The sight of large crowd numbers at the recent football grand finals in Sydney and Brisbane drew mixed reactions. Admittedly capacity was reduced to around half and COVID protocols observed, however, there was some concern to see so many people gathered together in such close proximity. On the other hand others welcomed it as a partial return to the norm and the foot of health regulation finally easing off the brake.
Whilst 2021 may well bring us packed sporting stadiums again, whether we see a return to so called ‘stadium rock’ remains to be seen. It’s a phenomenon that began in the 1960s when music acts such as The Beatles became so popular that they moved to venues such as Shea Stadium to accommodate their hordes of screaming fans. In the 70s ‘stadium’ or ‘arena’ rock became a genre in its own right, synonymous with loud, posturing, hard rock bands pumping out anthem like songs to an audience which resembled one huge mosh pit.
In the decades that followed the world’s biggest music acts, spanning a variety of styles, from AC/DC to André Rieu regularly commandeered the huge sporting stadiums to stage their massive concerts. Fans worldwide gladly parted with large amounts of money to secure tickets that often saw them so far from the main stage that they watched most of the concert on large video screens.
As more and more money was invested in monster sound systems and elaborate stage sets, the cost of staging these stadium shows ballooned. In some cases bands were happy to break even on actual ticket sales and make their money at the merch stand selling overpriced t-shirts and other memorabilia.
In Australia we have regularly seen the so called world’s biggest rock bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones fill venues such as the Sydney Cricket Ground and the old football stadium at Moore Park. ANZ Stadium has also had its share of mega stadium gigs, and in most cases devoted fans have scrambled to get their tickets.
Some of the shows have not been without their controversy with many fans complaining about inferior sound quality or poor sight lines to the stage. The 2017 Guns N Roses at ANZ drew an angry reaction from a number of ticket holders with one posting:
“Attended Friday night and the band was brilliant but the sound was disgraceful. I too saw many leave just prior to Angus coming stage. The sound improved after Angus but was still poor. Completely out of synch, unable to hear 80% of the vocals.”
Similarly when Adam Lambert and Queen played ANZ in February of this year, fans complained when the large video screens which flanked either side of the stage were turned off. Such is the problematic matter of stadium gigs, where sound quality often varies greatly, from the premium seating in front of the stage to the nose bleed seats high in the stands.
It’s a drawback that many concert goers have come to expect, but one that is quickly overridden by being part of the overall experience of witnessing your favourite group or singer – amidst an adoring 60,000 plus crowd. After all it’s unlikely anybody ever complained about the sound at the Nuremberg Rally!
As the pandemic escalates globally it’s highly unlikely we will see a return to stadium rock any time soon. The big international acts won’t be touring and maybe the COVID enforced break will prompt us to consider the future of these highly corporatised events. If they do return in one or two years time, promoters should be encouraged to include the following warning on their tickets:
“Sound quality at this concert may vary from good to dreadful and some sight lines may be restricted. Video screens will be employed at our discretion. Please use the free hand sanitiser on entry.”