I recently attended a performance of the Fab Four—a Beatles tribute band at the State Theater in Minneapolis and was horrified by the audience’s reaction. They just sat there. And stared lifeless as the cute boys with mop tops came out with their black suits and skinny ties on the mock Ed Sullivan stage and began rocking I Wanna Hold Your Hand. The backdrop played a black and white video of the real Beatles audiences—girls swooning and crying in the sixties. I should tell you that the band nailed their performance through the entire show.
I’d been breathless with excitement for this show and attended with a good friend and our daughters… two generations who could rock out together and enjoy the effing Beatles. I’d purchased tickets months in advance for the front balcony thinking the vantage point of looking down on the band would be fun. The four of us had the prerequisite warm up of cocktails and dinner and were pumped up and ready to be entertained.
But several things happened at the opening moment. Thrilled to be there and moved by the music and the nostalgic images, I jumped up to immerse myself in the experience and began to dance and scream. It was a completely natural and organic impulse, but after about ten seconds, I glanced at my friends and the audience and was stunned that I was the only person in the theater on my feet. In addition, the woman in the seat in front of me had stuck her fingers in her ears when I screamed and was holding them closed. She and her husband were in a three-seat row in front of us and there was an empty seat next to her. She moved down so as not to be in front of me leaving an empty seat between her and her husband. She passive aggressively remained in that seat for the duration of the show.
My group was clapping and singing, not really aware of me and my confusion, but I—cowed by my apparent ostentatiousness, and the peer pressure surrounding me to sit down, reluctantly did. For the rest of the show, I not only carefully watched the band, but the audience, trying to understand what the heck was going on.
This was The Beatles! This was a concert! I did not expect the sad response. Most of the audience was older, but as I watched them, I wondered if they remembered their own concert days. Back in the seventies and eighties, as soon as the lights went out, the lighters came out, not only to light up the doobies, but to hold to the sky. In addition, people got to their feet and stayed there. Dancing, singing, and enjoying the music.
Not at this show. They sat quiet with their hands folded in their laps. I felt sorry for the band. It must be a terrible feeling to be rocking out and see your audience only stare back at you. After the first number, the band instructed the audience to sing along. My God! Why did they need to be told that? After another break, the band asked them to clap their hands, and then showed them how to do it.
By this time, I was talking to my friend and she confirmed she’d experienced this phenomenon many times at this particular theater. I’d witnessed something similar years prior at a Donna Summer concert but thought it was a one-off. It was my first concert after I moved to Minnesota, and no one stood or danced, except me and my friends. Our bra flasks may have played a role in that one, but still. At the time I was confused, but I let it go.
On Saturday night, the guy in front of me who sat distanced from his wife (who every time I screamed put her fingers in her ears) sat with his own arms crossed and chewed gum at a rapid pace throughout the concert. No singing. No clapping. No standing. No dancing. Why was that couple even there? Finger-in-the-ears woman beyond rankled me, but I was de-ter-mined not to let her or her dead husband spoil my good time.
Eventually, the band instructed the audience to stand up. They did, as one (lemmings), and then stayed up for the one song, but then sat back down. My friend and I moved over to the empty railing and danced and sang, hooting and hollering like go-go dancers in our own world. We didn’t give a crap that we were the only ones doing it, and at some point, toward the end, our opposites on the other side of the balcony auditorium took to the rail and did the same. The audience did stand toward the end, but by then, I’d stopped caring about them.
What is wrong with these people? How could they not have stood and been moved by the music? My friend told me that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith had refused to play at some concert she attended because the first ten rows were empty. The MC before the show kept calling the lanyard-roped VIP folks to take their seats, but when they didn’t, Steven Tyler apparently said uh uh. The true fans, many rows back and tethered from the front, were angry, but I cannot blame Mr. Tyler for his attitude. Promotion run amok, big money sponsors obviously thought it was more important to give the tickets as perks to people who didn’t give a shit rather than to fans who cared.
So my question is, what’s up, Minnesota? You embarrassed not only me, but yourselves on Saturday night. Don’t argue something about manners. You’re at a concert! Did you not get the memo? You’re supposed to try to enjoy yourselves. You’re supposed to sing along. You’re encouraged to clap and dance and make some noise. Have you forgotten that? What was going through your mind while you sat with your hands clasped looking at the Beatles rocking out to Revolution? Why did the band have to tell you what to do? Why did they have to give your stone-cold hearts permission to emotionally and physically participate?
Hey Fab Four—you put on a great show. Go to Houston. I’m sure they’ll know how to properly welcome you there.