Philly Audiences: If David Byrne can’t make you dance, you might be dead (or really angry)

Next time you're at the Mann, get out of your seat and shake your booty

It’s that time of year again in Philadelphia: summer concert season. I am a big music fan. I don’t claim to have many talents, but Rock n’ Roll Jeopardy is one. It’s a gift, really. If only I could figure out how to make a living from it… But I digress. Let’s just say I really like going to concerts. For years I lived in a place so remote that not only were there no concerts, there wasn’t even a selection of bar bands. So when I moved here, Philadelphia’s multiple live music venues and major acts were almost more exciting than The Mall—and that’s saying something.

The first summer we lived here, my husband and I were kids in a candy store, buying tickets to see concerts with such frequency that some of our new friends probably wondered if we were aging groupies. Initially we were impressed with how bands seemed to respond to the enthusiastic Philadelphia audiences at the former Tweeter (now SBC), and even the Tower. Philly has a great image as a “rock town,” so we felt like this is one area where we really fit in. For a while, anyway.

It was all going so well until last summer when we went to see David Byrne at the Mann. David Byrne, for those who are unfamiliar, is the singer and genius behind the defunct Talking Heads. The Talking Heads, for those who are either too young or too old, were a late-1970s, unconventional, art-house band that got their start at CBGBs, the legendary Manhattan rock temple from which emerged Blondie, the Ramones and other notable punk acts of that era. Suffice it to say, this is not chamber music. For that show we had good seats, right up front. As expected, David Byrne has not mellowed too much with age and put on a great show. Lots of old Talking Heads hits, a typical (for him) group of strange back-up dancers, and a fairly rousing time.

Rock concerts are meant to be fun, if I’m not mistaken. Sometimes that requires standing up and dancing, or moving as much as the confines of the tight aisles will allow. It’s a tribute to the performer to see that the audience is actually enjoying their efforts. I do not do this at the orchestra, ballet or opera—only at rock concerts that compel one to do so. So imagine my surprise when a guy behind us starts yelling at us to sit down.

One thing about Philly that I may never get used to is how passionately angry people can get over minor inconveniences. The sheer vocal volume that angry Philadelphians can reach when yelling at people is particularly singular. This guy behind us was really pissed. He even started calling us names. I have to hope he wasn’t a Mann season ticket holder that usually goes to see the orchestra and was out of his element. Especially judging by the level of class he demonstrated by screaming “Pinhead!” at my husband repeatedly. Maybe his wife dragged him that night. Maybe he was just lazy. Although I’ve endured the horror of hearing And She Was in Muzak, Talking Heads music still doesn’t qualify as sedate. I’ll be damned if I’m going to SIT through the iconic Once in a Lifetime. We endured the guy’s abuse and danced anyway. We weren’t alone. Scattered throughout the graying crowd were a few others like us, enthusiastic concertgoers having fun.

We’ve had similar experiences with the more mellow artists, like at the Keswick one night when we went to see Chris Isaak. Watching him try to breathe life into that small room’s catatonic crowd was almost tragic. He did a great job and even sang and joked his way through the audience, but these people were glued to their seats. Only a few women who wanted to kiss him stood up—who could blame them? He worked hard and played some of his best songs and yet that crowd remained seated. We tempered our enthusiasm carefully this time and stayed seated for fear of being lynched. Even during Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing, which just felt wrong.

My own mother has started to attend rock concerts in recent years. I suppressed my eye rolls and gave her credit for having youthful spirit. Until she called me the day after a Bryan Adams show (Canadians love to see fellow Canadians) and complained that people in front of her wouldn’t sit down. I think I almost went through the phone. IF YOU WANT TO SIT DOWN, STAY HOME AND WATCH TV!!! Do NOT go to rock concerts and get mad at the people enjoying them. Don’t rain on the parade of real fans. And don’t complain that they’re too loud. Keep earplugs in your evening bag, like me.