Saturday, March 14, 2009

The days of the true rock concert experience are dying.

My 2009 summer concert list is getting rather unwieldy.

  • Coldplay - tickets are bought (show is July 30th)
  • Depeche Mode - tickets are bought (show is July 24th)
  • Nine Inch Nails/Jane's Addiction - tickets aren't on sale yet, but I have a crack team working on snatching up a few when the time comes (show is June 2nd)
  • U2 - no onsale date yet, either (whyyyyy did they pick the lousiest possible venue??? Show is on September 16th)

And those are just the four major contenders; there will surely be others. Thank goodness I'm only actually paying for two of these at a time. And the Depeche Mode ones are actually a gift from my parents, which is a damn good thing, since they're $115 each. Compare that to the $50 apiece we paid for Coldplay, and it's outright despicable, really.

Oh, before I forget (and completely off-topic!), I'm putting out a call to all:
What's your favourite conspiracy theory?
Is there one (or more than one??) that you've always kinda thought had some merit to it? I'm doing a little research into some of the more popular ones, and was thinking of doing a few blog installments about them, so tell me which conspiracy theories fascinate you the most, or which ones are completely ridiculous (and why!), and I'll get around to compiling a few posts looking a bit further into 'em.

Back to the concerts thing, then.

Remember the good old days, when TRUE FANS would line up the night before or the morning of the tickets going on sale? When you'd befriend other fans in line and you'd see them again months later at the concert? Remember when people had to do more than sit on their lazy asses and click a mouse to go to a show? All of those things, that effort, really did add to the experience. Now scalpers get more tickets than fans do, and venues add an extra $20 to each ticket for "convenience charges" and so on. Mark my words: The days of the truly great rock concert are dying, my friends.

The craziest ticket-getting experience I ever had was the bitterly cold January morning when my boyfriend Doug and I lined up to buy Pink Floyd tickets. We were actually going to see Billy Joel that night at Maple Leaf Gardens (this was 1994), so having to get up that early on a Saturday morning and then make the trek in a blizzard downtown in 12 hours was...not an exciting prospect. Still, it was PINK FLOYD. It was the "PULSE" tour, in support of The Division Bell *swoon*, and nothing was going to stop us from getting those tickets. There was no such thing as Ticketmaster.Ca or .Com, but you could do it by phone, if you were a wimp. This was also before the random wristbands; you had to haul ass to prove you were worthy of those good seats, damnit. And there was also a limit of 4 tickets, EVER, per person.

What we didn't know, though, was that things were different that morning than they usually were when we'd gone to buy tickets at the record store. Usually the store employees would open the mall doors enough for us to at least wait inside for an hour or two, even while the whole place was still technically closed. So I hadn't dressed for -30°C temperatures. I had normal boots on, and a normal winter jacket, sure, but I didn't have a scarf or mittens or a hat, and the wind was bitter enough that I should have been wearing tights and extra-thick socks as well. We had to stand out there for two hours, after all...and that's enough to kill you if you're not dressed for it. (I was also a skinny little thing then - just shy of 5'6" and not even 125lbs. No natural insulation whatsoever.)

After the first hour, my feet started to hurt so badly that I actually began to cry, and my tears froze at the corners of my eyes. Doug had been holding me as close to him as possible, but that didn't help my feet, obviously. So he had to leave me there (I'd only gotten my driver's license a few weeks earlier!), drive to my house several blocks away, and ask my parents for whatever they could give him so he could rush back to me and wrap me up in layers. By now I was getting those telltale white spots on my face, and the pain in my feet....GOD, it was INDESCRIBABLE. The people in front of me in line weren't in much better shape; they were two college guys who were wearing blue jeans and their leather jackets from school. The three of us took turns shielding each other from the wind, but mostly they felt sorry for me, this pathetic little 17-year-old girl with big blue eyes and frozen tears who kept trying to sing "Comfortably Numb" along with them so none of us would pass out.

