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There is a special group of musicians who combine a concert with storytelling and need to retell the content of the next song in detail or share something crucial from their lives after every song. | Photo: Cody Board (Unsplash)
There is a special group of musicians who combine a concert with storytelling and need to retell the content of the next song in detail or share something crucial from their lives after every song. | Photo: Cody Board (Unsplash)
Anna Marie Hradecká -

TOP 5 Most Annoying Musicians' Phrases at Concerts

Communicating with the audience at concerts is a unique discipline, which deserves as much preparation and care on the part of the bands as rehearsing the repertoire – although ideally, it should feel spontaneous and unprepared. Stiff and unnatural presentations don't contribute much to the relaxed atmosphere of the evening; on the other hand, anyone who has ever experienced any of the following might agree that even in a concert setting "silence is sometimes golden".

1. "And now everyone! Hands!"

Involving the audience by singing or clapping together is part of the concert experience, no question about it. However, sometimes it can go a bit wrong – and I'm not referring to the usual faux pas when the audience can't clap to the beat and the band has to work hard not to get distracted by it

Especially at seated concerts, where it might not be entirely clear whether this is a "serious" social event or a wild party, the performers' efforts to activate the audience often seem awkward. It feels quite embarrassing when the audience is sitting and staring at the stage while the poor, slightly confused performer invokes interaction by endlessly repeating the same melody, frenetically making people clap their hands or wave their glowing mobile phones. A part of the audience joins in, often just to be nice and polite, while individuals resistant to social pressure wait with their arms folded for the awkward moment to pass. Thus, "forced cheerfulness" can damage even an otherwise great concert.

2. "Wow, such a faraway country – and you know our songs!"

Wednesday, May 1, 2024. The American fusion pack Snarky Puppy just finished playing in Brno's SONO to the excited cheers of the audience (as opposed to point number 1). The leader of the band, bassist Michael League, tends to close with a passionate plea to the fans to support live music, go to concerts and buy records. However, this time – and maybe I wasn't the only one who was a bit irritated by that – he thanked everyone and appreciated the great acoustics in the venue and then expressed his amazement at the fact that the Czech audience knew Snarky Puppy's music: "Wow, I still find it incredible. You know... Czechia, haha... you know our music and you bought a ticket and you came!"

Ok..., he probably meant well, but first of all, this is the third time Snarky Puppy has played in the Czech Republic and it was always sold out. And secondly, while I dare say that many people in the audience would have just as much trouble remembering the geographical location of different US states as Americans have with European countries, the astonishment at how in the age of globalisation, a no-name country in Eastern Europe knows this giant jazz-fusion-synth-world music circus seems a bit off to me. When they like your band somewhere, cheer as much as they can and sing all the tunes like a mighty chorus, don't be surprised like an American on the Moon.

3. "I'm sure I am boring you by now..."

It would seem that being shy and dismissing your own music (usually hoping that the audience will start protesting and demand more songs) belongs to the beginner stage of gigging. 

But the opposite is true. Even big international bands sometimes need to squeeze out more support and positive feedback from the audience, using fake modesty lines like, "Those were songs from our new album, which you're probably sick of. And now we're going to play some older ones." And a sympathetic person in the audience inevitably hears in their head "the songs which the band is fed up with" because he or she knows very well how annoying it must be for a world-famous band to play the audience's favourite hits. At the same time, it is clear to everyone (both the audience and the musicians) that they all gathered at the concert because they do enjoy the music, not the opposite.

This hypocrisy sounds strange both in a crowded sports hall and in a small venue for a few spectators. It then depends on the context of the evening, the knowledge of the speaker's personality and the audience's willingness to do a good deed and support them, whether it all sounds like a joke or a kind of emotional blackmail.

4. "How much longer should I play?"

I've heard this too, and not just from beginner musicians. Sometimes the people in question just wanted to ask how much longer they could play and it came out wrong. But if they phrase the question in such a way that it sounds like they can't wait to get off the stage, they probably won't make a very good impression on the audience.

Unless it's a punk event where nothing is clearly defined, the band should agree on the length of the set in advance and make an appropriately long setlist. It is certainly better when the performer's programme is so long that they have to be almost chased off the stage, than when they stare at the audience as if they were at a speed dating event counting the minutes left and filling the time with funny stories from the recording session. And that leads us to the next point.

5. "And this is a very interesting story..."

There are bands and performers who don't say a word during their concert and it works. Others speak too briefly and one would like to hear something other than "and the next song is called..." And then there are those on the other side of the spectrum – the narrators, who combine the concert with storytelling, and virtually interrupt the entire set after every song because they urgently need to either retell the content of the next song in detail or share something crucial from their lives.

Often, of course, this is due to practical circumstances, such as the need to tune an instrument or solve a technical problem. Or the artist in question is renowned for his or her storytelling skills and their concerts are more of a friendly meeting combining a stand-up act and music. But when a festival set or a big show, for which the audience has been looking forward for months, keeps getting stuck this way (I remember a performance by trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf where more words than notes were uttered), it can be a rather awkward experience.

Obviously, it is not always easy to assess the situation and react to the atmosphere in the venue, but this also forms part of the musician's job. How do you handle communication with the audience during concerts? Do you have a tip on what to do when a string breaks and needs to be promptly replaced? Let us know in the comments!

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Anna Marie Hradecká