Random Play by Graham Reid

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

If ever there was a moment when you ached for a decent stadium in Auckland it was at last night’s U2 concert.

Jammed streets, a collision of people just inside the gates as some queued for food and drink while hundreds of others tried to make their way through them, poor access and egress, the merchandising store right at the exit so crowds there afterwards blocked the passage of those wanting to leave . . .

The list goes on.

I’m guessing that few, if any, of the people who voted on the Auckland stadium issue in the past few days were down there in the damp melee as I was.

I queued for 15 minutes to get a couple of mini-bottles of wine to get me through the wet hours. But it was all gone by 8pm, so I grabbed a couple of plastic bottles of that unforgivable bad Export Gold, the Budweiser of local beer, who seem to have the monopoly.

While queuing my mind went back to the last time I saw U2: it was in Phoenix, Arizona and they were on their PopMart tour.

There is an amusing story about how I nearly died there under My Back Pages here , but other than that, what I remember was just what a pleasant concert-going experience it was.

As a stranger to the city I had no trouble finding the stadium or parking within an easy walk, entry was easy, there were dozens of decent food and drink outlets around the perimeter inside and out of the actual stadium, and my recollection was that within 15 minutes of the final note sounding everyone had managed to get out through stairwells so broad they reminded me of the Coliseum.

I had a similar experience when I saw the Stones in a Chicago stadium in 2002.

This is how concert-going should be, not masses of people jammed up against each other being funnelled into narrow (and last night, dangerously slippery) stairwells. And Export Gold should be banned, it is a crime against humanity.

But -- and this is a very big but -- that isn’t to say I support a waterfront stadium.

Maybe I will when I see a decent in-depth and viable plan for one, but no people of good conscience could have supported the proposal (or the bullying) that was put before Aucklanders these past few weeks.

This morning I heard the mayor of Christchurch crowing about how he knew Aucklanders couldn’t get their act together -- but we ignore this in much the same way as we laugh that Hamilton says it has “won” that V8 race because Auckland and Wellington couldn’t work things out.
(Memo to Hamilton folks: Aucklanders didn’t want it, Wellington thought they did then did the maths. But hey, good luck guys.)

Nope. In my mind that waterfront stadium was never a goer. And please, it is not that I lack “vision”.

Just as your criticisms of contemporary art may be silenced by those who condescendingly say “Oh, you just don’t understand it”, so we saw the same kind of arrogance over the waterfront stadium. “Oh, you just don’t have the vision”.

Well, the vision I have isn’t bad: what I can see is some fancy “artist’s impression” drawings which invariably bear little relation to the subsequent reality; a proposal which has had so little site work done it is laughable; and a figure on costing that everyone knows will be exceeded considerably.

None has pointed out that 65,000 people also have only one way out of the stadium site after a show or match: people don’t disperse through 360 degrees but all load out onto Quay St. (Yep, same scenario at the Sydney Opera House, but it doesn’t hold 65,000)

This was a fairytale wish, not a vision.

Yes, we do need a stadium, but not this one and probably not at that place. Hell, even the councillors who voted for it sort of voted for it in another location.

But last night while sitting through a damp set by Kanye West I was also aware that events like this are rare these days. As I have said repeatedly in these columns and to former journalism colleagues who know little about rock’n’roll demographics, the days of stadium-filling acts are lumbering to an end. Add ‘em up: the Stones, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen, U2 . . .?

In a previous blog -- a piece I submitted to the Herald but which it didn’t run -- I said these geniuses behind “the vision” need to take off their rose-coloured glasses and ask the simple question: how is it going to pay for itself?
I was very pleased that in the past two weeks those questions were put and concert promoters were finally asked their opinion.
Their answer: rock’n’roll just isn’t an answer anymore.

The Stones probably aren’t coming back, nor are U2 for some little while, McCartney is probably a never-again . . .

So rather than hastily concluding that the discomforts of a U2 stadium show demand that we build a stadium and build it now (or at least to a timetable imposed by Wellington), we need to take a deep breath and slow down.

An iconic stadium would be a fine thing (although warning signs flash when I hear architects talk of iconic buildings), but this does not mean we seize the moment and then live with regret.

Those who are blinded by “the vision” respond that a lot of great buildings have been controversial. But so have a lot of bloody awful ones. So if you didn’t support the waterfront option it didn’t mean you lacked vision, you may just be able to read a balance sheet.

In that piece I submitted to the Herald I had some figures for building costs in Vancouver which is due to host the Olympics in 2010. People up are there are numbed by the cost overruns. Already!

I think we might be coming back to what I suggested would happen: Eden Park.

But, let us hope, not an iconic Eden Park because obviously that just won’t work for many reasons -- and it would be a bloody horrible aesthetic intrusion on the skyline.

Here’s a thought: just upgrade Eden Park with good quality but temporary seating.
(If it’s good enough for our kids to be educated in prefabs then it’s good enough for
rugby supporters to sit in temporary seating for a couple of hours).

Now I live nearby and I don’t have a problem with that -- although if I could do a house-swap with a Parisian rugby fan for a month that’d be cool too.

And while that is happening we all slow down, let those who have changed from backing Carlaw Park to backing a waterfront stadium (but not on the proposed site?!) to take a minute or two and think carefully about what it is we really want, and can get this government to pay for.

If this is to be a national stadium then it is at a cost to the nation, not long suffering people in Mt Albert or Panmure who haven’t even got a decent transport system.
Governments love legacies, this one no less than any other. Let’s seriously consider the legacy before we jump -- or are pushed -- into some hasty scheme which, when the bills start mounting, will inevitably be a series of cost-cutting compromises.

We don’t want to be, as a famous band in our town right now says, stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.

PS: U2 rock, Bono is in exceptional voice (giving it heaps on the Pavarotti bit in Miss Sarajevo) and while the set skirts their more experimental and interesting period this was a terrific show.

Oh, and my Elsewhere website has also made another leap forward. Check it out here. The recipes are good too.