Music has evolved over the past few decades into a melting pot of sounds and influences with different genres combining into what we hear today. In fact, let’s just throw the word “genre” out of the dictionary because in today’s music world, it doesn’t exist anymore. Country music is more pop and rock than twang. Blues has combined with hip-hop and pop. And rock has branched out in more directions than a compass. Along with this Darwinism of musical talent, so too has the evolution of the live show and not necessarily for the better; a lot of today’s rock concerts lack the luster, the energy and the big stage show that fans yearn for and expect to see when they lay down their hard-earned money for a ticket. They expect to be entertained by their favorite bands and regretfully, a lot of times they walk away feeling like something was missing.
I go to a lot of rock shows. I have been since I was 16 years old. I can recall many nights 30 years ago camping outside the local Sears store because they had a Ticketmaster booth inside and if you wanted front row, the only way to get there was to be first in line. Yes, I'm talking about the days before the internet; StubHub, Live Nation, print at home tickets were just a dream. When you went into these shows, that is exactly what you got: a well thought-out theatrical show. They were larger than life, full of vibrancy and excitement. There were elaborate stage sets with giant inflatable monsters which would blow up at the end of the show. Incredible laser light shows filled the skies inside the venues. The more pyrotechnics, the better as fans would go crazy with each explosion. Avenged Sevenfold seems to remember what those shows were like and have created their own, much to the fan’s delight. I was lucky enough to catch an Alice Cooper show the other night. The man is 65 years old and can still put on one of the best rock shows around. Other bands can learn a lot from this legend.
When the bands took the stage, they were full of life and energy parading about the stage interacting amongst each other as well as with the crowd. They kept that energy level up for the entire two-hour set. It would be very rare to watch a band just stand there and play. Now that seems to be the norm, I won’t mention any names - ah, hem, Greenday. Recently Five Finger Death Punch has stepped up to the plate and showed fans what they’re made of.
Guitars were flying, smoking, shooting fireballs - something! Guitar solos were incredibly long, technical and drove the fans wild. Eddie Van Halen and Angus Young are two masters I can recall right off the top of my head who just stole the show with their solo performances. Nowadays guitar solos are very rare, and relatively short if you’re lucky to see one.
Drum solos were normal protocol at every show. It was always something that was talked about the next day. When Tommy Lee of Motley Crue did his solo inside of a rolling cage, it was talked about for many years. Imagine going to a Rush concert and Neal Peart never did a solo, wouldn’t you feel like you got ripped off? Today, drum solos are very rare as well much to the demise of the fan. Perhaps the best drum soloist around is Arjay Hale of Halestorm. He is the epitome of The Muppets drummer, Animal. He feeds off the energy of the crowd, so the more they get into his solo, the crazier he gets!
During the power ballad, everyone would take out their Bic lighters and hold them up until their thumbs burned. The temperature in the venue would instantly increase 20 degrees from the flames. Now there’s an app for that with virtual flames and most venues have their air conditioning controlled by computers.
Fans actually watched the show; I know what a concept. There were no cell phones and cameras weren’t allowed inside. The bands always played all of their hit songs so the fans could sing along. There was always an encore, a lot of times there were several encores, depending on the enthusiasm of the crowd. The more the crowd wanted it, the more the bands played. Now most venues have a curfew that is strictly adhered to. At the end of the night, bands gave fans 100 percent of themselves, leaving nothing on the stage. A lot of times these days, I feel there are a lot of bands who just go through the motions, play their songs from their latest album and collect their money and head to the next venue.
There are rarities these days, and I find that most of them are bands who are more up-and-coming, who go old-school and give fans a show. Recently I sat down with Butcher Babies and singer Heidi Sheppard described their philosophy of what they give their fans. “We have a really high-energy stage show. When people watch us, they see that we are a great live band with a ton of energy. Every single one of us has a great stage personality and people really love it because they don’t have it anymore. Not a lot of bands out there really get up there and rock. We’ve thought for a long time that a lot of bands are lacking (stage presence). We’re not here to play a ‘concert’; concerts are jazz musicians who sit there and play their trumpets or whatever instrument or an orchestra. That’s a concert. We are a metal band and we play ‘shows’. And we’re gonna put on a show. If your music doesn’t make you move on stage, then how’s it gonna make the crowd move? We want people to feel something and experience with us and that’s probably why things are going really well for us.”
Some of the more enthusiastic bands these days are: In This Moment – they are the definition of a theatrical rock show centered around singer, Maria Brink who brainstorms what each show will entail. She’s got great imagination and creativity. Pop Evil – they are guitar crazy, love to interact with the fans and their drummer is just a madman behind his kit. Look for them to headline their own tour very soon. Gemini Syndrome - you'd be hard-pressed to find a band that plays with more emotion and heart. Otherwise – they just love their fans and it shows. They give 100 percent of themselves to each fan in attendance and will stay to sign autographs and take pictures with each fan. It’s no wonder they are increasing their fan base by leaps and bounds, especially after just finishing a relentless tour. Within Reason – this year’s Grammy Gig-of-a-Lifetime winners are also all about their fans. In addition to being incredible artists, they are humble, down to earth and approachable. Fans can really relate to them. Lastly, Havok – watching them outplay and out entertain headliner, Soulfly the other night was a real treat. They had incredible stage presence, and fans were really into them. A lot of bands really need to look back in rock history and learn from their predecessors. Perhaps there should be a mandatory class on stage presence.
At the end of the day, I just want to see fans get what they paid for; entertainment in the form of a rock show. It's understood that not every band plays in large arenas and quite a few prefer smaller venues like a House of Blues or even a smaller 1,200 seat club where elaborte stage sets are impossible and pyro isn't allowed. They feel they want to be more intimate with their fans. But do us a favor, turn off the heavy fog machines and red lights. I don't get why bands like fog machines, all it does is hinder the fans ability to see you play. And what's with the red lights? Nobody looks good in red. Put on some spot lights and let us see you! If you want to be intimate with the fans, then get intimate. Give us something to remember and talk about. We'll tell our friends the next day, and they'll wish they came and definitely won't miss you the next time around. It’s not unusual to see people drive great distances to see their favorite bands play. Make it worth their while.