After many years away from the limelight and public performances, singer-songwriter Damien Rice recently played a gig at Dublin venue Whelan’s. It was the kind of intimate concert that any music fan would like to have attended. In 2003 Rice created an album that, like David Gray’s White Ladder, claimed residency in Irish people’s stereos for months on end. The album ‘O’ was a huge hit and gave many Irish men the chance to prove they had a softer, more sensitive side when courting Irish ladies. Let’s face it; a Rage Against the Machine CD was never going to set the right tone for the desired conclusion to a romantic date back at your bedsit.
I’d like to have gone to the Damien Rice gig, purely to see what sort of musical shape he’s in nowadays, but I didn’t want to come up against the Shush Brigade.
You see, ‘intimate’ performances which typically involve just a singer and his or her guitar always attract a certain band of music fans. They are an earnest bunch of individuals who believe a night out is less about having fun or being entertained and more about a joyless, ultra-reverential homage to the musician. I call them the Shush Brigade because most of their evening is taken up with telling people to be quiet and shushing anyone who as much as dares cough, chuckle or clap at inappropriate moments.
Unsurprisingly the Shush Brigade is more often than not made up of solitary gig-goers. Perhaps their aggressive no-fun ethos alienates other humans and the opportunities for companionship are scarce. Members of the brigade head off to gigs, usually earlier than is necessary, and position themselves near or about the front of the stage. As soon as the performance begins they assume combat mode and keep one ear on the musician and the other on the crowd. Keep in mind that the audience are people who have paid to have a good night out. Some may have had to get babysitters, some may be on a rare night out with friends, but all appreciate a good live music session and also a decent social occasion.
They are not there to sit in contrived awestruck silence, hanging on the performer’s every guitar twang and melancholic wail. ‘I might go up to the bar, will you have the same again?’ someone in the crowd might ask a friend. Even before a reply can be given, a shush brigadier will turn and start hissing, spluttering and shushing. It’s as if you’ve started yelling out obscenities and threatening to punch the singer’s lights out, such is the disproportionate reaction.
While I totally accept that drunkenly answering a phone call in the front row of an acoustic gig, or loudly yakking away to a mate about the traffic or the cost of houses, is rude and unwanted, the Shush Brigade are actually ruining gigs for spectators and performers alike.
I know of one singer-songwriter who was forced to request that the people shushing desist because they were actually louder and more distracting than the unobtrusive chatting which was taking place among people on the fringes and at the back of the room.
I must confess that I was the victim of a particularly aggressive shushing at a gig a few years back. I went to see a much-loved musician from the folk tradition with a friend of mine. We were in the upper level of the venue, at the back near the bar, so we were in no way undermining anyone’s enjoyment of their night out. We were talking quietly between songs, when all of a sudden an older fellow started loudly shushing us.
The typical response would be to tone it down; nobody wants a confrontation. Nobody, that is, except my friend. He decided to call the shusher’s bluff and told him, in no uncertain terms, where to go. A stand-off ensued and I spied a security guard heading our direction. ‘Oh great,’ I thought, ‘we’re about to be ejected from the premises.’ I’ve never been ejected from any premises, and this is coming from a man who knows his way round a mosh pit.
Remarkably enough, it was the shusher who got his marching orders. The bouncer explained that he was a bit of a nuisance patron who had previous form in berating other customers for daring to whisper during gigs. What a triumph for commons sense!
The pleasure of watching a live performance is in the shared experience with everyone else who has come to the gig. If we can’t socialise during this then what’s the point in going at all? My advice to the Shush Brigade is stay at home, dim the lights and put on a CD of the artist. They’ll only have their pet cats to shush then.