For about 15 years I reviewed live concerts for the Herald. In reality what that glamorous-sounding job meant was that for two, sometimes three, and occasionally four nights in a row I’d go off to see some band, group, troupe or ensemble play to paying punters.
During this time I was also working the day job at the Herald. Over those years I was variously an entertainment writer interviewing Famous Folk and Cult Artists, then entertainment editor (and simultaneously books editor for a glorious year in which graphic novels got coverage), then a senior feature writer. And all that time I would go to concerts as well.
So after work I’d probably go to the pub or home, maybe eat something between fuelling myself in inappropriate ways for the night ahead, go to a smoky bar to see a band who usually came on around 11pm, and afterwards go back to the Herald office and write it up.
I’d get back home around 1am, not tired of course. So I’d sit around doing whatever was inappropriate, and the next day be back in the office for 9am.
It was a great life, but as you might guess came at some cost.
(For many years I would try to point out to bands that just because they were now not living with mum and didn’t have a day job, didn’t mean they should fug around until 11pm before ambling onstage for a sound check. Some of us had lives the next day.)
It was a helluva life -- and I mean that in both ways: I saw some of the best (and most indifferent, over-hyped or just plain dull) music in the world in those years.
I also don’t remember some of things I saw. I found a ticket stub at home the other day for Pulp (“Britpop at its Best” according to the Frontier Touring Company blurb) and frankly I don’t remember them at all.
This is not as bad as a former colleague who confessed to having interviewed a rather large opera singer and only afterwards did she remember she’d met this diva before. Quite how you forget a woman who was so large she got stuck in the revolving door of a Wellington hotel is somewhat of a mystery.
Anyway, as the song says, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know . . .
But it was an interesting period of my life (I have even started writing the unexpurgated stories My Back Pages on my Elsewhere website here )
Oddly enough when I wasn’t doing this late night crawl -- and all the bars in between which that entailed -- I’d often go out and see bands play.
Many, many hundreds of bands here and abroad would be my guess.
So over the many years I did this -- and I had done it before it started at the Herald and have done a bit of it in the past five years -- I went to all kinds of venues: from seeing garage bands that John Baker promoted in a hall in Glenfield to CBGBs and Carnegie Hall.
I’m not saying this to brag (believe me, there was nothing to brag about seeing The Plague, a terrific skinhead outfit, play some downstairs dive very, very late one night) but there is point going to be made.
It is this.
I have started doing live reviews again for View Auckland and so I am back -- happily and with great enthusiasm -- doing what I used to do many years ago: going out late, watching musicians play, coming home and writing it up overnight. It is quite a rush.
But. And here comes the Big But.
Last week I saw three shows: M. Ward at the Dogs Bollix; Tenacious D at the Logan Concrete Centre; and Cirque du Soleil at the big top.
What struck me was how the paying public were treated at each.
M. Ward played to a densely packed -- some might say over-sold -- room which seemed to be utterly lacking in air-condition. If it was working . . . Well, it wasn’t working. It was uncomfortable and crowded, and given the nature of Ward’s melancholy style, a sit-down venue might have been more appropriate.
Frankly I’d love to know just how many that room is allowed to hold -- 280 I believe -- as opposed to how many it did on the night.
The following night at Tenacious D it was equally hot in that great bunker, and around 10.45 we wandered to the “lobby” to get a drink: beer, water, Coke, whatever. The bar was closed and we were rudely pointed to a Coke machine.
The security guy beside it said “Out of order, mate”.
So that was it, you couldn’t get a drink on a bloody hot night.
Things were very different at Cirque du Soleil. We couldn’t help but notice how polite ticket collectors, checkers and ushers were, saying “Hope you enjoy the show” and “Good evening”.
You could get a drink there -- beer was a whopping $8 a bottle, but at least you had the choice.
What this illustrates again is how patient the paying rock audiences are here -- and how they are prepared to put up with the second rate in a way that would be unacceptable in, say, the States.
I recall a few years ago some opera shouter came to town and sang at Western Springs. The middle-class, middle-aged and older audience was largely horrified at the facilities (or lack of) and there were angry letters to the paper for days afterwards. I had no sympathy: as someone who goes to rock gigs there I am used to the place. I’m used to discomforts to see the music of my choice. Whether I should be is the real question.
We also went to see U2 recently and afterwards it took a good 45 minutes to get out of the stadium and back to our car. I mentioned to my wife that the last time I had seen them it was in Phoenix, Arizona and my guess would be that the stadium emptied in about 10 minutes. Better access and egress.
You could also go out and buy drinks without long queues because they had so many outlets operating.
It seems to me that paying punters deserve better than crowded venues and poor service (if any).
The Big Day Out is notorious for its bottlenecks between stages, but this year we have been promised that will have been resolved.
It’ll be interesting to see if -- after more than a decade of the same obvious problem -- any real progress has been made.
I’m looking forward to the day when rock punters are treated as what they are: valued, paying customers deserving of respect.