Saturday, 05 April 2008

This is the first installment in an infrequent series on concert sociology that will depict a particular segment – genus, if you will – of the concert-going public. Kind of a taxonomy or spotting guide for concert patrons. Don’t be surprised if you spot someone you know, or even spot yourself somewhere in here.

Aves Liberticus – Freebird

First up is the Aves Liberticus, or Free Bird. Abundant in their natural habitat of Southern-Rock concerts, they are plentiful at nearly any public music performance.

For the unfamiliar, “Free Bird” was a song released by Lynyrd Skynyrd in November 1974. It begins as a slow power-ballad, but clocks in at over 9 minutes (album version; longer in concert) and features gospel-flavored organ, slide guitar, and a 4+ minute guitar duel. At one concert, Steve Wilson (the band’s guitar player), says that they will play one more song. Someone in the audience yells back “Free Bird!” likely due to the song’s length and a desire for the band to play as long as possible. In the 1980’s a radio DJ urged listeners to yell “Free Bird!” at a Florence Henderson concert as a joke.

Whether it’s an opportunity to make a request, or done as a gag, every band seems to have it’s “Free Bird.”

I was at a CD release show for Nickel Creek’s Why Should the Fire Die? The band played each song from the album, in order (a neat concept for a release party), then took requests. A couple requests in there was one of those uncomfortable pauses and someone in the band said “It doesn’t even have to be one of our songs!” Everybody got a laugh out of it, then Chris Thile added “I know there’s one guy out there dying to yell ‘Free Bird’ right now. Don’t. That stuff isn’t funny.” There was a brief chuckle, then someone asked for “American Pie” or something else completely ridiculous and the band nearly choked from laughter.

At the Mike Doughty show the other night, and pretty much every one of his shows, there’s someone that yells “Firetruck!” between every song until it gets played. This time around Doughty said “Dude, if I promise to play ‘Firetruck!’ will you stop screaming for it?” Then a long pause and “In fact, if anyone shouts ‘Firetruck’ for the rest of the show, I promise never to play it at any show ever again. You’ll ruin it for everybody.” He said it with a huge smile on his face, but I wonder if there wasn’t just the tiniest bit of truth to it.

Even my favorite band, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers has a “Free Bird” in the form of “Mekong.” It’s a song from Rogers days heading The Refreshments. At every show there’s a guy hollering for “Mekong” practically every song. Finally at one show Roger laughed and asked “Have you ever been to one of my shows where we haven’t played Mekong? It’s coming later.” For Roger to skip “Mekong” at a show would be like the Rolling Stones not bothering to play “Satisfaction” – it would quite possibly start a riot.

There you have it, the next time you’re at a concert, you’ll be ready to spot the Aves Liberticus and see for yourself.

Other posts in Taxonomy of Rock

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