Last week, it was reported that Madonna is facing a lawsuit from two fans in New York. These fans had purchased tickets to a show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but the show did not start until 10:30pm, which was two hours later than the advertised time, and did not end until approximately 1am.
The lawsuit filed by Michael Fellows and Jonathan Hadden stated that “a large number of ticket holders who attended concerts on weeknights had to wake up early the next day to go to work and/or fulfill family obligations.” This news was met with skepticism by many, who saw it as another example of Americans being overly litigious and looking to place blame for their own benefit. However, it is uncertain how the court will rule on this case, but I believe that Fellows and Hadden may have a valid argument.
Some musicians see their job as a lifelong holiday from responsibility. Such lowly, quotidian concerns as having to work the next day, getting home in the middle of the night, or sorting out childcare are for the little people, too banal for renegade superstars to worry about. Turning up on time doesn’t go with the lifestyle: punctual isn’t punk. (Full disclosure: my own punctuality is poor. I’m not proud of that, and I don’t think it makes me rock’n’roll.)
However, there are boundaries to how much an audience can tolerate this. Experienced concert attendees are aware of the unwritten rule that 15 minutes are usually added to the scheduled start time to account for everyone finding their seats. But when it goes beyond an hour, it crosses the line from artistic freedom to outright disrespect.
The Madonna narrative occurs during a time when late-night culture is shifting. Drinking habits have changed for both students and older individuals, leading to a decline in the nightclub industry. People are less inclined to stay out until the early hours of the morning. Earlier closing times are becoming more common, as seen with London’s renowned LGBTQ+ venue Duckie hosting successful daytime events. Actress Vicky McClure and her husband, producer, actor, and writer Jonny Owen, have also garnered interest for their afternoon club, Day Fever, in Sheffield.
Audience discontent with late performers is a long-standing issue. Axl Rose is famously known for his lack of consideration for punctuality. In 2012, I went to a Guns N’ Roses concert in Newcastle where he didn’t start the show until 10:45pm, likely occupied with getting his hair braided and eating pizza. His arrival was met with boos and by the end of the concert at 1:40am, many fans had already left.
I understand their reasoning. I recall leaving a private concert by Prince at Bagley’s Warehouse in London at 4am, during a lengthy and tedious funk jam. It was hard to believe what I was doing – leaving the greatest of all time – but I had to admit to myself that I was exhausted and uninterested. At least the event was honest about being a late-night session.
Being late is one issue, but performances that are undeniably terrible fall under a separate category that is worth complaining about. In 1995, I attended a concert that was falsely advertised as a Wu-Tang Clan show in Ilford. However, it turned out to just be Ol’ Dirty Bastard alone, lazily rapping over a CD. He also made the error of hosting an open-mic rap battle where he was soundly defeated by a young local kid who exclaimed, “I paid £12.50 to see this crap, it’s a complete disgrace!”
In certain situations, there may be mitigating factors. The poor quality of the performance may be an indication of a gradual and unfortunate situation. In 2007, I attended a concert by Amy Winehouse in Brighton that did not start until 10:10 pm, with speculation that she had been drinking on the beach before the show. (However, the show itself was still enjoyable.) Additionally, I was present at the Birmingham NEC in 2010 when Whitney Houston, during her infamous Nothing But Love tour, delivered a partially lip-synced performance that caused a public outcry. As we are all aware, the outcome of her career was tragic.
There are instances where there is no valid justification. In the Oasis documentary Supersonic, it is revealed that Liam Gallagher had mistakenly forgotten about their scheduled performances at Knebworth in 1996 and had indulged in excessive partying after the first night, causing him to struggle with the second performance.
While being slick and professional can be impressive, it can also be unexciting. At times, the most remarkable performances are rough and imperfect. One instance is Nicky Wire’s charmingly disorganized solo show at the Hay festival in 2006, which is still fondly remembered by fans of the Manic Street Preachers.
Looking back, there can be a strange satisfaction in enduring something unpleasant. Attending a disappointing event becomes a tale of battle, a badge of honor. I was there at The Stone Roses’ disastrous performance at Reading in 1996, with Ian Brown’s off-key singing – even worse than his usual foghorn style. Oddly enough, I’m glad I witnessed it.
However, for those things to occur, the band must physically be present: I have been to at least two performances by Pete Doherty where he showed little interest.
What is our expectation for performers? At the very least, they should be present and actually perform. And, unless there are unforeseen circumstances beyond their control (as opposed to delays caused by a make-up artist), they should arrive at or around the scheduled time.
Simon Price, a writer specializing in music and literature, recently published a new book titled “Curepedia: an A-Z of the Cure.”