Silly concert question
June 5, 2006 8:37 AM   Subscribe

At what point during a concert (e.g. rock/pop/country) performance do you recognize and applaud the song performed?

This is one of those questions that has floated around in the back of my head and pops back up whenever I go to a concert.

I usually recognize a popular song within the first few seconds of the music starting up. So, I applaud at this point (and to my un-scientific calculation) so does 70% to 80% of the audience. Yet there is another smaller round of applause when the vocalist starts singing the lyrics.

So my silly question is:

Does the smaller second round of applause indicate the this group of the audience did not know what the song was until the lyrics started? Or was the second wave of applause for some other reason like they love the singer and wanted to applaud them on top the applause for the entire band.

My question comes from the fact that I have noticed that while I can usually hum my way through about any song I know, I rarely remember the lyrics, and at best might know the chorus. Obviously, other folks have a better grasp of the lyrics than I do, but do they then remember the lyrics to the exclusion of the instrumentation?
posted by JigSawMan to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When it's over. Other people (like me) enjoy actually hearing the whole song, not just the parts that aren't drowned out by people congratulating themselves on their breadth of musical knowledge. Or - to ask you back - why do you applaud when you recognize a song?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2006

I applaud at the end, because I usually like to actually hear the song while it's being performed.

But I've wondered why people applaud at the beginning of the song. Are the appluase at the beginning of the song just expressing approval of the song choice, and then the applause at the end would be expressing approval of the performance?
posted by amarynth at 8:53 AM on June 5, 2006

I can usually recognize a song after a second or two. I always thought those that clapped when the singing starts were those giving props to the singer. When I think of that, I think of old TV variety shows where the audience would clap when the singer started as if being prompted by an applause sign.
posted by birdherder at 8:57 AM on June 5, 2006

I've often wondered about this as well. My theory is that some people don't know the song until they hear the words.

One of my favorite examples of this is Clapton's version of Layla on Unplugged. There are only a few people who can tell what song it is right away, because it sounds so different from the standard version. Once he starts singing, a bunch more people applaud. (That's a unique example, but still.)
posted by danb at 9:08 AM on June 5, 2006

At the end, unless I'm really drunk.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2006

I never applaud upon recognizing a song. To my ear, others applauding at the beginning of a song (whether at the very start, or at the start of the lyrics) means they are trying to show off their apparently astounding knowledge of the music. I feel the same way about people singing along with songs at shows, but perhaps I'm just a grump. Unless the singing along is really awesome.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2006

Wow, I never realized my applauding at the beginning was annoying to others. It was just something I thought was proper concert behaviour. And I really never thought of it as showing off my musical knowledge (I never claimed to be gifted or have more than others), but instead as my anticipation of some music I particularly enjoy.
posted by JigSawMan at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2006

I think that applause at the beginning of a song is a sign of joy; the applause at the end of a song is a sign of appreciation.

As an artist, I am delighted with both forms of applause.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2006

Applauding at the beginning of a song is nothing more than showing excitement that a song you like is going to be played.

This is the first time I've ever heard it be construed as being snobish or showing off. Give me a break.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2006

Not an applauder am I, but I think the phenomenon might have something to do with when the song starts, people clap because they're excited to hear the song, and then when the singing starts, those who were excited but didn't clap just can't hold it in anymore. The singing has pushed them over the proverbial edge. They were able to hold out longer than the people who cheered right away, but those lyrics, man, they're just too powerful.
posted by incessant at 10:12 AM on June 5, 2006

Everyone applaudes at the end... it's the people who applaud at the beginning who are showing their appreciation of said song more than other songs...
posted by matimer at 10:13 AM on June 5, 2006

I don't know why people applaud at the beginning or when they should start if they do, but I effing hate it either way. Save it for the end.

It is particularly annoying on live albums.
posted by Rumple at 10:15 AM on June 5, 2006

Obviously the joy of concerts lies in everyone standing quietly during the songs and applauding politely at the end of each one. And everyone entering and leaving in single file.

I mean, seriously, get over yourselves. It's not the theatre, it's a concert.
posted by reklaw at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2006

I've always thought of those who applaud at the beginning as saying, "Woo!! They're playing that thing that I recognize!" Maybe because it happens most often with the singer's most popular songs, ones that everyone's heard on the radio.

I hold my applause to the end, because I'm applauding the artist's performance of the song on that particular night, which, to me, is the whole point of a concert.
posted by MsMolly at 10:55 AM on June 5, 2006

If I particularly enjoy a song I might do something, although holding applause until the end is always a good idea. I usually am more apt to make noise if it's a song that I particularly like that's not the radio single. I've known too many people who go crazy because that's the song they recognize. In the worst case, I've seen musicians get pissed off and not play their "hit" song because people will make such a scene for it while acting dead for the rest of the concert.

That said, people will yell, applaud, or scream whenever they feel the emotional need to do so. That might be because they love that song, or maybe because the lyrics have a particular appeal. There's a cathartic moment when the intro has rolled on a bit and the singer starts.
posted by mikeh at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2006

FWIW, I am old enough to remember when this started, back in the mid-60's. The first time I encountered it was in NYC, and I remember looking up to try and find the APPLAUSE signs that must be flashing on & off. There weren't any, but I still think that TV is the origin of this behavior. Then, as now, it detracts from the performance.

