Friday, December 05, 2008

London O2 arena could be a top Bob show: UK tour dates

Dates have just been announced for Dylan’s spring 2009 UK tour:

Fri 24 Apr Sheffield Arena

Sat 25 Apr O2 Arena, London

Tue 28 Apr Cardiff International Arena

Wed 29 Apr National Indoor Arena, Birmingham

Fri 1 May Liverpool Echo Arena

Sat 2 May SECC & Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

When I first saw the venues, I groaned out loud. Arenas? Anyone who loves music just loathes arenas, don’t they? Sheffield Arena is my idea of Gig Hell.

Then I remembered seeing Leonard Cohen at the O2 Arena this summer – one of the best gigs of my life (article for, below). So I’ve booked cheap seats at the back of the arena, in the gods. They were great seats for the Leonard show.

Dylan’s management/the venue will need to replicate the sound quality and the big screens which turned the Cohen gig into such an intimate show, despite the other 20,000 people in the room. Or it will seem like an awfully big space; even strong binoculars will be rather pointless.

But if they get it right, London O2 Arena in April 2009 could be a top Bob show.

Gerry Smith



London’s O2: a grown-up music venue

Don’t get me started about arena gigs. I f**king hate ‘em.

Rubbish sound. Nasty buildings. Crap sightlines. Muck served as food and drink, poor access, overpriced parking… . They make me feel like a conforming ant, a ripped-off consumer who’s lost all self-respect, just by being there.

Arenas are appalling places: you couldn’t design a worse environment for enjoying music for grown-ups if you tried.

So, after being repeatedly alienated by the worst concert-going experiences on offer in England – Wembley Arena, Newcastle Arena, London Arena (now closed), NEC, Sheffield Hallam Arena et al – I decided some years ago that enough was enough, regardless of who was playing.

Even if it was the Second Coming, they’d have to manage without me.

Then Leonard Cohen announced his tour, but bizarrely decided to waste four nights in far-flung Manchester, limiting his performances in English England to the O2 Arena (aka the Millennium Dome/New Labour’s Folly).

Simple choice: keep avoiding arenas or get to see the great Leonard Cohen for the first, maybe the last, time.

So I booked the O2 - very reluctantly, baulking at the inflated ticket price. And I had very mixed feelings as the gig got nearer, even on the Tube approaching the venue.

My mood lightened immediately on alighting at North Greenwich station. Impressive, I conceded: looks great, works… . The mood was maintained on the short walk to the venue – a quality environment, vision, design, investment… .

And inside the O2 perimeter it was just as good – an exciting, well-specified building, housing a wide range of high quality food outlets, relaxed atmosphere, loads of helpful staff.

Agreeably surprised, but still harbouring doubts, I entered the arena and found my seat. Very, very high, but not vertigo-inducing, as I’d feared.

Hmmm! Amphitheatre beautifully designed: there were 20,000 people in, but in didn’t feel like it. Access clear and easy, seating comfortable, sight lines perfect, though the stage was miles away.

Then the acid test: the gig itself.

The show was outstanding – a great setlist and Cohen performance helped, but it was outstanding technically, too: crystal clear sound, probably the best I’ve heard outside a village hall; three enormous video screens, filled all night with broadcast-quality pictures; and beautiful lighting.

A mighty gig – in an arena: I was mightily surprised. The show was obviously a Leonard organisation production. But the point is – the O2 Arena accommodated it, comfortably.

London’s O2 is a wonderful grown-up music venue. If you ever see a bum gig there, blame the artist’s management, not the venue.

I’ll be going again.

Gerry Smith