Concert audiences of my generation stand mostly still. In my teens I would bounce and spit at the front. In my 20s I’d get drunk beforehand, then bounce and ruck somewhere in the middle of a sweaty, heaving mass of leather jacketed indie-boys. In my 30s, I started watching from further back. Now I could just as easily be at the front again, if I politely eased my way forward, because nobody up there at the lip of the stage is moving either. The most mobile people at an indie-concert these days are the bar staff.
Last night at the 9.30 Club in DC, the captivating and richly voiced indie-sextet The National played plenty of mellow songs to sway to gently while contemplating The Great Existential Posers (now there’s a band name, although I tend to contemplate more obscure stuff - last night it was a game of football I played badly in 17 years ago). But there were also more than enough fast and loud numbers to which, at one time in musical history, you might have expected people to shake their heads and wildly move their bodies. And you could tell that some of us still wanted to, as though the mind was willing, but the body wasn’t. Because we’re all in psychological straitjackets.
I can’t speak for all the other inconspicuously leg-jerking but chiefly static pundits, but my own feeling is that it’s unseemly for an Indie-Pop of my age to be throwing himself around at a night club. First, I’d only had one beer because I was driving. Second, if you touch anyone at a concert nowadays, even just brush past them, you feel obliged to apologise. So knocking them over in the thrall of a speedy, thrash-led song is just no longer part of indie-etiquette. People drink, but you never see them drunk. No one caterwauls the lyrics. Instead they sing quietly to themselves.
Although the cheers and applause at the end of every song were loud and spontaneous enough, the crowd behaviour during the songs themselves reminded me of a classical music concert, where the unstinting bourgeois norm has always been to sit rigid and noiseless, internalising any emotion that you might be experiencing at the beauty of the music. A discreet tear at evening’s end may be allowed to modestly display one’s sensibilities.
The live concert used to be an experience you took part in by moving and screaming. Now I feel I might as well buy the requisite technology - massive screen and surround sound technology - and watch the concert DVD at home. With no one there to watch me, I might even dance.