On a recent evening, British musician Jessie Ware performed at the Wiltern in LA. Near the concert's end, Ware paused and addressed her audience. “So this is actually my last stop,” she said, referring to the promotional tour for her fantastic second album, Tough Love. Her face crinkled up, and she gripped the microphone stand, as if she was about to start crying. “I knew this would be pretty sad, but you have all been so wonderful tonight. Thank you.”
After seeing that performance, I have a ton of respect for Ware. She has a lively and engaging on-stage presence; she even apologized for “having a raspy voice,” which I didn’t notice because that voice has a Paul McCartney-like resilience. Ware sounds so beautiful live, I now wish her albums didn’t have superfluous backing vocals and effects.
But I don’t think Ware owed this audience anything: my fellow concert-goers were awfully rude. More than half of them were on their phones the entire time. A number of people took group selfies, complete with blinding flash. Someone next to my boyfriend decided to take care of bank payments on her iPhone. People were having loud conversations the entire time, and they were louder still because they had to talk over the loud music. (Whodathunk they were at a concert?)
A couple of people gave me shit for being tall and for partially obstructing their view. “That guy’s like, 7’ tall!” one woman passive-aggressively complained to my boyfriend’s friends. (I’m actually 6’3".)
Let’s contrast the concert-goers’ behavior with the audience’s at a Punch Brothers concert I attended in 2012, with my aunt Karen. There was much less phone use and fewer conversations. People just seemed nicer. When someone dared to carry on a conversation, Karen turned around and asked her to be quiet: the woman complied and stayed quiet for the rest of the performance.
Admittedly, Punch Brothers have a slightly older audience, and the Belly Up is a more intimate venue. But anecdotally, younger audiences lack concert etiquette. At the recent Wiltern concert, Jessie Ware sang passionately and worked her ass off. Many of my peers returned the favor by staying on their phones and recording or sharing the moment, in order to induce jealousy among their virtual acquaintances. They didn’t actually live in that moment, and they treated Ware as if she was a prop.
Unfortunately, I don't really find concerts appealing anymore. Or maybe I’m old at heart and just wasn’t made for these times.