Show Going Quandary: To Sing Along or Not?

After spending nearly 24 hours on the grounds of Pimlico Race Course over the weekend I decided that the best way to spend Monday night would be to put myself in danger of being swept up in a violent circle pit at Rancid's sold-out 9:30 club show. I stayed out of harm's way and was plenty glad I caught the show -- Rancid still brings plenty of punk rock energy and I'll never get tired of hearing the many anthems from their 1995 classic "... And Out Come the Wolves." (Lord knows that album is about 8,000,000 times better than "Smash," by former labelmates the Offspring, a fact which I was reminded of on Saturday.)

Last night I did something I rarely do at a show -- sing along. (I do it in the car all the time, natch. With bonus Finn-like hand gestures when listening to the Hold Steady.) A healthy majority of Rancid's songs feature choruses with most of the band members singing in unison, so what's the problem with a few (hundred) other voices added to the mix? I wasn't "on the clock" (that would be Christoper Porter; check for his review tomorrow) so I figured it would be OK to indulge in some casual fan behavior. Honestly, I was surprised that I actually remembered all the words to songs like "Radio," "Hoover Street" and "Journey to the End of East Bay." ("Ruby Soho," well, I knew I knew the words to that one.)

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Everyone else was doing it, the band even encouraged it, and in this case it only added to the general revelry in the club. But does it set a bad precedent? Most of the time, audience members should not sing along. There are moments when it's acceptable, but we've all been to shows where you end up hearing more from the dude behind you than the person you paid money to hear on stage. Or maybe I'm imposing some unnecessarily harsh rules.

When is it right and wrong to sing along?

By David Malitz |  August 12, 2008; 5:26 PM ET Live Last Night
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Don't beat yourself up. It's a concert, that's what you're supposed to do. Unless your facing people you don't already know or are in some way making more of a spectacle of yourself than you are watching the band it's fine. I do despise the jackholes who seem to think we paid a lot of money to see them rather than the band.

Posted by: EricS | August 12, 2008 11:42 PM

Yeah, I'm with Eric. It's completely okay in that context. There are concerts where it is clearly inappropriate to belt out songs at the top of your lungs. Anything quiet, really, and I never sing along with anyone who has a beautiful voice, no matter how unlikely I am to be heard.

But most rock n' roll should be loud enough to drown out the drunks. And some concerts especially call for group revelry and 1000+ people singing along. I dunno about Rancid, but I will be entirely incapable of not shouting Hold Steady lyrics Thursday.

I was at a Mountain Goats concert last year where John pretty much owned the room, letting people know when they should sing along ("No Children") and shushing drunk people during "Wild Sage". He actually did it without seeming the least bit schoolmarmish.

Anyway, since you asked, my 2 cents is . . . people are there to have fun. As long as they don't scream in my ear during something soft and soulful, i'm for it.

P.S. my finnish hand gestures are awesome.

Posted by: Hoodrat | August 13, 2008 9:20 AM

Singing along is ok unless a) you can't sing in tune and b) I can hear you.

Posted by: Hemisphire | August 13, 2008 9:46 AM

During Rancid concerts, you should sing along to the Clash song that the youngsters are ripping off. Shouldn't be hard to identify.

Posted by: Tory Crimes | August 13, 2008 3:01 PM

IF you're gonna sing, sing along to the loud ones, shut up during the ballads (singing and talking - something folks at the last Joe Jackson show did not do). If you don't know the verses, don't pretend like you do. For example the very loud fellow at the Jamie Lidell show who knew the first two lines of the first song on the new album (amazing memory!) but thank god didn't know much more besides choruses.

Also, there are always shows where singing along is not possible - Black Dice, for example.

Posted by: MN | August 13, 2008 3:32 PM

Music writers singing along at a concert--isn't that like sportswriters cheering in the pressbox?

Rancid's songs are tailor-made to be shouted out by Everyman, I say go to it, con gusto

Posted by: Jimbromski | August 13, 2008 3:50 PM

dave, i feel like your blog posts are social commentary more than they are music criticism.

Posted by: ally | August 13, 2008 4:47 PM

I plan on signing along to The Hold Steady tonight at 930 Club. Well, I'll do my best to keep up.

Posted by: sjs | August 14, 2008 11:10 AM

Singing along is part of the fun, unless you're so loud you're ruining it for someone else. Duh.

I'm REALLY sorry to hear about the Finn-like hand gestures. -E

Posted by: Jet Age Eric | August 14, 2008 11:39 AM

Tough call. I can't sing to save my life, so personally I never sing at shows.

At the end of the day, I really don't care what other people do, as long as it doesn't affect my experience of the show. So just don't sing louder than the band (or directly in my ear) and you should be fine.

(BTW, the same goes for dancing/pogoing. Do your thing, but in your own space. Once you start bumping into people and knocking them over, like the dude at the front of the Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos crowd last night, you've officially become a prick.)

Posted by: Steve | August 14, 2008 2:01 PM

Man, why is everyone so uptight? You're at a rock concert, not a philharmonic performance. I'm not saying this gives you free reign to be a jerk, but if you go to a concert expecting that no one's going to bump into you or sing a little off-key, you're bound to be disappointed.

Posted by: Loosen Up, Guys | August 14, 2008 5:11 PM

As always, America's Finest News Source says it best.

Posted by: mikef | August 15, 2008 9:49 AM

You should be able to sing along to most songs at concerts.
At the Hold Steady last night (8/14/08) there was a problem though. That being the screeching girls and boy behind me were incredibly obnoxious and heard their vocals more than Craig Finn's. Not too fun.

As for the Mountain Goats, they have the most transforming live shows I have ever experienced. Their live shows and their records are completely different experiences. Both incredibly awesome. The Mountain Goats are a most definitely a sing-along band. There's some debate about singing along to softer songs at their shows, but usually folks can tell whether it's alright to join vocals duties with John Darnielle.

Yes. I encourage people to have fun and I expect to be bumped into and jumped around at a rock show. I's a rock show. But once your enjoyment starts impeding on the enjoyment of others: that's a definite NO. Some wonderful shows have been ruined by obnoxious show attendees (i.e. last night's Hold Steady show. Also see: the horrible fans of the Disco Biscuits)

Posted by: Have Fun but don't Annoy Others | August 15, 2008 11:26 PM

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