Welcome to Part Two as we continue to revisit my original conversation with No Air Guitar Allowed author Steve Weinberger. In Part One, we began to explore the sweaty crunch and release of mosh pits. And in Part Two we’re going to explore the mind of artists during performance by quickly crowd surfing through the mind of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. I’m going to jump right into this post, so if you’re just joining us, I suggest taking a quick trip through Part One to get an idea of the purpose for these short exploratory interview snippets.
What is it like inside the mind of the performing artist?
It happens all the time. I’ve done it several times, too. And when Steve brought up the topic of wondering what goes through the mind of an artist as they look out on to the crowd during a show, he used Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl as an example.
LF: You don’t talk about this idea directly your book. But do you ever wonder if artists think about all the types of crowd behavior going on in front of them while they’re playing?
Steve: Oh, yes. I’ve wondered about that, too.
Can you give an example of how you’ve wondered what’s going on in the artist’s mind during a concert?
I was at a Foo Fighters concert once and I starting wondering ‘does David Grohl think about the crowd surfing and other things going on in the crowd while he’s singing? Does it influence how he plays? And does he think it takes away from the music, or is he pleased to see all the types of crowd reactions no matter what they are because it means that the crowd is enjoying the show? That particular Foo Fighters show I was at had both young and ‘older’ fans in the crowd, so I also wondered what Grohl thought of the younger crowd enjoying the music by crowd surfing and doing a bit a moshing, too.
Do Artists Really Think About Crowd Behavior?
It’s true. Besides playing their instruments and performing well. Steve was right in his wondering. Because most artists do think about the crowd and all the behavior going on in front of them. I’ve asked this question to various artists when I’ve interviewed them. And I always get different responses. But each response always confirms, in some way, that there’s definitely some kind of thinking going on in the mind of the artist about the crowd’s behavior and reaction to the music.
Each artist has their own varied degree of interest and responses to crowd behavior. Some artists think about how the crowd is behaving and it has a direct influence on the performance. Some see it as an asset and other see it as an obstacle. I’ve even seen some artists get nervous if there’s no response, or the crowd responds in a way they didn’t expect them to.
That being said, even though the artist are usually the ones amplified and elevated during the concert, the fans still possess the power to influence the artist and the show’s emotional trajectory. Knowing that, it ‘s really amazing to think about how much control and power fans have over the artist’s mind and performance during the show.
Emotional Ebb and Flow
Some artists will admit this truth and use the crowd’s emotional inertia to their advantage. I’ve experienced this several times where an artist will deftly recycle the crowd’s projected emotion and re-inject it back into the performance on the fly. Sometimes this happens directly or indirectly. But it only happens when an artist is flexible, vulnerable and open to the emotional ebb and flow of the show. And that openness it usually what transforms an average show in to a transcending show that the fan never forgets. A few artists that I’ve recently reviewed come to mind such as Saul Williams, Daniel Johnston, Lady Sovereign, M.Ward, Kanye West and Radio Head.
All of those artists connect with the crowd in their own way and on different levels using their own unique method. But usually it’s only those types of artists who have the talent to be open to, aware of and tap into the crowd’s emotional barometer. What it usually comes down to is whether or not an artist is willing to give up part of the control over the performance. If they do then the fan will likely be lifted off their feet for two hours and beyond.
Artists who have a strong emotional connection with fans during a live show also have a deft ability to wisely acknowledge the fan’s control over the live performance. When those artists give up the control they end up realizing how great their show can be. In the end, artists who understand how important it is to respect the emotional relationship between them and the crowd are the ones who make their show stand out from the rest.
Have you ever wanted to walk through the mind of your favorite artist during their performance?
What have you wondered about lately at a live concert?
If you’re an artist, I’d like to get your perspective on this, too.