Behemoth Frontman to Young Musicians: 'Don't Watch Your Guitar Neck for 45 Minutes, It'll Bore People to Death'

Nergal talks showmanship, insists that it's a crucial part of overall performance.

Ultimate Guitar

Discussing his musical journey, Behemoth frontman Nergal insisted that showmanship is a crucial, as well as commonly neglected part of any musician's overall performance.

"When you watch young bands, they really focus on their playing, but don't pay much attention to what it looks like," he told Music Radar.

"Try to balance it," the frontman added. "On the way to perfection, there are a lot of mistakes you have to go through before you reach a level of satisfaction, but remember a live show is a show, so don't watch your [guitar] neck for 45 minutes, because it'll bore people to death."

Talking about the very beginning of his guitar-playing career, Nergal noted, "My father must have gone to a party, found an acoustic guitar and brought it home for me. I have no idea about the brand and it was really poor quality, but I immediately fell in love with it. It blew me away. I was seven or eight and would spend all day trying to play it even though I didn't know any chords."

Switching to more playing-related advice, the frontman stated, "I remember when I was trying to improve my skills around the era of 'The Apostasy,' and I was talking to Vogg from Decapitated.

"He told me that when playing you shouldn't be thinking, it should be coming from your gut, it should be intuition rather than intellect. I liked that a lot, and I'm still learning that. The new record 'The Satanist' was made that way: I was listening to my inner voice and channelling it through the notes I played," he concluded.

