Let’s face it, middle-aged folks don’t go to many concerts. We’re busy doing other stuff. Or we can’t afford it. Bands we like, that are still around with some semblance of the original line-up, are pretty rare. Mostly we take a pass more often than not. Bands also tend to go on stage well past our bedtime.
I am mostly fortunate to not fall into those parameters (except maybe for the late set times and early bed times, those kill me) and probably go to more concerts than the average 50-year-old. I’m lucky enough to live in a major city, and have a household income that allows for such extravagances. I spent part of my twenties and thirties as a concert promoter and ran a small record label for a few years, so those connections still come up occasionally to lure me out to see bands, in addition to checking out bands from my youth that I missed back in the day because I grew up in a city that few bands bothered to travel to.
The concert-going experience has changed a great deal, though, and it’s important to keep that in mind if your most favouritest band from when you were twenty reforms and comes to town. Especially if every concert you’ve seen in the last decade has involved children dressed as angels or shepherds. It’s not 1987 anymore, people.
Some tips for your middle-aged GenX concert experience…
The Olde Tyme Stylee
In our youff, what you wore to a concert was of the utmost importance. It was vital that you not only look fucking hot, but that you clearly identify with the tribe associated with the band and their music. If your tribe fell into the punk/goth/industrial/new wave categories or some variation thereof, it was also incredibly important that your look was unique. None of this off-the-rack, looking like everybody else thing that the Normies in the mainstream could get away with. Planning a concert outfit could take weeks, often involved sewing, glue guns, duct tape, scouring vintage stores, and occasionally even props.
In middle age, I see fewer people making the effort to dress up for concerts. This is due to both physical restrictions (who can stand for three hours in high heels when your back is a mess?), a maturing of personal style, and the fact that all that old gear is either gone to the Goodwill or doesn’t quiiiiiite fit anymore.
The few shows where I still see people dressing up are for genres where it’s relatively easy; for instance lots of old mods and skinheads in Fred Perry shirts and suspenders to see The Specials. Goths digging out the old skull buckle boots for a Bauhaus reunion. Those weird dudes who always show up at Laibach gigs in full Nazi regalia because they refuse to believe that the Third Reich has fallen, and aren’t bright enough to understand irony.
Looking great at a rock concert in your late 40s or early 50s takes a bit of effort and planning to accommodate aging bodies.
Footwear: In a seated venue where you can plunk your butt down and rest, you’ve pretty much got free rein, but for a standing room show, you’re gonna want to go with comfortable shoes. Moreso if the venue has a sloped floor that’s going to throw your back out of alignment. Closed toe should be a no-brainer, but I do still see women going to the front of the stage at punk shows in open-toe high heels and I can’t help but flinch at the thought of broken toes crushed under someone’s steel-toed Doc Marten.
Clothing: should be comfortable, and obviously you can wear whatever you want, but it’s always so delightful to see other concert-goers dressed up and making some effort. Sure, you might be one of a dozen brides at a Billy Idol concert (you won’t be, people are lazy), but isn’t that still cooler than not dressing up as a bride at a Billy Idol concert? Obviously if the band is from a particular genre, it’s fun to dress in the gear of the tribe (black and white for a 2-tone show, for instance). Any effort made is a good one, in this case, and checking out outfits is still half the fun of a retro concert.
Band t-shirts are a bit of a crap shoot. Wearing the shirt that you bought at the current concert is a bit lame, but wearing an original shirt from the band’s first tour 30 years ago is sure to impress. Well, it will impress other people also wearing vintage t-shirts. Everyone else might joke about how you’re wearing it to remember what band you’ve come to see.
Coats: back in the day, I’d never part with my leather biker jacket at a show, no matter how hot and humid the room got. I’d probably also have my boyfriend’s jacket over one shoulder, if he was inclined to join the mosh pit. This would be the case even in winter when I’d also have a scarf and a bag, but probably not a hat because it would flatten the massive crimped and sprayed Goth hairdo I had spent hours on. Nowadays, I’m a big fan of the coat check, especially for standing room shows. If there’s no place to safely tuck my coat and bag, and if it’s a band that I know I’m going to want to dance to, I’ll splurge and check my coat.
Bands usually make more money from the merchandise they sell on tour than if you buy it from Amazon. If you’re gonna buy concert souvenirs, do it at shows if you can; for smaller bands, merch sales can be the difference between a successful tour and a flop. Also, at smaller shows/venues, the band might even come out and sign CDs after the set, which is a fun and easy way to meet the band.
