concertnodding

There Comes an Age When White People Can Only Nod at Concerts

Resistance is futile

On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of seeing a concert. The band was Luna, indie rock stalwarts active since the early 1990s. We (my girlfriend Maddie and I) were excited to go together, having long connected with the group’s dreamy sound without ever catching the same performance. En route to arrive before they went on, because an opener is always a tough proposition these days, I realized that the venue, Teragram Ballroom, was by far my most frequented in L.A. It’s perfect for, say, a chill reunion tour drawing mid-size audiences.

And, as I was reminded the moment we walked in, that’s basically where my tastes are at: I wind up seeing bands with followings that skew very white and Gen X-aged and have the look of vinyl collectors. Luna is no exception, and once they got into their extremely nice groove, I remembered something else about this demographic. When we’re vibing on music, we rarely do more than nod our heads. Just, like, a little bobbing nod. To demonstrate… participation?  

White folks’ lack of rhythm and flair is well-established in the American cultural landscape, so perhaps this is a form of timidity. No white person wants to embarrass themselves by pulling an Elaine Benes as soon as their favorite song kicks off. Yet in a crowd of other whites, most in their 30s, 40s and 50s, what risk is there? Flailing around so hard that you knock a stranger’s IPA out of their hand, I guess. Even so, I knew I had been at rowdy basement sets and massive festival stages where caucasian adults lost their inhibitions and went wild. Is it that some genetic trait ensures our final capitulation to the nod? If so, at what age are we defeated?

Tellingly, no one nitpicked the premise of my question. We all accept that White Concertgoers of a Certain Age will slightly nod at both gentle ballads and crunchy rock jams. A consensus regarding that age began to form: You’re in grave danger the moment you hit 25 (if not much sooner), with a quarter century of life taking its toll on your body as well as any former eagerness to draw attention to yourself. The knees and back rebel; you’re going to places that have actual seats; you aren’t pregaming with shots of whiskey and PBR. Now, a mosh pit looks like your entire insurance deductible. And imagine if some 21-year-old sweated on you! 

But also, there’s something about being 33 that clicks you into the nodding scene. It’s a time in life where you more or less give up. The age Jesus was crucified! It’s over, buddy. Just nod.

Still, others are skeptical that it takes a few decades to become a nodder. Depending on your aesthetic and preferred music, puberty could be an early death knell for your actual dancing. Self-consciousness abounds, and the appeal of a “too cool for school” attitude is overpowering.

But you know something? Maybe the nodding isn’t so bad. It’s sort of versatile, in fact — especially if you throw a gentle toe-tap in there. There are holdouts, of course, and important exceptions for those who have already slipped into their nodding phase. Truthfully, at the Luna set, I registered a few nodders who, consciously or not, had gotten loose enough to advance to the Minimal Shoulder Shimmy, courageously involving their torsos as well as their heads.  

Anyway, I can tell you that having a fun date some years younger than me was helpful where it came to pulling my hands out of my pockets and stirring my limbs and hips into action. She and a lively guest trumpet player saved me from sticking with the nodding crew as usual.

Did the rest of these stoics have fun? In their own way. Quietly, responsibly. Don’t want to pull a muscle, after all.

Wow, it just occurred to me: I’ve never seen a white person at a concert wearing a neck brace.