some cases like Christina Aguilera, entire tours.

However, the question has to be asked: what does a concert-going audience expect out of its performers? Have we been so built up by various media and PR stunts to think that what we’re supposed to see live is the greatest thing we’ll ever see, bar none? Or do those same PR stunts hurt a performer’s reputation that the audience is showing up simply to witness a train wreck – and getting so antsy at not seeing one that they’re willing to do their part to create one?

Looking at outlets like TMZ and Perez Hilton (why exactly is he famous again? Can somebody help me out with that one?), instances of scandal, shock, and general trashiness seem to rule the day. And outlets like that have become so popular (you’ve seen the TMZ TV show, right?), that it seems that that sort of “news reporting” is the norm. The damage it may be doing to those being reported about in such a fashion could have affected the collective consciousness enough that, now, it’s all the ticket-buying general public is interested in. Sad to see that going to a concert may not even be about the music anymore.

Bringing the ticket prices into the equation, is it fair to expect the show of a lifetime (or possibly some sexual favors) after having to spend $200-300 on a single ticket? Having no idea what the price of a ticket was for any of the above, it may still be safe to say that, in the three instances above, ticket prices don’t seem to be a factor in expectations.

Were all three of these some sort of odd, cosmic coincidence that will blow over, letting the atmosphere of concerts return to normal? Or will these sort of instances continue with performers putting their reputations – or, in Tila’s case, lives – on the line to entertain a crowd that has no interest in being entertained? (which begs the question, why are they there in the first place?)

It’s a disturbing trend, to be sure. And one that, for the sake of the industry and those that ply their trade in it, is going to have to be monitored to see where we all go from here. It would be nice to go back to a time when concerts – especially festivals – were great to go to.

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About Michael Melchor