I don't feel that applause is a given at any gig I do. It's not a right. It's not to be expected or demanded. It has to be earned. It's very nice when it happens from the opening song, but if it's a little harder to get, it's that much sweeter when it comes.
I don't need applause to get satisfaction from a gig. Sure it helps, and it's a great boost to the ego, but there are other forms of gratitude. In the past, if there was a room full of people drinking and talking and not paying much attention to me, I felt like I was being ignored. Or worse yet, not doing a very good job. But after performing pubs and other venues for over twenty years now, I don't need constant applause and vocal approval. Sure it helps, but sometimes the comments you get in between sets or at the end of the night buoy you. "Hey, your music was awesome!" "Thanks for the great tunes!" "I know it seems like no one's listening, but everyone around me is enjoying it." Those kinds of comments are just as great to me as someone clapping after a song. In fact, probably more so, because they are taking the time to tell me. At some gigs, it feels like people aren't comfortable enough to clap. It's bizarre when one person claps and others look at them, so they don't feel like they can do it again. That's very strange, but it doesn't irk me anymore. I get it. People don't like to stand out. I've previously played in bands where another member would say "Thank you, thank you," even though there was no clapping, in hope of stirring up some applause. Sometimes it would work. It's quite liberating to not have that need for validation anymore. I've been doing this for a long time, and I know that I do okay. I'm not the best, but not the worst either.