AWKWARD MOMENTS IN MUSIC HISTORY: NINA SIMONE JUST CAN’T GET AN AUDIENCE TO CLAP IN TIME
There’s a bit by the late comedian Mitch Hedberg that perfectly describes the sort of Kafkaesque nightmare that can only be shared between an audience and a performer. Hedberg was at a heavy metal concert when the band’s frontman demanded to know, “How many of you people feel like human beings tonight?” Hedberg enthusiastically cheered, not expecting the follow-up of “How many of you feel like animals?” The intended cue to cheer was actually the second question, but the comedian hadn’t anticipated that, thinking, “Yes, I do feel like a human. I do not feel like a tree.”
The embarrassment for this kind of public faux pas can be pretty bad; even the band tends to feel some fremdschämen for awkward fans. Nina Simone, however, manages to laugh off any tension during this 1987 performance of Be My Husband. But holy hell, the audience just cannot keep their claps on the offbeats! It’s baffling, but Simone maintains infinite patience, light-heartedly instructing the world’s most arrhythmic audience in her cheerful Franglais. (The recording, by the way, was made at the Vine St. Bar & Grill in Hollywood, and Simone, who later lived in France, may have just been brushing up on her language skills.)
For a version that will actually make you shiver, check out this performance from the Antibes Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival in 1965. Seriously, cleanse your palate.