Tim Walker: 'What's been lost from the stadium rock experience - puddles of urine on the floor?'

The Couch Surfer

Share
Related Topics

On Tuesday evening I joined 20,000 or so other fans, some of whom hadn't cut their hair since the 1990s, at the O2 arena to watch Pearl Jam play a terrific two-and-a-half-hour show. The band's debut Ten and its successor Vs were among the first albums I bought, so seeing the likes of "Alive" and "Blood" performed live - a good 16 years later - gave me my first real taste of what my Dad feels like when he hears Status Quo in a lift.

Men of my father's age have got used to indulging that nostalgia, which might be why so many of them lament the decline of the traditional rock show. U2's current 360° tour, featuring a preposterous 164-foot high "claw" stage apparatus that makes the group's posturing frontman look even shorter than usual, has been described as the last of a dying breed of stadium spectacular.



All the big stadium rockers, like the Stones or Springsteen, are well into middle-age. Their successors, Pearl Jam among them, will have trouble selling out the sort of years-long world tours in which they specialise. And despite being hailed as the saviour of a struggling record business, live music has also been besieged by the internet and its proliferation of amateur ticket touts.



Meanwhile, the live rock experience itself is being gentrified by an increasingly corporate industry machine. Ticketmaster, which sells the vast majority of concert tickets, and Live Nation, which runs many of the world's biggest venues, are keen to merge, causing a headache for antitrust legislators. The move would undoubtedly dismay fans already enraged by the elevated costs of tickets and the growing list of additional, Ryanair-like fees that Ticketmaster sees fit to charge.



In a recent article for The New Yorker entitled "The Price of the Ticket", John Seabrook writes that "the success of rock shows will always be measured not in box-office revenues and beer sales but in the quality of the party ... in trying to make a commodity out of the live experience you risk spoiling the experience altogether."



As Seabrook reports, Springsteen's efforts to keep his concerts affordable have had the opposite effect, with cheap tickets to his shows changing hands online for many times original their face value (with, perhaps, Ticketmaster's complicity). Pearl Jam sued Ticketmaster over their inflated prices in the 1990s, and the romantic in me was a little sad to see them play in what feels like a hyper-mediated setting, somehow stifled by brand managers and risk assessors.



I, for example, breezily checked emails on my iPhone while washing down a Fiorentina - that's the spinach and egg one - with an Italian lager in the O2's Pizza Express concession before the show. The venue heavily controls any queues for beer or nachos to increase crowd efficiency. You get a five- and 10-minute call ("Ladies and gentlemen, Pearl Jam will be on stage in ... ") as if you're at the opera. Every surface, down to the rubber handrails on the escalators, is smothered in advertising.



And yet, and yet ... for a concrete, corporate-sponsored white elephant, the O2 has a pretty good atmosphere. It feels as intimate as could be expected of a 23,000-seater. The sound is fantastic. You can get to the loo and back between encores without fear of missing "Born to Run". Pearl Jam played a five-star set, and frontman Eddie Vedder managed to smoke on stage without being reprimanded; so rebellion is, to an extent, tolerated. There were even a couple of crowdsurfers.



I can barely remember Live Aid, so I'm probably too young to know what's been lost from the stadium rock experience. But I have my suspicions: puddles of urine dotting the floor? Muddy sound? Mile-long ticket queues? The band appearing onstage an hour late? The possibility of being trampled in the moshpit? The impossibility of getting a decent view?



When, midway through his band's set, Vedder asked the crowd to take three steps back and relieve the pressure on those at the front, he invoked the ghosts of Roskilde festival in 2000, where nine audience members were crushed to death in front of him - the sort of incident that's likely to occur less in today's scientifically-crowd-controlled venues. So maybe we're actually getting what we pay all those extortionate credit card fees for. Maybe we should be thankful that things ain't quite what they used to be. Maybe the old-school rock experience is live and kicking, and we ought to just shut up and enjoy the show.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?