It's like going to a movie and having some kid constantly making comments about what's about to happen: "This part is great!" "Wait till you see what he does now!" Most people go to concerts to hear the music, not the applause.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2006

On a similar note that applies elsewhere in the musical world, when going to symphony concerts I hate the trap that happens when people will start to applaud between movements instead of at the end of a piece. I'll occasionall catch myself starting to applaud because someone didn't notice the musicians are only pausing. That, as reklaw is poking fun at, is the definite time for formalism.
posted by mikeh at 11:00 AM on June 5, 2006

And what about that applause during the piano intro to Bennie and the Jets on the Yellow Brick Road album?? Huh?? How did they know to applaud, when the song had not even been released yet???? Oh wait... studio trick... never mind.

I think "recognition applause" is more spontaneous than the ending applause. I don't think it's a way to show off knowledge.

Applaud when you feel like. But if you are the ONLY one applauding at that time, you might want to stop.
posted by The Deej at 11:19 AM on June 5, 2006

One of my favorite examples of this is Clapton's version of Layla on Unplugged. There are only a few people who can tell what song it is right away, because it sounds so different from the standard version. Once he starts singing, a bunch more people applaud. (That's a unique example, but still.)

Absolutely. Same thing happens on some of the live tracks from Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hits. It's mostly annoying on recordings because it drowns out the music more. It's not that big a deal generally, unless people are being obnoxiously loud. People are always going to do it, though, and sometimes it's nice for the performer if he's doing a cover or something obscure and people applaud to show that they're with him.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:53 PM on June 5, 2006

I was at a Bob Dylan concert about 6 years ago where he had rearranged Mr. Tamborine Man so much that the audience did not recognize it until halfway through it. Suddenly there was a smattering of applause. It was very odd indeed to hear applause about a minute and a half into a song.

I say wait until the end.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:06 PM on June 5, 2006

In my performing/songwriting days on the indie-pop circuit, it always gave me strength to hear people cheer songs of mine that they knew well enough to applaud within the first verse. Applause at the end is so generic - people clap no matter what. It doesn't differentiate anything for me. I always got revved up by cheering / singing / whatever in mid-song. And I can't help but do it when I go to concerts by artists that I love nowadays. My two cents.
posted by mykescipark at 4:28 PM on June 5, 2006

When I go to a concert, I go to have a good time. Having a good time includes applause, singing, screaming, moshing, dancing, jumping, and waving my hands like a lunatic. I've never noticed anyone get angry at this type of behavior and most people I see at concerts do the exact same stuff. What's the fun of going to a show if I'm not smashed up against the stage with 2,000 sweaty bodies behind me screaming like idiots?

Granted, my experience in concertgoing includes mostly punk and hip-hop shows, not country or pop. But people have plenty of time to sit in a car in silence and appreciate all the subtleties of a particular piece of music. When you're at a concert, enjoy it for more than the music!
posted by jsteffa at 4:35 PM on June 5, 2006

Well, you know, people that go to a symphony like to sit silently and enjoy the music, and people at punk shows like to sing and scream and mosh and dance, and then in between those two extremes there's a whole range of preferences and behavior.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:14 PM on June 5, 2006

I would say when people are applauding and yelling or whatever at the beginning of a song they're on a concert "emotional high" and happy to be there and happy to be hearing that song. There's an energy from the crowd and from being *right there!* to see Your Favorite Band live that gets people quite caught up, and if everyone sat still and applauded politely at the "right" times I'd think it'd be dull for the band themselves; don't they get their own high off that energy from the audience?

So that would be the same thing with the lyrics, although I'm sure you're right that some people don't recognize the songs until the singer starts; but other people might just be so into the lyrics that when the singer starts to say those words they feel compelled to audibly express their excitement and sense of the moment. Lyrics can definitely be the most important part of a song to certain people; I know I'd say the opposite of what you said in your question - I can sing you most of the song once I hear the first couple lines, but I couldn't always hum it through for you. There is this tension of waiting for the song "to really start" - the words, that I can follow along with - when it does, it's that hook that draws me fully into the experience, that releasing that tension with applause or singing along is totally plausible.

This effect is likely heightened should drinking be allowed in the venue, since people might space out on remembering which song it is until the singer begins, and lyrics-oriented people in particular would feel more uninhibited in expressing their excitement when the words start.
posted by Melinika at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2006

I clap at the end and wish everyone also would. However, I can envison times where I would clap a little at the start of the song if it was one I *really* wanted to hear.
posted by mge at 8:32 PM on June 5, 2006

So, I guess whether recognition-applause is OK for you depends on whether your primary reason for being there is to:
A). Go to an event to hear music
B). Experience an event that happens to include music
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:33 AM on June 6, 2006

Thanks for the insights everyone!
posted by JigSawMan at 5:13 AM on June 6, 2006

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