Meeting Rock Stars
If you are lucky enough to meet the band, either because you’ve paid to attend a VIP meet and greet, or encounter the band outside the venue or perhaps at a nearby restaurant or bar before the show, be cool. Not snotty “cooler than you” cool, but rather, laid back, friendly but not gushing. If there’s a line-up of other fans, now is not the time to broach a discussion of song lyrics, rant about the fact that they didn’t play your favourite song, or, most egregious of all, try to promote your own band (honestly, there’s no time that any of those are good, but especially when there’s a line-up behind you). Say thanks, loved the show, whatever, and move along. As a former concert promoter I’ve watched a lot of fan/artist interaction and so much of it is seriously awkward. The artists love knowing that you appreciate their work, but they’re unlikely to turn to you and invite you to their hotel room to party, or offer to hook you up with their producer for a recording contract. Revel in the brief moment, snap a pic, and then let it go.
Interaction with Others
When attending a rock concert, it is important to understand that for many of the people in the audience, this is an “event”. Schedules have been re-organized, sitters have been arranged, the evening possibly even includes a fair distance travelled and a hotel room booked. They are here to have fun, but also to (hopefully) respectfully experience art and music created by someone they admire. Unless they’re here because they don’t get out much anymore and it’s an excuse to get shit-faced like back in the old days.
By all means, dance. My home city of Toronto is notorious for concert crowds refusing to dance during live shows and I can tell you from experience, it confuses (and offends) the heck out of bands. Sitting politely sometimes makes sense in down-tempo shows at seated venues, but I’ve been at full-on rock shows where the audience sat stoically in their seats until the encore. Please dance, even if you’re the only one doing so. (No, really, it’s okay to be that person. I am almost always that person. Strangers who did not have the nerve to stand up and dance will stop me later to tell me how cool it was that I danced.) If it’s a seated venue and it bothers the person behind you enough that they say something (and most people never do, they just passive-aggressively gripe to their seatmate), then sit back down or find a place where you can dance. But don’t rush the stage and push your way into someone else’s space. In a general admission (standing room) venue, choose a spot off to the side or the back if you’re a particularly expressive dancer (looking at you, Goths), so as to not take somebody’s eye out.
Don’t: Rush the Stage
At a concert at a seated venue, stay in the goddamned seat that you paid for, or the adjacent space. Those people in the front row shelled out top dollar for those spots and they’re going to be displeased with you pushing into the space that they consider theirs for the evening. As someone who suffers from ochleophobia (fear of crowds) I only go to shows with assigned seating if I can get a seat on the aisle, and some jerk from the nosebleeds jamming into the space in front of or beside the super-spendy seat I bought in order to not ruin my night with a panic attack is most definitely going to get told off. And have security called on them. This rule applies to everyone, no matter how important this event is for you or how far you’ve travelled. Stay in your fucking seat.
Do: Remember You’re Not Seventeen Anymore
I am boggled at how people can afford to get shit-faced at concert venues where the beer is $12 a can, but it always seems to happen. As mentioned above, you favourite band from twenty or thirty years ago coming to town is not an excuse to get as drunk as you used to back in the day. It is not an excuse for a guys’ or girls’ night out where you gather to relive your mis-spent youth by running football plays in the back on a general admission venue (yep, I’ve seen this happen) or where you scream bloody fucking murder at the top of your lungs in the hopes of the artist hearing and noticing you, especially after said artist has just told the audience that he can’t hear them at all because of the earpiece he is wearing. If you are one of those folks who don’t get out to concerts much anymore, the new rule is to be polite, and not an asshole. Nobody else here cares how much you used to love this band, or how great it is to have the ol’ gang back together. And no matter what, unless it’s an all-ages show and you’ve got a three-year-old with you, nobody gets up on anybody’s shoulders!
Maybe you’re not as much of a fan of this band as you were 30 years ago, because… were they really this boring back in the day? Or maybe you only know the hits. Whatever the case, when the band is performing, shut the fuck up. The people around you paid a lot of money to come and hear the band, not you talking to your friend about your kid’s potty habits. (Note: all bizarre and egregious anecdotes included here have actually happened to me.)
