Rock fans are routinely
treated like second-class citizens and willing dupes: They are regularly
subjected to high ticket prices, unpleasant, uncomfortable and sometimes
unsafe venues, exorbitant Ticketmaster service charges and poor sound
Fans of classical music, theater or dance would never put up with such
conditions. So it's not surprising that concertgoers in the rock world are
starting to say, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"
Nevertheless, two recent lawsuits filed in Chicago pose an intriguing
question: Is suing a band really the best way to go about instigating change
in the concert arena?
Last Wednesday, a lawyer representing 172 Limp Bizkit fans filed a
class-action lawsuit in Cook County District Court against the Los Angeles
band stemming from its now-notorious performance in July as part of the
Summer Sanitarium Tour at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney.
Reviewing that concert -- which featured Bizkit performing after its nu-metal
peers Linkin Park and the Deftones and before headliners Metallica --
Sun-Times free-lancer Anders Smith Lindall reported on the chaos during
Bizkit's aborted set.
"Heckling fans induced a profane tantrum from front man Fred Durst, and
the band quit playing after just 20 minutes," he wrote. "It was easy to
predict a rough reception for the rap-rock has-beens when a significant
segment of the crowd booed a mention of the band by previous openers Linkin
Park. When Limp Bizkit actually appeared around 7 o'clock, the boos
intensified, and some fans pelted the stage with garbage.
"The famously brainless Durst only fanned the flames, first encouraging
the catcalls and flying trash, then swerving into a bizarre tirade against
the crowd and city. Ranting that he'd fight anyone in earshot and
spluttering explicit sexual putdowns, uncreative curses and ludicrous
homophobic slurs, Durst simply self-destructed. The band left the stage, and
Durst resumed his vulgar invective from the wings until, mercifully, he was
relieved of the microphone. The aborted set left fans to wait more than 90
minutes for Metallica."
It turns out that the heckling was spurred on in part by a local
shock-jock for a modern-rock radio station (the show's sponsor) as part of a
long-simmering feud with Durst. It seems as if hard-core Bizkit fans should
be angry at this radio personality, rather than at their heroes, or they
should be miffed at their peers, who followed the DJ's advice to hassle the
Instead, the complainants in the lawsuit are asking for a $25 refund from
the $75 ticket price from the band in order to cover the Bizkit set that
they never saw (although the band did perform several songs, as Smith
Set aside for a moment that $75 divided by four acts actually comes out
to $18.75 -- not $25 -- and that Metallica, as the show's headliner and
major attraction, was arguably worth more than the three openers combined.
(The thrash-metal giants no doubt received more of the profits from the
There is also the fact that, as Bizkit devotees well know, the group's
shows are known for being chaotic: Remember the band's 1999 "guerrilla"
concert atop the roof of the Chicago Trax recording studio, or the mini-riot
that ensued at Woodstock '99?
For better or worse -- mostly worse -- obnoxious behavior is part of Limp
Bizkit's act. Buy a ticket to one of the group's shows, and that's part of
what you're buying into.
Legal experts say the lawsuit will likely be thrown out in court, just as
a similar class-action complaint was dismissed in September against anthemic
In that case, four local fans were seeking a refund of their $56.75
tickets after an inferior -- and, they said, drunken or drug-impaired --
performance by singer Scott Stapp at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont last
December. A Cook County judge rejected the suit but left open the
possibility of refiling based on a claim of "frustration of commercial
Attorneys in the Bizkit case say their argument is stronger because it
isn't a matter of opinion about whether Limp Bizkit was good, as was the
case with Creed. They're simply complaining because the show was shorter
than it should have been. Once again, though, Limp Bizkit's set was cut
short because fans were heckling the band and throwing garbage.
Is an artist required to perform even when he or she is being taunted and
assaulted by the audience? Isn't that the point of heckling someone: To get
them to leave the stage?
It's tempting to joke about both of these cases. If Sun-Times critics
were able to successfully sue every time we saw a bad performance, none of
us would be working at the newspaper for very long. But lawsuits such as
these could set a dangerous precedent.
What if classical music fans sued every time the infamous prima donna
Luciano Pavarotti canceled a concert because of a sore throat? Moviegoers,
if you didn't like "Terminator 3," why not sue the new governor of
California? And let's not even mention holding those umpires legally
accountable for their rulings against the Cubs.
Studies have shown that the result of living in this litigious society is
that consumers pay the price. Witness the effect of malpractice lawsuits in
the world of medicine. If rock fans begin suing bands every time they're
unhappy with a performance, ticket prices are only going to get more
expensive as artists gird against the possibility of a lawsuit down the road
if they blow a note or fail to perform the songs fans want to hear.
The thing that makes a live rock concert such a powerful and
extraordinary experience is that anything can happen. Sometimes, the show
exceeds all expectations, and the results are magical. Sometimes, everything
falls apart, and you'd have been better off staying at home and clipping
your toenails. That gamble is part of the deal when you buy a ticket.
Rock fans don't need the courts to voice their displeasure over subpar
performances. They already have the most powerful tool imaginable: They can
vote with their wallets.
If you want to send a message to Limp Bizkit, Creed or any other act that
somehow lets you down, it's as simple as withholding your concert and