Do gigs give you more bang for your bucks? Paying the price for rising cost of lavish live shows

The price of tickets for Radiohead's arena tour has outraged fans, but are part of a wider trend, says Elisa Bray

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The Independent Online

A fortnight ago, Radiohead announced their commendable partnership with an ethical ticket-exchange website, to prevent fans being ripped off. Then they announced their steep ticket prices.

Tickets for Radiohead's concerts at Manchester Arena and the O2 Arena, in London, this October, are priced at £65 (plus £6.50 booking fee) or £47.50 (£4.75 booking fee). Disgruntled fans have been voicing their views on everywhere from Twitter to the NME's website. On Twitter, Nick Pettigrew said: "Apparently the 'handling fee' for Radiohead tickets is £13. I assume they're being printed on depleted uranium," while an outraged Molly said: "£70 for Radiohead tickets?! For that price, I'd need three albums played live."

When you hand over £65 for a gig, you might expect pyrotechnics, at least three costume changes (by a couture designer, of course), a band and full stage design. Few of which, I suspect, will be on the menu at Radiohead's upcoming shows. That's not to say that a Radiohead show is lacking in cutting edge visuals. Lighting expert Andi Watson has been creating Radiohead's mesmerising visuals since their 2000 Kid A tour. They're the best contemporary rock band, but it's a steep price.

Shows by superstar popstars always command a premium. For Kylie's last tour, Aphrodite Les Folies, tickets cost £65 (standing) and £85 (seated), but when you think that the whole production cost $25m (£15m), with more than 100 crew members and 25 trucks transporting the show around Europe, it seems more justifiable. Fans were treated to 200 costumes designed by Dolce & Gabbana, a cohort of dancers, and 30 high impact water jets.

Madonna's shows are always spectacular, but even she found herself forced to justify why fans should be paying up to £190 to see her upcoming Yankee Stadium show to promote her new album MDNA. "Start saving your pennies now. People spend $300 on crazy things all the time; things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together and come to my show. I'm worth it," she told Newsweek.

As for rock shows, U2's 360 Degrees tour of 2009 was one of the most impressive – and expensive – of all time. They built a massive four-legged supporting rig, nicknamed The Claw, which set a record for largest concert-stage structure, contributing to the tour's £75m cost. Helpfully, Wembley Stadium tickets were tiered, from £30 to £150.

Prices mostly appear to be ruled by market forces. Jerry Seinfeld tickets were £70 to £100 last year – and that was to see one comedian and his microphone. It still sold out. Led Zeppelin, playing their first concert in more than 19 years at the O2 Arena in 2007, charged £125. Leonard Cohen's tickets were £60-plus for his 2008 O2 Arena shows, but it could have been the 73-year-old's final outing on stage. Tickets for Paul McCartney's show at the O2 ranged from £55 to £100. It's cynical, but being Radiohead's first UK tour in four years, promoters would have been aware that their devoted fans would feel obliged to pay out to see them, not knowing when they could see them again. There are a few who keep prices down. Prince charged just £31.21, in reference to his 3121 album, for tickets to his 21-night residency at the O2 in 2007, with the booking fee capped at £3.50, and played for three hours.

Radiohead will always put on a tremendous performance, but fans are rightly upset at paying such increased prices to see them alongside 20,000 others. When you add the venue's £5 pints of beer, a night out becomes astronomical. Tickets are limited to four per person but who can afford more? While fans won't have to pay over face value for their tickets, they are paying a premium in the first place.