The band had barely mastered three chords and the lead singer brought new meaning to singing flat. Yet when all was said and done and their set was finished,they got a standing ovation. In fact every act, good, bad or indifferent, at a recent music festival got a standing O.
In one case, a band got a standing O as they walked on the stage. I wondered that if collectively the band members thought to themselves, "hey, we can play half-assed or not put much into our performance because the audience already loves us and therefore will love anything we do tonight.”
And so it seems the standing O has become a given. You go to see music and the act gets one no matter what.
That's a far cry from a time when the standing O was reserved for extraordinary performances. I recall a guest lecturer and well known performing musician telling a college music class of mine how he'd had the heady experience of once getting a standing O. It was a landmark moment in his career.
Now, it appears, that the standing O is an every performance occurrence. Which brings up the question if every musical act and musician gets a standing O, what does a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime performance rate? Would it be the audience ripping the concert hall/venue to pieces? Or maybe having them rush the stage and carrying the performer off on their shoulders for an impromptu parade around the town or city where the performance took place?
Short of both of those ideas, what to do? I know sitting there while those around you get up and go nuts certainly is considered a faux pas. I know because I sat through a whole bunch of standing O's at the festival in question and got some icy glares from people around me. Their looks told me they thought I was not respecting the musicians. I was respecting then with my applause but didn't feel the need to say, in standing, that they had done something I'd never forget for the rest of my life.
What I will remember for the rest of my life are a outstanding blues (BB King in a small club in San Francisco), jazz (Ray Charles sitting in with the Dizzy Gillespie big band at Carnegie Hall), folk (The Youngbloods at a peace rally in Golden Gate Park), opera (Placido Domingo's American debut) and classical (Itzak Pearlman playing Mozart), C and W (The Flying Burrito Brothers at Altamont) music performances that rated standing O's because of their transcendence.
But even more indelible in my memory is of audience in revolt. It came during an evening at the Vienna State Opera years ago.
I'd was hitchiking through Austria and felt an obligation to see a performance at the venerable old opera house.
I scored a couple of student tickets for "Carmen". A, I liked the opera which is the antecedent of the modern day musical and B, I figured there's no way an opera company can screw this piece up.
Well they did by having perhaps the worst tenor in the history of opera anywhere sing the lead male role. He screeched, he flatted, he bombed.
Midway through act 1, an Englishmen in a box high above the stage rose and shouted: "this is appalling. Get that man off the stage."
Rather than shush the outraged Englishman down, members of the audience joined in and soon the theater rang with boos.
I felt so sorry for the poor tenor, who to his credit and rallied for a somewhat better showing in the ensuing acts.
After the opera, my Austrian friend who attended the concert with me said, "had he done that badly at La Scala in Milan, they would have showered him with debris and rushed the stage to force him off.” So props to the Austrians, and that testy Englishman, for showing restraint.
And isn't too bad that tenor never got to sing in present-day America where'd he get a standing O no matter how poorly he did.