Just like the most boring date will tell you, I like music. I also love to support the musicians I listen to. As a natural byproduct, I used to attend a lot of concerts. Yet, due to the pandemic and the realization I tend to have a less than stellar time, I haven’t been to a show in nearly three years. I don’t know how much I have even enjoyed myself at shows, but before this, I was attending enough concerts to have developed an infrequent paranoia about the tinnitus that plagues my father’s ears.
Perhaps I’m not the best audience member. I get uncomfortable when people play an instrument or sing in front of me. If a friend strums their guitar in front of me, it’s most likely to make me physically uncomfortable, rather than impressed or remotely moved.
At five years old, I once caused small-town drama in a music class by saying, “I would rather be dead than be in this music class.” Recently, I was on a date with a music teacher, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wasn’t going to tell her that 6-year-old me may have threatened suicide in her class, though I’m sure that’s lovely.
Despite these aversions, I used to attend shows regularly. Time was in part marked by the coming and going of concerts, and I experienced genuine excitement at the thought of going to such an ephemeral event.
I used to think of concerts as part of a checklist, empirical evidence that I was a fan. Concerts are a way to connect with the person or people who make music you enjoy. Going to concerts became addictive, the process of finding good shows for a cheap price is a hobby all in itself. At some point, however, I realized concerts contain a lot of things I don’t enjoy: crowds, strangers who call you things such as “buddy” and men who don’t wear deodorant.
Eventually, I started attending shows that were more intimate and often sparsely attended. Even at smaller shows, chaos ensued. I’ve had pizza thrown into my hair without provocation. A stranger’s hips once thrust into me with such force that I can no longer conceive a child. I’ve seen a man bring an entire gallon of dairy milk to a show and sip it slowly like a gin and tonic.
Intimate shows carry their own unique challenges — opening acts shoving microphones in my face and asking me questions, inescapable strangers determined to chat me up and eye contact with musicians. I often wonder how much eye contact I should be making and with whom. I feel like I should democratize my eye contact. I can’t only look at the lead singer, I should be paying attention to other band members as well, who deserve attention. So I’ll check out the keyboardist for a moment, just to make them feel important.
I think my presence at shows goes unappreciated by musicians. I’m a vibe prophylactic — my resting face gives the impression that the events of “Midsommar” are happening to me, personally.
I was once thrown out of a show for allegedly “not being very chill.” I admittedly spent half of the opening set making increasingly passive-aggressive comments to a couple who was making out in my ear. They screeched at me, not with words but instead a high-pitched, feral screech — in the middle of a Jonathan Richman set.
Part of my recent aversion to concerts can be blamed on being more than 21 years old. A concert’s atmosphere, after all, is sometimes similar to that of a bar. Often, shows are literally held in a bar. I attended many concerts from the ages of 18-20, but have lost the urge to be in a noisy environment that I can experience any day of the week.
I had been relying on the valid excuse of COVID-19 to avoid concerts, but I still crave seeing my favorite musicians perform. These days, I’m highly selective about the shows I am theoretically willing to attend. I’m actively trying to turn down less shows out of anxiety and attend more in the future.
Concerts remind me of my favorite Hebrew word davka, which can be roughly translated to “because of, yet in spite of.” I like to think that my adjusted, lowered expectations will make concerts more enjoyable because despite my qualms, they remain a sacred, nostalgic space for me.