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    He has a good point, but it's one of the main points when it comes to showman-ship: you can't turn your back on your audience is one. The more you engage with your audience, the more you get out of it, as well as the audience themselves.
    i mainly agree, though a point here: not turning your back to the audience, mostly right. it just depends on how much you do it. really, applies to everything. if all you do is pay attention to the crowd and play like shit because of it, that's not gonna leave a good impression (at least on me it wont). like nergal says, balancing is key.
    THe only excuse I can think of is either changing something about your amp or guitar mid-song, or watching for a signal from your drummer. Other than that, face your audience.
    I think that you dont have to face the audience the entire time. I think if someone is soloing or there's an instrumental part, it's perfectly okay to go over to the drummer and rock with him. It okay to get some feedback from the amp. I think a show should look natural... not forced and if you face the audience 100% of the time, it looks forced.
    Or if you don't want to follow "the rules," seeing as you are in a rock and roll band after all...A lot of bands that were/are integral to contemporary music just do their own thing. The whole genre of Shoegaze got its name for its lack of showmanship, but people loved the music and that's all mattered to them. So I guess, maybe know your audience - or the audience you want - instead?
    One of the best bands I saw for this was Down. Anselmo has such a presence and you could literally feel his love for being on stage. He made it feel like the show was one big family gathering, it was fantastic.
    He's got a good point, if you look like you're enjoying yourself, then the crowd is probably going to enjoy it a lot more too. My old band used to play some fairly technical stuff (well, moreso than your average Indie band, we were hardly Necrophagist), yet we would go out and just go mental, even when we were just playing to about 2 people, sure we may have hit a few bum notes because of it, but most people didn't notice, and it didn't matter because we just wanted to enjoy ourselves.
    Quite frankly, if people are going to complain about a few bum notes, live music isn't for them. When I was in a band, we just pointed and laughed at each other whenever there was a slip up. It's human nature to make mistakes, all we can do is enjoy them and laugh about them.
    Yeah, to be fair no one really notices stuff like that anyway, you'd have to have a really good ear to pick stuff like that out. They'll only notice something obvious like if the vocalist is singing out of key, or if the band can't keep time.
    He needs to have a little talk with Dream Theater. I saw them live a few months ago and I swear they're all robots, technically and emotionally. The only times anyone smiled were Jordan leaving the stage and Mangini soloing.
    Don't forget the fact that they are like 50 years old nowadays haha if you watch videos of them when they're younger they move around and stuff. Same with Rush. Its technical music, can't be hoppin around too much
    Man, it's just something different. For a DT show, you would not expect people to headbang or do the circle pit thing compared to other metal styles like thrash or death. I think most of the fans went to a DT show to enjoy the melody of their music and IMO more importantly, to enjoy their technical proficiency and mastery of their instruments. I think there's no doubt that DT music are technically demanding for the musicians, so it does make sense for me when they are playing their music, they have to focus on the fretboards or instruments most of the time. Besides, apart from the fact that John Myung rarely interacts with fans during the show, James, JP and Jordan did sometimes interact with the fans during the show (or you can notice that from their live DVD), and Mike Portnoy did it more often in the past. So there's nothing to complain about.
    You raise valid points, especially about Portnoy. I'll also admit the crowd couldn't get too amped up; we were in a fancy old 1,700 capacity theater with awful acoustics and every ticket was for a specific seat.
    It's probably because they're a prog metal band, so it's not just about the rockiness, but technicality too. Same thing for most other prog rock bands like King Crimson, Rush, VDGG, and early Genesis (if you look at Hackett doing his tapping solos for example). Anyway, I'm definitely more entertained if there's great music from a bunch of shoegazers than some mediocre stuff from some band who dance around a bit. Besides, bands who look more into their music at a concert make it feel more intimate IMO, and I can appreciate it more.
    Agreed. Ultimately if the music is good enough the band shouldn't need to do anything, My Bloody Valentine put on some great shows apparently, yet they rarely move or interact with the audience. Then again when you make music like this, do you really need to? It's all about context.
    Absolute and utter bullshit. I've seen them live six times so far, and they're anything BUT robots. They have to be focused on what they play for obvious reasons, but they definitely do interact with the audience and John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess pretty much emanate FUN when playing. And James LaBrie may not be the greatest rock star ever, but he's a very decent frontman and always tries well to establish a link. Don't ****ing go to a DT concert and expect Rammstein pyrotechnics, because that's the only way you can come to the conclusion they're robots.
    Agreed. I saw DT for the first time earlier this year, and it was incredible. They definitely put on a show. Petrucci was rocking the hell out, doing his power stance, and even some headbanging here and there, during heavier songs. Mangini's ridiculous facial expressions and constant eye contact with random people in the audience during his solo was priceless. And LaBrie was all over the place, even cracking jokes for the crowd. It was at the Warfield in San Francisco which, in case nobody here has been there, is in a pretty damn ghetto part of town. After the first couple songs, LaBrie steps forward for the typical crowd-pleasing spiel, and he says, "...great to be back in San Fran.. I love this town... love everything it has to offer.. but today I took a walk around this neighborhood so... I've been smoking crack all day. If I miss some notes, that's why." The whole building was laughing at that.
