3 of the Best Shows I’ve Ever Seen (and what emerging artists can learn from them)

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(article originally published on Lindsay’s Untitled Rock Mag)

I’ve gotta be honest—I’ve been to a lot of really boring shows. As a blogger for the last 10 years and a publicist for 5, I’ve seen a lot of bands standing uncomfortably on stage, mumbling into the microphone, and hiding in various corners of the venue after their sets because they’re terrified to talk to fans.

And as an introvert, I get it. I really do. You’re taking the most vulnerable pieces of you and putting them on display for the world to not only see but to judge—and that’s not easy.

But if you’re going to put it all out there then really put it all out there and give it all you’ve got.

Take a trip down memory lane with me as I recount three of the best shows I’ve ever been to and how you can take those successes and translate them into your own—you just might find that some of these are actually kind of fun.

Arkells + Frank Turner at FirstOntario Centre (Hamilton, ON 2017)

Hands down the best show I’ve ever seen is Arkells in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, with Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. While Arkells actually opened for Frank Turner throughout his US tour, as soon as the Canadian band came home the lineup switched. I am not kidding when I say that the crowd was going insane when Arkells took the stage. I’ve never seen such energy and movement in a room as there was watching the audience rejoice as they watched their favorite boys on stage. I think to put it simply, they were proud. Most of the audience had probably been watching the band rise in notoriety for years, and to see them finally make it was really moving.

Then there was the energy—it was unmistakable. Both artists are incredible performers in their own right, but together they brought a passion to the stage that was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It’s not easy to feel a connection in a room of thousands, but these artists did it by involving the audience every step of the way through anecdotes, dance competitions, sing-a-longs, and more. They made sure the audience knew that they were here for them and that their goal was simple—to make sure the audience was having the time of their lives.

Lastly, the bands seemed to genuinely enjoy being on stage. They were all smiles and jokes and goofing around with not only the audience but each other—they were just happy to be up there and it showed.

Emerging artist takeaway: Always include the audience in everything you do. This is true of your social media posts and it’s true of your live shows. Whatever you do, you want to make sure the audience feels included, and that they feel connected. In general, this comes from showing energy on stage and talking to your audience.

It may feel silly asking a room of 30 people to “get up and dance” so do what feels right for you. Maybe it’s as simple as asking the audience to dress up and making it a themed show (like Halloween or celebrating a new TV show everyone is hyped about) or maybe it’s pulling your friend or a stranger on stage to sing along or having them shake the tambourine during that one part of the song, or maybe it’s telling a short (short!) anecdote about the song in a relatable way. You just want to get the audience involved and show them you’re up there for them as much as yourself.

The Front Bottoms, at T.T. The Bears (Boston, MA 2011)

Before the Front Bottoms were signed to Fueled By Ramen and playing giant venues to thousands of people, they were just a couple guys touring the East Coast in a beat-up van, playing to tiny crowds on a weekday night. That’s when I fell in love with their music.

I heard about the band through a press release I received for my blog, and almost instantly I became obsessed with their sound. The Front Bottoms are nothing short of branding genius’, but that’s a topic for another time.

When I found out they were coming to Boston as part of their tour, I jumped at the chance to drive an hour into the city on a random weeknight to see them play at a small bar.

They played to maybe 20 people tops, but it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Their energy was just insane—lead singer Brian Sella bounced around, throwing himself around this tiny stage, while drummer Mat Uychich flailed around on his kit, somehow hitting every note while also putting on a spectacle of a show, and Drew Villafuerte played the keys with such finesse like I’d never seen. It was impossible to take your eyes off them.

By the end of their set they were dripping in sweat and by all accounts exhausted. They had given it everything they had, and the audience had rewarded them by dancing around the room and singing along.

After the set, the band said hi to every single person there, and took the time to really thank them and get to know them. They took the time to show their appreciation, and get to know the people who showed up for them. That says a lot, and it’s no surprise that now, 8 years later, they’re signed to a major label and touring most of the year, having traded their beat-up van for a huge tour bus.

Emerging artist takeaway: Bring your personality to the stage, and give it your all even if there’s only 20 people (or less) in the room. Those early performances may feel pointless or like no one is watching, but you have to show up and deliver, and give them a show to remember. Also, take the time to thank the people in the room individually. It’s tempting to run away or avoid contact because of nerves, but at the very least go stand by your merch table and shake hands after your set, and if you’re feeling really brave, go up to some of the audience members who stood out, who you could tell were really loving your music, and introduce yourself and thank them for coming out. It’ll leave an impact.

Brian Fallon at Count Basie Theater (Red Bank, NJ 2018)

Every now and again you go to a show that shakes you to your core. For me, that was Brian Fallon at Count Basie theater last year.

I was in town for a friend’s wedding and when I told her the show was the night before, just a half-hour away she said “Go. Seeing Brian Fallon perform in NJ is unlike seeing Brian Fallon perform anywhere else. These are his people and he knows it. Go—you won’t regret it.”

She was right. It was an incredibly intimate show, and being in the room with so many loyal, longtime fans was an experience that can’t be matched. It was a largely acoustic set, with Fallon alternating between guitar and piano and telling stories between songs.

Everything about it from the lighting of the venue, to Fallon poised on stage with his keyboard and guitar, to the eager audience, made for one of the most intimate shows I’ve ever been to. It was simultaneously moving, funny, and breathtaking. It was an experience—and that’s what you want in a show.

Emerging artist takeaway: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and pay attention to aesthetics. While Fallon has been in a slew of bands including The Gaslight Anthem, The Horrible Crowes, and his own solo releases in the last few years, doing this kind of stripped-down show was a bit of a departure from the norm—but it paid off.

The aesthetics of the venue also made the experience what it was. While you may not always be able to choose your ideal venue, you can control some of the aesthetics like lighting (if you happen to have access to your own) or the clothes you wear or the backdrop you bring with you—all of these little things add up, and they create an environment for your audience. They’ll create an environment either way, so if you can make it a pleasant and memorable one, all the better.

In the end, what made this Brian Fallon show so special was the connection I felt with the music, as well as the rest of the audience; and that was all thanks to the setting, the stories, and the vulnerabilities and insight that Fallon shared.

Angela Mastrogiacomo