A Cultural Piss-Understanding: MGMT Takes Live Urine Test During Concert

Watching how fans behave at concerts is one of our favorite things to do here at Live Fix. And when I heard about MGMT getting “piss” thrown on them at a recent show in England, it was time to see what exactly happened and wonder about all those crazy culture cues that artists struggle with.

When Pitchfork first reported this piss-centric story about MGMT getting a cup of urine thrown on them during a show in Manchester England they were quickly corrected by the band and told that it was a cultural misunderstanding, and a case of the British press taking liberties to sell papers.

Here’s what Pitchfork says that MGMT said about the incident:

“According to VanWyngarden, the liquid that hit Berman was not piss but, in fact, “hearty Manchester ale.” Writes VanWyngarden: “As we understand, thrown cups of beer are a sign of affection over here, whereas thrown bottles of urine mean the opposite. So, thank you Manchester for your affection.”

Whether it was true or not, it’s still a funny story in a sick and nasty and sort of disgusting kind of way.

What About Those Crazy & Confusing Cultural Cues?

It’s also a story that has lead me to wonder (more/again) about how different cultures do different things to show how much they love a live performance.

I’ve always wondered how artist navigate the confusing world of understand the differences cultural cues and behavioral practices.

For example, this article on public speaking points out two very important differences between whistling and waving, which can both be applied to live music audiences.

Applause is accepted as a form of approval in most areas of the world. In the United States the applause is sometimes accompanied by whistling. If you hear whistles in many parts of Europe, you better run because it is a signal of disapproval.

If you were finishing a speaking engagement in Argentina and you waved goodbye, U.S. style, the members of the audience might all turn around and come back to sit down. To them the wave means, ‘Hey! Come back.’ In other parts of Latin American and in Europe the same wave means ‘no.’

In my own experience, I’ve seen many other situations happen at concert where the band in from a different country and expects the American crowd to respond in a certain way. And if they don’t the band thinks that the crowd did enjoy the show because they didn’t applaud or hoot and holla after a song.

And when thinking about the language differences between US and English audiences in context of this MGMT situation, I thought of know the phrase “getting pissed” can also mean “to get drunk” in England.

Not that this difference in definition played a role in how the British press reported the situation, but still, it’s just one more thing to consider.

It’s also interesting to think about how we say that fans can “got pissed” during a concert when referring to human emotion and expressing anger or dissatisfaction.

The dynamic power of words and understanding how non-verbal communication can vary drastically among cultures is really amazing to think about.

And I’m sure as our world becomes smaller and smaller and more globalized via the web, these cultural customs will become more blended, which might make things even more confusing.

What Can YouTubers Show Us?

To try and piece this story together I looked at a few YouTube videos and this set list. And when compared to the first video above the opening song Indie Rokkers (above) with these two videos (below) which was played right before piss/beer tossing that supposedly occurred during “The Handshake.”

It’s interesting that there are no videos of The Handshake that I could find. But if you watch the Congratulations below you can see that the drummer is missing and MGMT has gone acoustic for the rest of their set.

Special thanks to deezee3k for the YouTube videos. Now, we’ll just have to ask him where the “The Handshake” video is.

What Have You Seen At Shows?

As a fan, what situations have you experienced involving a miss understanding of cultural cues?

As a band, have you ever been the victim of a cultural cue misunderstanding?

I don’t have any official numbers, but I hope that the number of bands or fans who have thrown or have been soaked with urine during a show is low.

And if you have a story like that, please share it with the rest of the class in the comments below or send it to chris@christophercatania.com

Pick up MGMT’s Congratulations via iTunes: Congratulations

“Destrokk” before “The Handshake”


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