The Etiquette of Being Tall at a Concert
I feel lucky to be 6'2" in most situations - except one.
I am 6’2”.
The average American male (I use this stat as it’s where I am right now) is 5’10”. Only 14.5% of males are over six feet tall. I’m special. Females tend to be shorter, around 5’5”.
I feel very lucky to be 6’2”.
I liken myself to a meerkat, who when curious can survey a situation and see most of what’s going on. People like meerkats, right?
I feel blessed and lucky in most situations except one: The concert.
Let me explain.
I love concerts. The first concert I attended would have been during the 90s: the now defunct Christian festival ‘Parachute’, where I took in bands like Newsboys, DC Talk and Jars of Clay. That was my “Jesus Freak” stage, and it’s my greatest regret in life that I missed 2017’s Jesus Freak Cruise, where all these bands performed on a cruise ship.
Random trivia: That DC Talk video for ‘Jesus Freak’ was directed by Simon Maxwell, who now lives in the town I grew up in, Tauranga. As well as directing the video for DC Talk’s ‘Jesus Freak’, he also directed Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ video. I met up with Simon years ago and wrote this piece with him — he’s a fascinating guy.
As time went on, I discovered there was other music besides Christian music — and I became obsessed with Britpop. Seeing Oasis live was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, despite it probably being one of the worst for Liam and Noel, who would part ways shortly after.
From Springsteen to Kanye, Taylor Swift to Eminem, Fleetwood Mac to Nine Inch Nails — I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of ridiculous stadium shows. But I’ve also been in tiny clubs taking in the music I adore: From The Mint Chicks and Fazerdaze to Meshuggah, Isis and The Dillinger Escape Plan — I’ve been really lucky. Live music is my happy place.
Last weekend I saw a band I’ve dreamt of seeing for a very long time: Godspeed You! Black Emperor: If you’ve never heard of them, I implore you to listen to their 23-minute magnum opus, “Sleep”.
Okay — so what’s the problem with my 6’2” situation? Being a meerkat at a show should be heaven: I can see everything. My height is a superpower. But for me — it’s increasingly becoming a curse.
Because people at concerts really fucking hate me.
It wasn’t always this way. In the 90s and early 2000s, I felt like the general rule at a concert was you could sort of politely maneuver through a crowd (I am talking GA, not seated), find a spot, and everyone just sort of jostled around and happily found a vibe.
This is not the case here in 2022. If I attempt to enter a crowd, I am satan. I am looked at with disgust as if I am suddenly inhabiting the body of Harvey Weinstein. People see my tallness and they are deeply unhappy about it.
I knew things were shifting sometime in 2010, when I found myself near the front of a Tool concert. It’s no great secret that Tool fans are insufferable — a group of metal-heads who love feeling smarter than everyone else while babbling on about Carl Jung and time signatures.
I was in my happy place — one of my favourite songs was starting. And then a cry cut through the air: “TALL F****T!” It was close and loud, and I turned to see the most feral, angry looking face I’ve seen. The man yelled again:
That face has never left my mind, and I see it whenever I step in front of someone at a concert.
Last year I was at the opposite kind of show: A tiny club, watching Molly Lewis, a professional whistler (I interviewed her for Webworm in June last year). It was intimate and tiny — and I was standing near the back. It wasn’t packed, and yet I got a tap on the back. “Can you move please?!” It was a fierce looking woman in her 50s. I hadn’t noticed, but there was some raised seating behind me. From what I could tell, she could definitely see past me, but I suppose my bulbous head had entered the frame slightly.
I moved. Of course I did.
I moved to the wall, leaning into it with my full weight. The wall would not tap me on the shoulder or call me a “TALL F****T”. The wall was safe. The wall had my back.
In the past I’ve tried to talk to people. I once waded into a space I had always thought of as safe: the front of a metal show. When a loud, insane show starts, everyone gets jostled around and moves in the crowd. Your spot isn’t sacred. At least it didn’t used to be.
But then someone behind me, shorter, told me I had to go. They’d been here first. They were excited. I was tired and I explained I was also excited to see them, and I had come from another country, and where else could I go?
I moved. I always move — because I don’t want to be the person who is making another person have a terrible time.
And so now at shows, I rarely wade into an existing crowd, because I am just waiting for the inevitable sigh, or the tap on the shoulder. The evil eyes burrowing into the back of my skull.
There is the odd hack I’ve found.
Moshpits are safe. Being in the way is the purpose of a mosh. No-one is stopping to say “you are in my way”. Therefore a place that is technically less safe becomes more safe for me, at least socially. The downer of a mosh is that I am 39 and my body is not the invincible fortress it once was. And it means I have to take my glasses off (I can’t do contacts), which causes some vision problems — a frustrating thing when the whole reason you want to be at the front is to see.
Another trick I’ve discovered is locating another tall person in the crowd and making them my destination. I go and stand just behind them.
I figure they are an existing blockage — and if I stand behind them I can still see, and I’m not making it worse for anyone else. I found one of these beacons of hope last weekend while watching Beach House. Look at us, two bespeckled idiots being annoyingly tall together.
As shorter friends wade into the crowd, I wave them on their way. “I’ll wait here!” I yell as they vanish into the fun.
Part of me understands the angst, and part of me is angsty about it. My pet theory is that the unpredictable nature of a concert or festival used to be treated as part of the fun. It was expected. But here in 2022, anything that is seen to lessen your experience is seen as a terrible, unholy thing.
For me, I know I am lucky to be able to see over people’s heads. But also, my eyeballs don’t have a special zoom-in function. To see a band up close, I need to physically transport my eyes closer.
And so I suppose as long as I care about other people’s need to have absolutely nothing infringe on their line of sight, I need to watch the bands I like as distant ants on the horizon.
Look — I get, here I am, a tall man complaining about being tall. I get it. I get the optics.
I’ll go fetch the binoculars.
PS: What do you think about this?
There’s an art to this game, and I am still figuring it out.
An afterword on Arise Church:
Last night, in their usual style of releasing things in the media-deadzone of post-6pm in New Zealand, Arise updated the “media” section of their website (hidden away, and annoying to access) with a link to the independent Pathfinding review. That’s right — they’ve released it. The same report Webworm leaked back on August 16.
In some ways this is good — they’ve done it. Sure — it’s 64 days late, and in that time they attempted to minimise the whole thing and in doing so belittle those who’d made submissions — but hey, they have officially released it. They buried it on their website, sure, and they certainly didn’t tell the media about it. But last night, they slipped it out. And that’s good.
The day before, John Cameron’s replacement Ben Kendrew posted a video apology on Facebook. As usual, it contained a lot of words but nothing about any real action.
Of course the report is full of suggested actions the church could take, like this one:
That recommendation was meant to be done back on July 31. And of course it involves Ben Kendrew resigning from the board.
I guess we’ll see what Arise does from here. I don’t hold out much hope if people like Ben are in charge. He was raised under John Cameron — a clone of sorts — and he won’t be truly capable of seeing what’s wrong. He’s in too deep. Arise needs massive outside help.
Because the whole place is sick. It’s ill.
I posted a suggestion under Ben Kendrew’s Facebook message. I suggested Arise do something. Whoever’s running the Arise page — an intern, a staff member, Ben, John Cameron — I don’t fucking know — posted an emoji in response to my suggestion.
It was a laughing emoji.