Monday, August 08, 2011

German vs. American Audiences

Our apartment is kind of a dump and everyone knows I love to complain about it, but it does have one major advantage - location!  We are lucky enough to be within walking distance of Karlstorbahnhof, the only venue in Heidelberg that bands I like seem to come through.  Man, I would have killed to be within walking distance of a good venue in Boston, where I remember at least once having to leave a show well before it was over because public transit was about to shut down and a taxi would have been too far out of the budget.  Boston had a lot more shows I wanted to see than little Heidelberg manages, but if it weren't for Karlstor there wouldn't be any! And since it's so easy to get to, we've been to almost as many shows here as in Boston.

I have noticed a difference between audiences here and back in the US, and I'm wondering if this is a local peculiarity or something bigger.  In the US, audiences seem to get much more involved in the performances, but also exhibit much more casual and potentially distracting behavior.  An American audience will dance more, sing along more, cheer and whistle more, and generally provide a lot more encouragement to the musicians.  They'll also wander in and out of the venue during songs, in front of you, or spend a whole song shouting to a friend and completely ignoring the music.  A German audience bops along a little bit but is eerily silent while music is being played.  Songs are followed by mostly just clapping and maybe a little scream here and there.  On folk singer Sam Amidon's blog I once read him wonder what was the deal with audiences here and he didn't know how to take it. (Alas, I can't find the entry now - maybe it's gone.)  When we saw Menomena perform, halfway through the show the bassist called the audience "respectfully boring"*.  It's a little awkward, although I know this isn't a phenomenon exclusive to here.  Seeing George Clinton perform at the ultra-nerdy University of Chicago was probably one of the most awkward moments of my life. ;)

I just discovered that there's a nicely-done YouTube video of the Menomena show we went to last November, so I even have a little example to share with you all - the first video is Menomena performing at Karlstor last November, and the second is them performing in New York on the same tour.  (I chose that video because it, like the first one, is also professionally produced so a better comparison sound-wise.)  In the second video you hear a lot more extra audience action - chit-chat, screaming during solos, singing along.  Not so much in the German one.  (One example to compare is a keyboard solo at around 2:30 on both videos.) One the one hand, I enjoy being in an audience that I know isn't going to ruin my favorite song by talking over it or singing along badly.  On the other, being in a quiet audience that does nothing to feed the band - I always had the impression that audience feedback makes the show better - feels kind of uncool.  Oh cultural differences, you just pop up everywhere.

Menomena at Karlstorbahnhof, Heidelberg, November 2010

Menomena in New York City, October 2010

Sadly, if you didn't see Menomena live before the end of 2010, it's not the same anymore - Brent Knopf, the tall short-haired blond guy in the videos - left the band in January and I don't think they're performing the songs he leads anymore. Bummer!

What's your experience with German and American audiences? Is my experience too limited to make a comparison?

*But in the end they liked us well enough to pull out a second encore, something they didn't do anywhere else according to :)


  1. I had that feeling when I saw Sigur Ros in concert and asked a German friend who said that it's a sign of respect to not get into the show. You know, like it's a sign of respect that they don't nod along while you're talking -- they're too busy listening :) It still feels weird to be in a quiet crowd, though.

  2. You can see most of the crowd quietly sitting at a Kevin Costner concert I went to. I walked up front with a smaller bunch of people who also did.

  3. I know I'm replying to a super old entry, still thought it might be of interest to some: After having spent some time in Japan, I feel German audiences are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; in Japan, audiences would hardly show any reaction after a show (music, comedy, etc.), and the duration and volume of clapping was also much less than what I was used to. I always couldn't help but feel bad for the performers, and tried to make up for it by applauding extra loud and cheerfully (and annoyed some Japanese audience members in the process I'm sure) - now I can't help but think how much worse this must have felt for American performers who are used to US audiences! Makes me feel I did the right thing. :)


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