Before I started reviewing concerts, I essentially ignored opening acts, taking advice from concert–goers I knew to arrive about an hour after the official start time. Walking into a larger crowd made me feel comfortable with that decision, as if being “fashionably late” saved me from some self–perceived embarrassment of isolation.
Perhaps even worse was an arrogance that made me think that in being smaller, lesser–known bands, the opening act wouldn’t give as good of a performance as the main one, and wasn't worthy of my time. Even with the growing DIY scene, I still see too many people adopting these same behaviors. Here's why we should change that.
The first opening act whose set I attended in full, from beginning to end, was Frightened Rabbit for Broken Social Scene. The experience, for which I am now even more grateful after the recent passing of frontman Scott Hutchison, was a perfect complement to the main act. The fast–paced acoustics of this Scottish rock band balanced the fuzzier electronics of Broken Social Scene’s new record, Hug of Thunder. Together, they showed the way that modern rock applies new advancements in production technologies while still holding on to the roots of the original 50’s sound. Had I not come early to see Frightened Rabbit, my memory of the night would be far less well–rounded.
But there are more subtle benefits of seeing the opener that people don’t always realize. For example, if, like me, you stand at a towering 5 feet in height, coming early to see the opener almost always guarantees a prime spot near the front for the whole show. And for the economists out there, it really is the best way to reap the full benefits of ever–increasing ticket prices—get that bang for your buck.
Perhaps most noble however, is the respect that a larger crowd gives to an artist, even if most people are just awkwardly standing there. When a small band looks out to see the room even half–filled, it gives them an encouragement to continue doing what they’re doing. Not to get too political, but the music industry is one of many domains increasingly affected by growing capitalism, so supporting a small band is like supporting a small business: essential for diversity of content.
Lastly—in a cheesy, but illuminating analogy—just as a chef purposely pairs an appetizer with an entree, the opening act is a purposeful choice by the main one as a sort of warm–up for their sound, giving fans more insight into the way our favorite artists view music today. And for those of us who feel trapped in an endless cycle of recommendations of the same artists from user–curated playlists by Spotify or Apple Music, coming to see the opening act is the best way to escape it and get a direct recommendation from actual musicians that we know and love.
On another personal note, and in a counter to my prior self–important view that lesser–known was equivalent to less worthy of my time, I should say that some of the more energetic and powerful performances I’ve seen so far have been from opening acts.
Most recent in memory is an up–and–coming emo band from Minnesota called Remo Drive that incited crowd–surfing after only their second song. Thanks to them and bands like The Marías, Made Violent, or Del Water Gap, my own taste in music grew into genres and artists that I never would have heard of otherwise. I could write several pages on how every opening performance continually resolves me to see those at the next concert, but to really know what I mean, you’ll just have to see one yourself.