can't dance, can't see, can't stand it

If cattle went to gigs, most of the nation's venues would find themselves picketed by the animal-rights movement. So why do we put up with it, asks Nicholas Barber

YOU KNOW what it's like. You're in your bedroom, listening to your favourite record of the week, dancing with your reflection in the mirror, adding that vocal harmony that the track really needs. But there's still something missing. Thank goodness I can't see the band, you think to yourself, but if only I could see the back of someone else's head. If only I were choking, sweating, bleeding, immobile, deafened, and broke.

You don't think that? Funny, neither do I, so why do the people who run Britain's rock venues seem to think so? They charge, say, pounds l0 a ticket, plus a pounds 2-per-ticket medieval tariff called a "booking fee", plus the pounds 6 car park charge (at Wembley Arena), and in return they subject us to conditions that no one who does not use the London Underground at rush hour should have to endure.

Speaking of London, it's invariably the metropolis's venues that are worst. Many are converted theatres, with the seats ripped out and a bar and / or mixing-desk deposited at some view-obscuring point in the middle. From there you can buy overpriced mulled beer in special novelty plastic glasses, guaranteed to bend into all sorts of shapes.

An hour or two after the scheduled show time, the band will come on to a stage so low as to render them invisible to those not in the front row, and play at a volume that ensures that even the hard of hearing will pick up every last subtlety - assuming that the distortion hadn't thrown out every last subtlety in the first place. If you want to sit down, that's fine if you have a ticket for the seated section. Otherwise, feel free to have a rest wherever you pass out.

The audience for any other type of performance - dance, opera, drama, comedy - wouldn't stand for these conditions, wouldn't stand for standing. But at rock concerts, the received wisdom is: You wouldn't want seats, you wouldn't be able to dance.

Which makes sense up to a point, but even the mellowest, most laid-back, trancey-type dancing must, by definition, incorporate some element of bodily movement, and this is all but precluded in venues where the punters are packed tighter than the lead-singer's leather trousers.

No wonder that the punk dance, the pogo, originated in London. Jumping on the spot is all there's room to do. Nowadays the vogue is for crowdsurfing, where your prostrate body is passed over the heads of the crowd. There's not enough room to dance at ground level, so you dance on other people. If we were cattle, animal rights protesters would picket.

As the venues get bigger, the situation is not ameliorated. Rather, it gets more dangerous. More space to go around? No, just even more people painfully crammed in. This graph stretches until its axes boundary whole fields.

During Oasis's set at Glastonbury last year we were at least as cramped as we are in any tiny club - and this was so far from the stage that the band were all but invisible. No great loss where are Oasis are concerned, but you see the principle (even if you didn't see anything else). The organisers haven't learnt the lessons of the Donnington festival in 1988, when two fans were crushed to death.

At least outdoor gigs have air. Indoors, in the infernal, sweltering pressure cookers that pass for venues, the only cooling system is sweat: your own and everyone else's near you. Maybe I'm just getting old, but if no one else suffers, why has it become a ritual at Blur gigs for Damon Albarn to throw bottled water over the frying crowd? How come tough, hard- bitten Liam Gallagher had to ask the crowd at Oasis' Earls Court gigs to move back and alleviate the ferment at the front? These are not measures that should be left to a few responsible stars.

So, what are the management doing to enhance our evenings? If you're lucky there may be a cloakroom. If you're luckier it will charge only pounds 1. pounds 1 PER ITEM a sign will add, testily. Oh, and "The Management Accepts No Responsibility for the Loss or Damage of Any Items". Why not? I'm paying you to look after my coat - is it too much to expect you not to tread on it and go through my pockets?

Until proprietors are willing to undertake some structural readjustment with a crane and a wrecking-ball, the answer is to admit fewer people. Fewer people will be able to see their favourite band, but more people will enjoy themselves. Is it a fair exchange? I think so, but not one that will appeal to the greed of pop promoters, the callous arrogance of pop musicians, or the ludicrous, archaic mythology that decrees that any gig whose conditions do not expedite the catching of at least five diseases is not an authentic rock'n'roll experience at all.

Rock tradition being as inflexibly hallowed as it is, nothing has changed since the Beatles' manager-to-be, Brian Epstein, first glimpsed them in the Cavern Club. "This was quite a new world, really, for me," Epstein told an interviewer. "I was amazed by this dark, smoky, dank atmosphere."

But the Cavern was a jazz and folk club, never intended for the crowds the Beatles drew. Wasn't this murky atmosphere a signal to club owners that conditions had to change to keep up with the revolution in popular music?

Epstein first visited the cellar full of noise on 9 September 1961. This is the Nineties. We have air-conditioning. We have an extra 30 years' experience of what a rock venue should be.

There's no reason why a gig should be indistinguishable from an attempt at the world record for Most Clothed People In A Sauna At Once. No reason why we should emerge from a febrile club and into the night air - having queued for an hour at that cloakroom so lacking in responsibility - so damp that the temperature drop will freeze us in our tracks. No reason why, when we awake the next morning, our throats should sting, our ears hum like a faulty fridge, our clothes stink of smoke and lager, and be ventilated with cigarette burns.

On the other hand, maybe it's lucky we've these mementos, because the programme we paid a fiver for will be a crumpled, pulpy mess.

barn to throw bottled water over the frying crowd? How come tough, hard-bitten Liam Gallagher had to ask the crowd at Oasis' Earls Court gigs to move back and alleviate the ferment at the front? These are not measures that should be left to a few responsible stars.

So, what are the management doing to enhance our evenings? If you're lucky there may be a cloakroom. If you're luckier it will charge only pounds 1. pounds 1 PER ITEM a sign will add, testily. Oh, and "The Management Accepts No Responsibility for the Loss or Damage of Any Items". Why not? I'm paying you to look after my coat - is it too much to expect you not to tread on it and go through my pockets?

Until proprietors are willing to undertake some structural readjustment with a crane and a wrecking-ball, the answer is to admit fewer people. Fewer people will be able to see their favourite band, but more people will enjoy themselves. Is it a fair exchange? I think so, but not one that will appeal to the greed of pop promoters, the callous arrogance of pop musicians, or the ludicrous, archaic mythology that decrees that any gig whose conditions do not expedite the catching of at least five diseases is not an authentic rock'n'roll experience at all.

Rock tradition being as inflexibly hallowed as it is, nothing has changed since the Beatles' manager-to-be, Brian Epstein, first glimpsed them in the Cavern Club. "This was quite a new world, really, for me," Epstein told an interviewer. "I was amazed by this dark, smoky, dank atmosphere."

But the Cavern was a jazz and folk club, never intended for the crowds the Beatles drew. Wasn't this murky atmosphere a signal to club owners that conditions had to change to keep up with the revolution in popular music?

Epstein first visited the cellar full of noise on 9 September 1961. This is the Nineties. We have air-conditioning. We have an extra 30 years' experience of what a rock venue should be.

There's no reason why a gig should be indistinguishable from an attempt at the world record for Most Clothed People In A Sauna At Once. No reason why we should emerge from a febrile club and into the night air - having queued for an hour at that cloakroom so lacking in responsibility - so damp that the temperature drop will freeze us in our tracks. No reason why, when we awake the next morning, our throats should sting, our ears hum like a faulty fridge, our clothes stink of smoke and lager, and be ventilated with cigarette burns.

On the other hand, maybe it's lucky we've these mementos, because the programme we paid a fiver for will be a crumpled, pulpy mess.

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