Chris Cain of We Are Scientists on the low standard of interstitial comments

We Are Scientists' Chris Cain reckons their wit was lost on the Reading crowd

"Hey, what are you guys drinkin' in those tall purple glasses?" asked Johnny Cash when he played San Quentin 40 years ago. The line rates a one and a half on the naughty scale - a preacher could safely use it at a church picnic - yet the assembled rapists and murderers rewarded it with a hearty, spreading laughter. Maybe you don't get lots of jokes in prison. Maybe it really was bathtub gin sloshing around in those purple glasses. Maybe audiences apply a weirdly low standard of quality to interstitial comments blurted from the stage by musicians they even vaguely admire.

"You know, I don't care what anybody says, you guys are the best audience in the world today! Reading! You! Are! No 1!" shouted the lead singer of a main stage band performing late in the day at Reading on Saturday. The hoarseness and intensity of his delivery built unevenly with each syllable, and the audience's roar grew with inverse proportion to the originality and sincerity of the sentiment. Acclaiming an audience's senior status in the pantheon of audiences has got to be the oldest, dumbest, most dubious trick in the entertainment book. But... well, you just keep falling for it.

"Pants! That means something different over here than where we're from! And it isn't cleared up one bit when you 'pants' someone, because everything comes off!" is one of several aperçus with which we regaled our teeming, otherwise-game flock on Saturday night. But instead of a hysterical crescendo of lung-flung passion, we got a noncommittal clap smatter. So I'll clarify my earlier statement and say that not only do people watching live music become more receptive to inanity, their ears also contract when brushed by wit or wisdom.

"Global and regional economies; politics both public and private; personal election of the financial, religious, sexual, and artistic nature: they are as nodes on a web, everybody! The spider is God! Does God bear your name, or is her name Maya? That is the only question!"

Nothing. Patronisingly "appreciative" laughter. None of the my-life-has-been-changed-because-you-said-today-is-the-best-concert-ever ululation that the Red Hot Chili Peppers bathed in over the course of 25 cumulative minutes of hits, 60 cumulative minutes of "live in the now" jamming, and 20 cumulative minutes of assurances that this, Reading 2007, was the gig that their entire band history, like some fatalist chariot, had delivered them to play.

"I want to personally apologise for that last song. But playing to you guys is like having sex: only if things are going poorly does it matter where my fingers go." It gets a laugh, but I'm convinced it's only because of the word "sex". Indeed, crowd volume peaks early, just after "sex".

Loud live music is a physically engulfing and effective escape from normal life; it should accentuate interesting and even odd conversation - and vice versa. Instead of which big rock shows are interspersed with banalities befitting a political rally. Why? Nobody's doing any voting. Everyone's agreed: music, sex, life: all piquant subjects. So let's stop selling. If I hear one more band thanking God and the fans, I'll... well, I'll probably cheer along.

The GuardianTramp

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