    Yeah, I've seen the three times and each time they were active. During some of the more technical parts they focus down on the music, but they definitely keep the crowd in it. They aren't constant showmanship for ever second of the performance like many rock/ metal bands are (GNR, Rammstein, etc), but they do know how to put on a great show. For me, they maintain an excellent balance between music, show, and performance. Of course if a person doesn't like their music that much then they probably won't have the same experience as me. Their shows are designed for their fans and not to convert new listeners. They are large enough that they can completely cater their music to their audience.
    Dream Theater is kinda different from the rest. It's music you close your eyes to and just listen. Interaction with the audience is important but shouldn't be taking away anything from the music itself. With the difficulty of DT's songs I can imagine it's quite hard to interact with the audience and play 5 billion notes a second. Also I've seen Rudess being funny with a keytar so that counts for something.
    There is one problem with your point. "When you watch young bands, they really focus on their playing, but don't pay much attention to what it looks like," This comment is purely targetted at the up and coming bands who only focus on their technical sound then trying to liven a place up, which while DT are a very technical band with little crowd interaction, the comment was (again) targetted at younger bands
    Recently I learned that my headbanging habits on stage may be causing an arm injury that if I don't do something about, may cripple my ability to play guitar. I'm a rare exception but my point is kids, have stage presence but watch that it doesn't endanger your health. That said I'll still be headbanging on stage, just gotta take better care of my arms.
    While not a recurring problem, one time my hair was soaking wet and at the beginning of a song I flipped my hair forward and tumbled right into the audience. F'ed my leg up real good; had to lean against a staging pole the rest of the gig.
    Audience's feed off confidence. I still remember the first show I played with one band (me being the bassist in this band) and I used the stage. I got people involved and they loved us. Next group didn't do anything and everyone just kind of stood there like zombies. They were the headliners too.
    It may sound stupid, but it was one of the arguments that got me kicked from my previous band. I just couldn't ****ing believe that out of 5 idiots on stage the singer and myself were the only ones headbanging and moving across the space we had. The other 2 just stood still in the spot they choose at the begining of the show.
    Headbanging is not for everyone. The guitarist in my band refuses to bang his head, because it gives him headaches. And above all, he doesn't think it is cool. Fair enough for him.
    Yeah, but that's not the onyl thing you can do to move the crowd a little bit
    You don't have to headbang though, but fair enough if it gives you a headache, I can understand that.
    this reminds me of a band I saw...they played mediocre hardcore, but they were filled with god knows how much energy, they jumped around the stage all the time and one of them even left the stage to headbang with the audience (with wireless)
    100% true, and probably best exemplified in my experience when I saw Iron Maiden and Dream Theater on the Final Frontier tour in DC a few years ago. Dream Theater was one of the most boring shows I had ever seen. Sure they can play but... I didn't care. Beer didn't even help. I don't think it's necessary to explain that, obviously, Iron Maiden blew the damn doors off the place. Ok, it was an Amphitheater, but Bruce changed lives that night.
    DT's sound guy was also a total idiot. I have honestly never heard a worse sound guy at a show. It's like that tool was just moving faders to see what would happen. At times I could hear just Myung, and sometimes it would be everybody except for Petrucci that were audible. Their tour with Maiden was a terrible way to judge them by.
    That was the first time I saw DT. During one of Jordan's keyboard solo's the sound went out for the ENTIRE SOLO! Jordan was wizzing around having a good old time not even realizing his sound guy had ****ed up his sound. I've seen them twice since and they were way better. They are still in my top 3 bands to see live. But that IM show was awful for them. Iron Maiden still put on a great show (with much better sound).
    I rAther see necrophagist or animal as leaders stand there than see a boring generic metal band tossing their hair around.
    A someone who has shared plenty of rehearsal space I can say that it's because a lot of bands can't differentiate between practice and rehearsal. They stand still practicing their songs saying "yeah, I save theatrics for the stage", then when they get on stage they take one step, screw up, and then revert to standing still until the next song; rinse, wash, repeat.
    I saw Battlecross last week and was amazed by their performance. They looked like they were genuinely enjoying playing on a small stage in a crappy small venue. They gave extremely energetic, yet musically tight performance. I have to say I wasn't a fan prior to seeing them live, but after that show I bought one of their albums because they deserved it. It's fascinating how their performance affected my perception of their music.
    "When you watch young bands, they really focus on their playing, but don't pay much attention to what it looks like," There are already too many bands about looks and not about music, that this sort of thing doesn't bother me.
    Some movement is necessary. I remember at a show I couldn't walk much due to space shortage, so I bent down during the solo. The crowd pretty much screamed for that. So yes, move something.
    It depends entirely on the aesthetic you're going for though. Dragged Into Sunlight perform their live shows in darkness, with their backs to the audience. And that works just fine for that particular band because it's the exact sort of style that they're going for, and one that forces the audience to immerse fully in the music rather than get caught up in the personalities onstage.
    Technical wise, you should look at your picking instead of your fingers.
    Why? I automatically know what my right hand is doing. It stays in relatively the same spot the entire time. The most important part is watching your left hand for the jumps it does. If you play a song that goes up and down on the neck it's helpful to have a reference point.