A few months ago, we vented about the endless ways other fans annoy us at concerts. But that was really only half the battle: sometimes, it's the performers themselves who sabotage the show. Here are the 10 most annoying things that bands do at rock concerts.
1. Show up ridiculously late
Rock stars aren't accountants and nobody expects them to take the stage at the precise moment listed on the ticket. We get that. A little late is good, even. It gives everyone time to park, deal with will call, wait in the bathroom line and get a beer. But some artists routinely take the stage two, three or even four hours late; Axl Rose and Lauryn Hill, we're looking squarely at you here.
On the weekend, it's kind of okay because you can sleep in the next day, but on a weeknight, it's just infuriating. Guns N' Roses started some shows on their last American tour after midnight. Forty-five minutes after the opening act ends is about as late as it should go. Axl and Lauryn, we all love you, but we're sick of this bulls***. It's also extended into their ability to create new music, but that's a whole other story.
2. Exclude key band members
Some bands have members who just don't feel like being rock stars anymore. We understand that. When Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones decided to scale back their lives and get off the road, we would have all preferred to see them with their bands still. The shows suffered from their absence, but people have a right to quit. A band isn't the mafia.
What's infuriating is when in-fighting (almost always over money) deprives fans of the proper band. Right now, we have Van Halen without Michael Anthony, Black Sabbath without Bill Ward, New Order without Peter Hook, Slayer without Dave Lombardo, the Eagles without Don Felder and Kiss without Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.
In the case of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, Kiss had the nerve to put other people in Peter and Ace's makeup. The drummer even sings "Beth" these days. It's insane. We're talking about human beings here. They aren't cogs in some machine. Each band listed above is worse off without the exiled members. The problem has become really acute over the past few years. We don't care what sort of issues you have offstage. Pull it together.
3. Play too much from the new album
We have no issue with bands playing a ton of their new material. It does, however, get annoying when you pay to see an artist and the vast majority of the show is new stuff, especially when that material is a pale imitation of the old stuff. There's a certain expectation when you buy a concert ticket (especially to an arena show) that you're going to hear songs from throughout an act's career. It's just hard for people to fully appreciate music they don't know very well.
Radiohead abandoned much of their 1990s work during their last tour. The result was a setlist that didn't change a ton from night to night, and many disappointed fans. Neil Young has occasionally taken this to the next level by playing an entire new album before it comes out. In June 2004, he took Crazy Horse out on the road and played Greendale straight through two months before it hit shelves. Three old songs were tacked on at the end. The ticket said "Neil Young and Crazy Horse" and there was no indication in any of the advertising that this was the case. The crowd at Germain Ampitheater in Columbus, for example, were beyond livid. By the end, they were singing "Hey Hey, My My" to themselves between songs, and you could practically taste the hostility and disappointment in the place.
4. Only perform the hits
The flip side of Number Three. Some artists have long catalogs of great songs, but their concerts tend to fall back on the same 15 songs they've been dragging out for decades. It's like eating 10 chocolate bars for dinner; it's not satisfying. You need to balance it out. Sure, the crowd loves to hear hits and you want to do anything you can to hold their attention, but you also need to challenge them a bit.
Tom Petty fell into this rut for much of the 2000s. He has enough songs to fill out an arena set and guarantee that they'll return when he comes back two years later, but the whole thing got tired and thankfully, he wised up with his recent theater tour. Let's hope that Elton John, Billy Joel, the Who and many others follow his example.
5. Play anything resembling a medley
Medleys were much more common back in the day, but some acts still think it's okay to string together a handful of songs into one godforsaken medley. The only thing worse than not hearing a song you love is hearing 30 seconds of it. It's a terrible tease.
Prince is the worst offender when it comes to this. We see where he's coming from – he has too many hits and not enough time – but a snippet of "When Doves Cry" isn't satisfying. Either play the whole thing or leave it out of the show.
6. Ignore the music of your beloved former band
John Fogerty hit the road in the 1980s and didn't play a single Creedence Clearwater Revival song. He had all sorts of business disputes that made him turn on the material, but he took it out on the fans. He came to his senses in the mid-1990s.
When you see someone like Pete Townshend, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Morrissey or Ray Davies, you expect a certain amount of material from their former bands. Peter Gabriel has refused to do any Genesis songs since the 1970s, but he's had far more success on his own so it makes sense. Someone like Paul McCartney or Roger Waters would be crazy to make such a move.
7. Play perverse arrangements of your songs
We have no problem with artists playing different versions of their songs — but don't do it just to amuse yourself, people. Bob Dylan has been redoing his songs live for decades – his Hendrix-style version of "All Along the Watchtower" makes perfect sense, but we wish he'd skip the reggae version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." If you don't believe us, put on Bob Dylan at Budokan, track five, and don't say we didn't warn you.
8. Never vary the setlist
A concert shouldn't feel like a Broadway show. It should feel like a unique experience, but some acts drag the same exact show around the globe for 18 months and never alter one note of it. Some acts feel they have figured out the perfect setlist that tells some sort of a story and builds to a series of climaxes. Do not believe them. There is no such thing as the perfect setlist. It should be constantly evolving.
This is particularly rough on fans that see multiple shows on a tour. Phish, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Furthur and Dave Matthews Band go to great lengths to make each show completely special and unique for fans. Other acts should take note.
This will have some dissenters. But if you aren't Neil Peart, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton or a musician on that level of genius, nobody wants to hear you solo. Many an Aerosmith concert has come screeching to a halt when Joey Kramer takes a drum solo. John Entwistle is basically the only man ever born who could make a bass solo entertaining, and he is gone; this window is closed, rockers. The unaccompanied guitar solo should have died with the 1970s with very, very few exceptions.
10. Squeeze every possible penny out of fans
We know the concert industry is a business, and with record sales sinking to new lows every year, it's just about the only place where artists can make real money. That said: tickets shouldn't be $300 unless those seats are actually on the stage. Meet-and-greets should be nice perks for your most devoted fans, not ways to squeeze more money out of people – some acts actually charge upwards of $1,000 for a quick handshake and a photo. We know scalpers get a lot for tickets, but the way to stop that is by using paperless tickets, not by matching their insanely high prices yourself, artists.
This isn't just an idealistic position: soaking your fans is also bad business. Because touring is more important than ever, you're going to need a loyal fanbase that doesn't resent you for making their kids skip college so they could see you in Newark. Wise up, rockers!
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- Ace Frehley
- Lauryn Hill