When Doug returned, he was the hero of the hour: My Dad had sent over a couple of extra sweatshirts and pairs of thermal gloves for the people around us, and my Mom had given Doug money to stop at Tim Horton's to get a whole tray of hot chocolate. Oh, it was bliss. He wrapped a scarf around my face, pulled a toque down over my ears (they hurt like a sonofabitch, too), helped me put on an extra pair of socks, and stuffed my hands into the biggest mittens I owned. He'd gotten 8 cups of hot chocolate, so everyone we'd befriended in this terrible melee was so grateful.

By the time 9:59 a.m. rolled around, and the line began to move toward the door, I could barely walk. Doug dutifully dragged me along, with the help of one of the college guys who'd gratefully taken one of my Dad's sweaters, and the normal inside temperature of the mall felt, comparatively, like we were entering the mouth of hell as we hobbled through those doors.

There was an unspoken code in those days: When you got your tickets and came back out of the record store, you would announce to everyone in line behind you which section you'd gotten, so everyone could calculate which seats were left and so on. Sometimes, if you'd spent enough time together and had become friends while you waited, you might even try your luck at getting tickets for all four of you - two and two, of course, to better the odds, but it still saved precious seconds from ticking away for those people behind you. In this case, though, we opted to go it alone. We wished the college boys good luck, and we watched like hawks as they stood at the Ticketmaster counter, trying to read the lips of the girl behind the register. As it turned out, we all got really good seats, and the guys waited for us outside the store to give back the clothes that had probably saved them from freezing to death. They promised they would remember this, and that they'd see us 7 months from now at the show and would make it up to us.

That night, while we sat at Maple Leaf gardens singing along with Billy Joel, I had to fight back tears because my feet and legs still felt like someone was stabbing them with red-hot knitting needles. But the concert was fantastic, and the fact that I enjoyed it anyway really says something.

Fast forward to July 5th, 1994. January was long forgotten, as was the miserable weather we'd endured to allow us to end up at Exhibition Stadium. It was a gorgeous summer night, and Doug and I were over the (dark side of the) moon about seeing Pink Floyd. We had watched A Delicate Sound Of Thunder on VHS so, so many times, and we were ready to have this experience firsthand. Our seats were breathtaking. And it was the final night of an annual tradition in Toronto - the Symphony of Fire - so we got to watch a most extraordinary fireworks show before the concert began. The stadium was right on Lake Ontario, and the moon was full, and it was just...idyllic.

Not long before the show started, I was startled when something landed in my lap. It felt like...clothes. I looked around and couldn't tell in the throngs of people who had thrown it. And then I lifted it up. It was the Division Bell concert t-shirt. Seconds later, Doug got hit in the face with one. And then we saw them. Our college guys! They were only about seven seats over from us, had spotted us earlier, and had gone to the concession to buy us these shirts. They hadn't forgotten the payback they'd promised. It was lovely. We convinced the couple next to us to switch with these guys, and so the four of us were able to bask in the glory of the opening notes when David Gilmour first came onstage.

It didn't hurt that they'd also brought the purest pot I have ever smelled. They offered, and we declined, but I was rip-roaringly high off the secondhand smoke, which made Doug laugh, because I kept bursting into happy tears and saying, "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!" whenever the lights turned into green lasers. (The inflatable pigs with the floodlights for eyes FUCKED ME UP, though.)

There were no email addresses to exchange back then - not really - so at the end of the show, we simply thanked our new/old friends for being so generous, and they thanked us again for rescuing them on that wintry day, and we parted ways. I still have the shirt, and so does Doug.

These are the experiences we miss out on nowadays. Hiding behind our computers, selling our tickets on eBay, waking up two minutes before the onsale time hits... It may seem perfectly normal to some of the younger folks reading this, but you're missing out. You truly are.

I have always wanted to tell that story. I'm glad I have. Am I the only one who's had such a fondness for the way getting tickets used to work???

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