Last month, OnMilwaukee.com contributor Kevin Brandt ushered a plea for a crowd concert code of conduct. He had attended a Ryan Adams show where idiots repeatedly yelled inane requests, breaking the respect that Brandt felt the artist deserved. At first I was torn as to what to think, but after the strange, albeit small amount of heckling at the Joanna Newsom show, I am more inclined to agree.
Part of me believed Brandt should suck it up and expect this kind of thing at shows. If he wanted an intimate experience with Mr. Adams he shouldn't expect it in an arena that could serve alcohol to up to 2,500 people.
Also, the idea of an "intimate experience" varies between viewers; while he went to the show expecting to sit with quiet reverence, others, perhaps unrealistically, expected a personalized dialogue. Furthermore, I've been to shows where a lot worse can happen, so heckling seemed like a pretty good deal. But the other part of me was thinking, ya know, I really wouldn't mind a policy to keep the idiots' mouths shut.
Especially after what was quite possibly the most uncomfortable heckling at the first of only five U.S. appearances by Joanna Newsom and her 29-piece backing orchestra. Imagine sitting in a the majestic Pabst Theatre with a nicely sized, personalized orchestra on stage, all dressed in black; very sleek, very professional. Imagine a collection of acoustic guitars, banjos and maybe a lute. Imagine a giant, gilded, decorated harp sitting in the center of the stage. Imagine the kind of music you would expect to hear coming from such a setup. If you're thinking classical you're on the right track.
Now imagine in between Ms. Newsom's grandiose, full-bodied, powerful compositions some dude shatters the silence by yelling out, "I like your shirt!"
Screeeech! Um ... what? You could feel the audience collectively react in the same way. I like your shirt???
The implications of this are stunning. There were no electric guitars, rock jams and sweeping light displays. Instead, there were a dozen violinists on stage. There was a French horn and an oboe. There was that giant, gilded, decorated harp. All of these instruments, in addition to Ms. Newsom's pixie, child-like voice, were working together, weaving within each other, creating magnificent, heart-skipping compositions that flooded your ears and whisked you away, and all this guy could concentrate on was how great her shirt was? And he was so moved, (so turned on?) by it that he had to let her, and everybody, know that he had missed the entire point of the show because he was too busy salivating over her shirt.
The discomfort was thick throughout the room. The orchestra was uncomfortable. The audience was uncomfortable. Ms. Newsom was too. But there are only two letters difference between "obvious" and "oblivious;" what was obvious to everybody was apparently lost on this guy, because a half an hour later he had to remind us all what a jack*ss he was by remarking "I still like your shirt."
Did Bach deal with this? Or Mozart? Stravinsky? Well ... okay, so Stravinsky was greeted with a riot ... but at least it was in reaction to the performance, and not his coattails.
At shows like this, there is a fine line between what is appropriate concert etiquette. Ms. Newsom seemed open and willing to have a dialogue with the audience and you could tell she was quite gracious for the massive amount of people who turned out to see her (if it wasn't sold out, it was pretty darn close), but perhaps he Pabst isn't the best place to try out your flirtatious pick-up lines (especially on the performers). Instead, let's try to concentrate on this once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy this unique performance.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.