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The 10 Commandments of Classic Rock Gigs

As an ageing and somewhat entrenched rock-fan, I do still try and get to as many live concerts as I can; some are newish bands but the vast majority are aging throwbacks from what has now been euphemistically badged the ‘Classic Rock’ era of the 70s and early 80s.

This generally involves bands who last produced a decent album in 1978 and who have probably just reformed to take advantage of idiots like myself who are still clinging grimly to their patched denim jacket and Wheels of Steel badge. It is a given that all of these bands will at some stage during the 80s or 90s have broken up, ostensibly due to artistic differences, in reality because after Nirvana nobody wanted anything to do with them. Times change though and there has been a call to arms of the old guard. This year alone I have seen Saxon, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Rush, Motorhead, Alice Cooper & Black Sabbath all play here in Glasgow. The comeback album is in the bag and they are back on the road again.

Now, after this onslaught of retro-balding riffery I have noticed one or two practices and habits that have not survived the years quite as well as their stripey spandex trousers and someone really needs to sit them down and have a word.

  1. Your audience is now in their 40s and 50s. Deal with it. There is no point expecting the hall to be populated with energetic teenagers willing to spend 2 hours head-banging, stage diving and pumping their fists to every note. The spirit may be willing but the days of most of the audience members attempting any kind of ‘mosh’ are well and truly over. The punters will nod gently, tap their feet and sing conservatively clapping politely when the song is over. No matter how often you scream, “Come on, Glasgow, we can’t fucking hear you!” that’s just a fact, I’m afraid.
  2. Don’t play songs that nobody knows. You may have a new album to promote and several difficult 90s albums that you’re still trying to convince everyone were actually quite good. Forget it. The crowd want a greatest hits package from the golden era and that’s it. In the interests of fair play we will allow you 2 songs from the new record just to help sales along a bit. Exceeding this 2 song barrier will result in pissed off punters who will wander off to the bar or the toilets whilst the ones they don’t know are on.
  3. The opening song. The first number has to be a prime grade-A classic and ideally be skull-crushingly heavy. Get this right and the crowd will be in the palm of your hand all night. Contravene this by playing (a) a new song, or (b) a slow song and you may as well pack up your SG and your Marshall and go home.
  4. Ballads. You are allowed one ballad and one ballad only. Position it near the middle of the set to minimise damage and for God’s sake at least ensure it has a sing-a-long chorus.
  5. Acoustic/Unplugged. It may seem cool to chuck in a mid-section where the band all unplug and play some acoustic versions of their stuff. It’s not. It’s guaranteed to cause the bar/toilet effect to kick in immediately and the arse will drop out your gig. Worse than that the punters will feel robbed of hearing the ‘real’ versions of the sacrificed songs.
  6. Encores. Can we please standardise on the number of encores, please chaps. Once upon a time, 2 was considered the natural balance between eking out the audience approval and chucking in a last few classics. Nowadays we seem to be ignoring this basic principle. 1 is not enough, it’s lazy and shows the band can’t be arsed. 3 or more is taking the piss and 75% of the audience will have left after the 2nd encore anyway. Let’s be sensible shall we.
  7. Rock-outs. A rock-out is that bit at the end of a number when the normal song has finished and the band go into improvised meltdown for a period anywhere between a few seconds to, God help us, a few minutes. Rock-outs are fine in moderation and for the last song of the set is considered mandatory. However, when you start chucking them in after every bloody song you just start to piss people off. Firstly, it’s a cheap and easy way for the band to drag songs out and fill their time in. Secondly, the audience who started clapping and cheering at the end of the natural song get less and less enthusiastic as they try to keep the clapping up through the interminable rock-out period. Eventually they get sore arms and stop. Totally counter-productive.
  8. Drum Solos. Can we please all agree on this: drum solos should stop. Now. They are with very, very few exceptions dull, pointless and embarrassing. There is nothing sadder than a drummer trying to illicit some “Yeahs!” from an apathetic crowd as he bashes away on his kit. To be clear: Neil Peart is the only man on the planet who is allowed to do drum solos.
  9. Gifts. Time was when catching a drum-stick or a plectrum was the equivalent of going home with a freshly-bagged Rhino head. Not only were they ultra-rare but were the actual bits of kit that the musicians had used to play the songs. Gold dust. Nowadays bands turn up with boxes of cheapo copies that they just tip into the crowd at various points during the night like so much rotten fish. Totally worthless and a tad insulting actually.
  10. If you’ve lost it, retire. Let’s face it, there is nothing sadder than seeing our once mighty heroes falter and tarnish a glorious past. If the voice is shot to buggery or the arthritis has taken a grip of the fingers, please don’t demonstrate that fact on a stage. Have some bloody pride.