All gig-goers have been to a concert where the rock star has thanked the crowd profusely for their support and the adoring, welcoming reception their band has received. “We can’t tell you how happy we are to be home. Thanks so much for coming tonight. We decided that you are without a doubt the best crowd we’ve ever played in front of ever,” gushed Marcus Mumford at the end of Mumford and Sons’ performance at the Olympic Park in July. “We love you very, very much.”
However, some gig-goers have, of late, found themselves the subject of criticism by the live act that they have gone to support. At Arctic Monkeys’ iTunes Festival show last week, the day that their Mercury-nominated, chart topping, fifth album AM was released, frontman Alex Turner reportedly told the crowd to “wake up” and added that they were “hard to read”, during a gig that critics showered with four- and five-star reviews.
But it gets worse than a frustrated frontman jostling the crowd in an effort to rouse their enthusiasm. Some gig-goers have been at the receiving end of abuse from the lips of the performers they are watching, and in the case of Plan B, had the set cut short in punishment.
Last month, the irritable Ben Drew (aka Plan B), supporting Eminem at Slane Castle in Ireland, blamed the crowd’s tiredness and lack of enthusiasm for his shortened set. “Slane, are you with me?” the 29-year-old yelled before becoming more abusive in a bizarre bid to lift the crowd. After being told by officials he was due to remain on stage for a further 10 minutes, the rapper decided to end things prematurely, announcing “We’re only gonna play one more song ’cause we don’t really wanna be here.” Earlier he’d said: “You should feel ashamed. No mosh pit.” A support slot comes with its own undeniable challenges – that they are not the main attraction of the night – but why short-change the fans?
It was a reminder of Kings of Leon’s infamous headline performance at Reading Festival in 2009 when the band blamed the crowd for their lacklustre response. The album bestsellers of 2009’s singer Caleb Followill could be heard berating their fans with a foul-mouthed rant. “We know you’re sick of Kings of Leon. We’re sick of Kings of Leon too… We’re the goddamn Kings of Leon.”
His brother, drummer Nathan Followill, had continued the crowd-berating on Twitter. “Reading? Zero love for the kings. I know it was cold but y’all were frozen.” After the inevitable backlash following their performance, the band apologised. “I took it out on the crowd, and at the end of the day it was probably our fault”, said Caleb. “Because of the success I expected everyone to [cheer] for everything we did... I took it out on audiences.”
Can a musician ever blame the crowd who have come to see them play? While an enthused crowd can help create the atmosphere that makes a good show outstanding, it is not the crowd’s responsibility to create atmosphere. That is the role of the performer.
The artist should be able to perform to the best of their ability whether there are 10 people in the room, or 1,000, and whether the crowd are boring or energetic. If a ticket-buying audience member misbehaves, they are rightly thrown out of the show. When a performer criticises the fans, they are not only letting down their fans who buy tickets for their shows and support their creativity, but themselves – it’s dangerous to bite the hand that feeds you.