Wolves in the Throne Room, by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission
Ever seen a concert in another country? Was audience behaviour markedly different from what you see here?
I lived in Japan from 1999 to 2002. I went to plenty of concerts during that time, from shows by Japanese avant-gardists and jazzsters like Haino Keiji and Kazutoki Umezu to ones by Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, and Joe Strummer. Audiences at shows varied from band to band, in terms of how they behaved, but the one that stood out was GY!BE, who played a venue in Kabukicho called the Liquid Room. This was before their hiatus, around when they were touring Lift Your Skinny Fists; they did a long, entirely-instrumental set accompanied by film projections, with nothing at all in the way of vocals; the films, which I remember as being mostly black-and-white, showed desolate cityscapes and images of urban decay, mostly devoid of people, though perhaps there were a few of the homeless or desperately poor. The band was in fine form, moving and passionate - if somewhat shy; Efrim Menuck, in particular struck me as hiding behind his hair (unbelievably, there is an image online to give you an idea what I mean, not necessarily from the same show, but certainly from the same venue). The thing that stands out in memory now, though, is how the mostly Japanese audience stole the show, because they were dead silent. They didn't cough, let alone talk or whoop. They didn't rattle the ice in their glasses. They didn't even applaud between songs. Instead, they LISTENED ATTENTIVELY AND QUIETLY for an hour long set, then burst into enthusiastic applause when the music was all over. Can you imagine?
It was perfect. It was the RIGHT way of listening to that band; and I found myself wishing for that audience, a few years later, seeing Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (with many of the same musicians onstage) at Richards on Richards, here in Vancouver, where Carla Bozulich opened, touring that first Evangelista solo project before that became her band name. That's an amazing album, if you like your music dark and moody...
...But live, the audience utterly ruined it (incidentally, there is a whole Reddit thread of shows ruined by noisy, disrespectful, or drunken audiences. I went to it specifically to see if any mention was made of Wolves in the Throne Room, but there isn't). It was frustrating and embarrassing for me as a Vancouverite to see ourselves in such poor form. The venue where the show was held - Richards on Richards - was superbly designed for concerts if and when the audience wanted to pay attention, but - with a two-tier room structure, with people leaning on the semi-circular balcony rail above, surrounding the entirety of the concert floor, if people DIDN'T want to watch the show, their chatter would fill the pit from all angles (you can see the room on the last photo of this blogpost, from the Pointed Sticks' Vancouver return). The cacophony of talkers overwhelmed the vulnerable, aching music Bozulich and band presented that evening; it was impossible to get into, maddening to try. I had loved the record, and when I'd spoken to Bozulich beforehand, interviewing both her and Efrim for Discorder, she had talked about how the ideal venue for performing the album was a church; instead, she found herself in the midst of a very crowded, very noisy cocktail party.
Personable at the merch table afterwards, not apparently put off by the crap reception, the former Geraldine Fibbers frontwoman appreciated my trying to apologize for how we had behaved, but remarked that she had learned that "the people who are talking are not the audience."
It's a nice way to think of things - very forgiving - but unfortunately, the people who, by her estimation, WERE the audience couldn't get into the music because of the ones who, by Bozulich's logic, weren't. And that shit, my friends, ain't right.
Makoto Kawabata of Japanese psych band Acid Mothers Temple was also quite philosophical about it when I asked him to give his impressions of audiences there versus audiences here, since that band tours a bit more heavily in North America than a lot of Japanese underground acts. He observed that he thought that
Japanese audiences come to hear the music and that American or European audiences come to enjoy themselves. In addition, tickets are expensive in Japanese clubs so most people will only be able to afford to buy one drink. But in the US and Europe people will drink while listening to the music and they'll go to the bar even during the performance. Japanese audiences will also watch all the bands on the bill - firstly because they've paid a lot to get to in, but also because they're simply curious about the bands even if they've never heard of them before. I don't know which attitude is better. If you've paid your money to get in, then you should have the right to enjoy the music in whichever way you like. You can listen quietly or if you're bored you can chat with your friends, it's up to you. Maybe it's more important for the musicians to try and play in such a way that people won't feel like chatting?
The feeling Wolves In The Throne Room invokes is like no other, I close my eyes and am transported from the hell-pit designed bar to old mountains and forests from brutal storms to pleasant dewy spring mornings with a fawn running through the trees. This is the power of WITTR, music so encompassing it is like magic transporting you to a new realm.
It started to seem like the only way I was going to be transported anywhere last night was if I left the venue, which indeed is what I eventually did. But it wasn't the first recourse. My thought in the pit was, "Oh, shit, are people actually going to mosh to this? Guess I'll go back to the seats." (The Rickshaw is great that way: if you get tired of standing, have a disability, are not enjoying the pit, or just want to listen to the music without being slammed into, there's plenty of seating available). So I made my way back to the seats to sit down and close my eyes for few songs, contemplating as I sat down how I could still feel Aaron Weaver's pummeling assault on his kit deep in my body. It does kind of sustain moshing, I thought, but if you just close your eyes and LISTEN to it, let it penetrate you...
I didn't take notes as to what the people behind me were talking about. Or the people beside me, or the people in front of me. Some of it was just whoopin' and screamin', which I resent less - at least it's an attempt to show appreciation - but loud as the band was, there was all too much conversation going on for me to concentrate. I mean, if you're ever at a rock concert and someone stands up in the middle of the room and explosively bellows, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC, COULD YOU ALL JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!????... jeez, it's probably me.
Wolves in the Throne Room by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission
Bob was still taking photos - surprisingly great ones, given the lack of light - by the time I realized I wasn't going to be able to enjoy myself, but between the challenges of capturing lucid images with the lights out and listening to rapturously meditative, transportive music in a room full of noisy buffoons, we only got about a half hour into the show. Have audiences gotten that much dumber since 2012? Has the year-plus we took off for the pandemic warped people's social skills? Did WITTR's core audience somehow drop radically in IQ in the last ten years, or do people just go to any ol' metal show now, without caring whether the band is an unusually thoughtful, serious, and sonically sophisticated one? (Because WITTR certainly are all of that). As I made my way towards the exits, pausing so Bob could shoot a few images from the back of the room, I noticed that there was a guy in the aisle wearing a wifebeater and baseball cap, both arms up in the air, rocking the goats over his head; I saw someone else pass by with his baseball cap on backwards. Who were these people? Why were they there? Do Wolves in the Throne Room fans WEAR backwards ballcaps now, or did they think they'd come to see Nickelback or something?
Maybe it's my fault. Maybe the person who didn't belong in the Rickshaw last night was, in fact, me [I imagine cheers from the peanut gallery, here]. But it's too bad, because that 2012 Venue show was one of the most trance-inducing, sonically rewarding metal shows I've ever seen, and I love the idea of a metal band trying to draw on the energies of the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Plus the art for Primordial Arcana is just beautiful. The music is very powerful. Bob snagged a killer t-shirt too. It could have been a very intense night. Instead...well, I hope y'all had fun.
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