History shows that audiences catch up with artists; we’ve come to terms with Dylan going electric and Miles Davis going rock, so maybe the initial shock is worth it.
‘If you don’t think it’s music, then get the fuck outta here’.* As a shout-out to a crowd, John Zorn’s level of tact leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, he was responding to a crowd that was unhappy with his performance with Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July. They came expecting something like ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and what they heard was a rendition of Reed’s Metal Machine Music. So what causes discontent between audience and performer? There have been many instances where the balance tips against the artist and the audience becomes hostile because of what they are hearing. But is this always a rational response? History shows that audiences catch up with artists; we’ve come to terms with Dylan going electric and Miles Davis going rock, so maybe the initial shock is worth it.
There have been music ‘riots’ throughout history: the most famous was the opening of ‘The Rite of Spring’ in Paris 1913. This flew in the face of every ballet tradition and left the audience so shocked and appalled that the police were required to keep order to allow the performance to finish. There are issues raised by these reactions, such as what is an apt response to a live performance and can it ever bridge the gap between expectation and reality?
If you go and see a live show, do you want to hear an impossible attempt to play the record verbatim in a new environment or do you want a transient and unique experience that somehow brings you closer to the artist? This all hinges on individual relationships with music and the artists. Some performances do require tolerance and patience from the audience. Dylan’s incomprehensible gig at Hop Farm is a recent example. Even so, if you’re having a shit time I can’t help feeling that you shouldn’t disrupt other people’s experience of the music. There is a level of respect you should accord the artist for being on stage and attempting to entertain you. You need to be fairly flexible with anything live and on occasion the artist clears the bar of your expectation with galaxies to spare (see the Flying Lotus review for more on this theme). But do a little research first, and you’re unlikely to end up scared and confused by John Zorn.
*No, I don’t want to argue about what I think is music. We can do that later.