Have a bad night at the concert? Better think twice before suing


October 15, 2003



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 quality.

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 band.

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 Lindall noted).

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 concert.)

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 grunge-rockers Creed.

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 expectations."

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 CD-buying dollars.