Don’t: Touch Other People
Okay, there are obviously different contexts here, and you need to use grown-up judgment to determine what is okay and what is not. For instance, putting your hand up to touch someone on the back or arm because they are about to bump into you: acceptable. Finding yourself standing beside a stranger at a Culture Club concert as you both belt out (in two-part harmony) the back-up vocals to Church of the Poison Mind where you each spontaneously throw your arms around each other’s shoulder in camaraderie: totally acceptable. Touching a person’s hair or clothing while complimenting their appearance: this depends on the person and the context — from a woman or gay man who doesn’t come off as creepy, in the spirit of genuine admiration or connection, I’ll probably let this go, but from a straight man who is trying to come on to me, not so much. Touching in any way that is sexual in context or clearly unwanted or unexpected: you best be wearing a cup if you’re a dude because I’m aiming for your nuts and I don’t plan on missing. I was recently at a concert where I had an aisle seat near the front and a blindingly drunk suburban Dad-type lumbered into my space. I leaned over and suggested that he go back to his own seat and he reached out and put him arm around my neck in what I’m sure he thought was a friendly manner but which felt extremely threatening. I gave him one warning to get his hand off me and then both my husband, who was beside me, and the security guard who happened to have followed drunk Dad down the aisle with the intention of sending him back to his seat, grabbed him and sent him on his way. And yes, I was totally chagrined that this occurred before I could take the swing at him that I was so clearly entitled to.
Don’t: Be That Asshole Recording the Whole Show
First: nobody wants to watch your shaky-ass, crappy-sounding recording from the back of the venue that you shot only to make your friend who couldn’t go jealous. You are probably never going to watch it again. Professional photographers covering concerts are given space at the front of the stage for three songs in which to take photos. So you, audience member, also get three songs to take photos or record a video. Then you are obligated to put your device away and enjoy the show. And let the short people behind you enjoy the show. I was once forced to watch an entire Gary Numan performance on some jerk’s iPad, because he was holding it in such a way that it blocked my view of the stage. Don’t be that dick.
Hanging With the Kids
If you’re a lover of all types and genres of music, not just the stuff that was cool when you were young, you might find yourself at live shows of more current artists where you are the oldest person in the room. If this occurs, there are additional rules.
First, as much as you might love this band, be respectful of the fact that this is not your music or scene.
If the show is general admission and has a parent corral at the back (a small space where old dudes sit around looking at their phones and you’re initially impressed that people your age are digging this band until you realize that it’s a holding pen for parents who have accompanied their teenaged kids to an all-ages show), it is actually okay to just hang out here. If one of the dads asks which kids is yours, just mumble something about “the one with the purple hair up near the stage…” Venturing into the middle of a mosh-pit full of 14-year-old girls, especially when you’re a middle-aged dude, is probably a really unwise thing to do.
Enjoy the show, but not too much. Dance, sing along, cheer… but keep it low key. We can all remember concerts or dance clubs where there was a weird old guy or couple who were super-enthusiastic about the music and kind of took over the floor and freaked out all the young people. Nobody ever went home gushing enthusiastically about how cool those old people were.
If you are at a show with your kids, especially if they’re teenagers and this is their favourite band, they get to determine if they want you at the front of the stage with them or not. Even if you’re the coolest Mom ever, assume you’ll be relegated to the parent corral for the duration, but do feel free to (low key) rock out if your kid’s favourite band is also your own. Just don’t expect a mother-daughter bonding moment. Also, no matter how much you personally love an artist, if it’s your kid’s favourite, back off. Don’t ruin Billie Eilish for your kid because you’re super fan #1.
Finally, one last word to concert-goers of all ages and genres — if you can only manage one good concert-going behaviour, please make it this one…
Keep the Beat
Remember how I previously said that you should get up and dance at concerts? This does not actually apply to everyone. A disclaimer:
Please dance only if you are able to keep the beat.
In a song with 2/4 time (most rock songs), the beat is on the 2 and the 4. Not the 1 and the 3. Please clap or step on the 2 and 4. This is easy to do, just listen to the drums. Usually the bass drum will lead you.
If you clap on the 1 and 3, not only will you look lame, you will potentially throw off all the people around you who have an actual sense of rhythm. In addition if you are one of those people who “dance” by simply bending at the knees and not actually moving your feet, and do so on the 1 and 3 beats, you will appear to be falling over — especially in a venue with a sloped floor — and could cause vertigo in your fellow concert-goers. (Or possibly really fall over. Because what you’re doing looks like it hurts.)
Please stop that.
With love, all of us with rhythm.