Science in the service of rock

Scientific verification of what we all know…gear changes between bands can take a long time for a variety of reasons.

Still, it’s nice to know that scientists feel the pain of the average rock fan, though one wonders if there aren’t….well, dare I say it…..more important things upon which to focus their analytical skills?

I will give them extra points for the catchy title, though.

Anyway, here goes, courtesy of The Guardian:,,1770160,00.html

Delay peddlers

I’m so tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you

Marc Abrahams
Tuesday May 9, 2006
The Guardian

Why do bands keep audiences waiting? Richard Witts addressed the question recently in Cambridge University’s international multi-disciplinary academic journal Popular Music. His study is called I’m Waiting for the Band: Protraction and Provocation at Rock Concerts.

Equipment difficulties – some of them unexpected, others devised to incite the audience – play a part. Witts finds that these, or simple miscommunication, account for about half of the long delays. The most common glitch, he reports, is the simple, though mysterious, failure of the PA system’s left or right channel.

But, Witts explains, then “there is a curious, ill-defined period between the moment the technicians have finished their on-stage preparations and the moment of the band’s arrival.”

He contends that “it seems to be implicitly accepted by management and the audience that there may be a pause of up to 20 minutes following the end of the roadie cabaret.”

This pause can be considerably longer. Witts documents an archetypal delay achieved in 1984 by the ex-Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico. Nico, realising just before a performance in Prague that she had run out of heroin, sent a roadie out to find some. After the roadie returned with not heroin but a packet of brown sugar, Nico went out on her own shopping expedition. Total elapsed time: 150 minutes.

Pauses have myriad causes. Witts gives two examples that, he suggests, “define the range of the unforeseen”. One was a cult show in Manchester that began only after the band’s missing lead singer was tracked down in a dark corridor, accepting a sexual tribute from “a dedicated fan”. The other he describes thus:

“The Blind Boys of Alabama – being blind – walk in crocodile formation, one hand on the shoulder of the brother in front. At one British venue, they were given a green room at stage level to save them walking far. As they were about to go on stage, one of them decided he wanted to go to the toilet. They agreed it would be best in the circumstances if they all went to the toilet. But the nearest toilet by now was at the side of the auditorium. So the first view the audience got of the Blind Boys of Alabama was not of them walking on to the stage, but instead groping along the wall of the stalls in formation, disappearing one by one into the gents’.”

Nature’s imperatives notwithstanding, some delays stem from performers’ basic psychological needs. Of these, Witts’s research identifies two factors that, singly or together, make for long nights: ego-feeding and fear.

Concert promoters, legendarily contemptuous of the former, can be quite sympathetic about an artist’s fearfulness. This sympathy boils down to what one promoter told Witts: “No one in their right mind is keen to go on stage.”

Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly magazine Annals of Improbable Research ( and organiser of the Ig NobelPrize


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