Thunderous applaud, sweaty fist pumps and drinks sloshing from plastic cups onto sticky floors — the memory of pre-lockdown gigs lives on. For most, live music is an excuse to dress up, go out and have fun with some friends. It’s the same for me, but I have a deeper attachment to gigs — they’re the reason my social anxiety is gone.
It’s not easy feeling like the strangest person in the room. At seventeen, I felt like I couldn’t wear crop tops because they made me look stupid. I once went to a party in one, feeling brave, but kept my jumper on the entire time. When my friends convinced me to take it off, I tied it round my waist so people couldn’t see my tummy. I felt people’s eyes on me whenever I changed my appearance, and I didn’t like how self-conscious it made me feel.
But when I started going to gigs, I realised nobody cared about what I was doing or how I was dressed. People sang and yelled out of time, jumped up and down and held their phones towards the stage. Even smaller gigs were addictive, standing together in a little pub watching the act struggle with the sound guy to rig their equipment.
It was crazy, and the only reason you’d look at each other was to say, hey, isn’t this exciting?
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On June 20th, Foo Fighters played a mammoth gig at Madison Square Garden — New York’s biggest show since March 2020 — to a full stadium of fans. It was the first blissful taste of normality since the pandemic began. Over three hours passed of loud cheer, uproarious applaud and emotional music as adrenaline pumped through the air.
The most surreal sight was the people squished together, spilling drinks and wearing no masks. No one looked uncomfortable or scared to be there (at least not before admittance). When you stand in a queue outside a venue, cold and wet from the rain, it seems an age before you’re let inside. You start fiddling with your hair, shuffling on your feet and looking about as it seems there’s nothing to do other than look at the people around.
It’s during those moments where you wonder, does my hair look weird? I must look out of place. Is my outfit okay?
Social anxiety is the overwhelming fear of talking to people and being out in public. Often, it makes everyday tasks difficult. When somebody glances on the street, the effect can be big enough to cause clammy hands or a quickened heartbeat as the thought of being judged passes. Around 7% of adult Americans struggle with social anxiety, and women in the UK are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. When people notice their nervous behaviour in public, it’s usually dismissed as shyness. And the lack of questions asked around the subject makes it difficult to learn how to deal with.
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There are several reasons why concerts — live instead of pre-recorded — can improve the mood over streaming. The authenticity and interaction found in live music makes people feel part of it, as though their presence matters. When Freddie Mercury interrupted Queen’s sets to sing playful vocal runs, he made an immersive, inclusive atmosphere that made people want to join in. But as you listen to 'A Night At The Opera' alone in some blankets at home, no one’s there to fight against convincing thoughts. Although it’s difficult to face a crowd and tackle social anxiety simultaneously, a welcoming atmosphere helps to question what previously presented as fact.
For me, rock gigs have the edge. The genre debate fuels itself on personal preference — rock vs pop, Microsoft vs Apple, Coke vs Pepsi. But there are some big differences when it comes to rock vs any genre. Wardrobe, onstage, affects how the artist is perceived. At the Foo Fighters’ New York show, Dave Grohl, sweat-drenched and elated twenty minutes into the set, watched the sea of fans jumping and squealing in delight. He was wearing a black top and jeans, panting after a song with his blue Gibson hanging from its strap. He wasn’t wearing a glittery suit or a multi-coloured dress. He seemed part of the audience, elevated on stage but laughing and grinning just as much as the crowd.
A few songs later, they pushed their boundaries and invited drummer Taylor Hawkins to the front. Also dressed in casual shorts and a vest top, he took the mic for a miraculous ‘Somebody To Love’ cover with Grohl on drums. The crowd went crazy as Hawkins showed his versatility and smashed the cover, prompting a mass karaoke number to see if the fans could sing as well. It was an extraordinary show as the band pulled off instrument swaps and toyed with new sounds.
There’s a certain irony that comes with saying live rock gigs help social anxiety. But, as it becomes increasingly obvious how important music is to us, listening to Spotify has run its course. There’s no substitute for the way dancing along with a hero, shouting back when they ask how the audience are tonight, and turning guitar solos into scat makes somebody feel. It’s the moment to forget who you are, what you’re wearing and what people think as the night wears on from giggles to breathless laughter.
So, regardless of irony, gigs might have the answer to fighting that looming social anxiety — with music back on the rise and lockdown gradually easing, look out for shows, take a leap of faith, and let the band do the rest.
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Words: Sophie McVinnie
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