Saturday 3 December 2016

Queues, mud & rock'n'roll

Published 02/10/2010 | 05:00

Ever since I heard 'The Model' in the 1980s, I've wanted to see Kraftwerk in concert. The Dusseldorf foursome aren't just musical pioneers, they created an entire new art form.

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They are geniuses -- electronic gods. So when they announced a 2008 gig in the splendid surrounds of Luggala Estate in Wicklow, owned by Guinness scion Garech de Brun, I was like a kid with a golden Wonka ticket.

The precision-tooled yet soulful sounds of the man-machine, in a beautiful, Tolkien-esque setting, a confluence of art and nature, painted in grass green and steel grey; what could ruin something like that?

In the end, nature won the day. Heavy rains burst the banks of the local river, flooding the estate and rendering the concert impossible. They moved it to Kilmainham Gaol and it was said to have been great, but I hadn't the inclination to go.

The moment had been lost. The magic was gone. The gig, for me, was ruined.

Does this sound familiar? If you've attended -- or tried to attend -- Irish performances by Guns N' Roses, Prince, Eminem, Barbra Streisand and others in recent years, it will. Whether through capricious weather, artistic egotism or plain bad fortune, the day, or weekend, doesn't always go smoothly.

And we're not just talking about the usual, minor problems, such as a singer being drunk or the guitarist breaking his hand. Sure, a Pogues gig would hardly feel right if the legendary Shane MacGowan was fully compos mentis. No, we're talking about the catastrophes, the monumental screw-ups that keep Joe Duffy in gainful employment for a full week, soothing all those upset music-lovers.

Only recently, we had Guns N' Roses walking out of an O2 gig after just five songs. Never noted for their punctuality, the band -- which isn't really Guns N' Roses anyway, just Axl and some hired hands -- ambled on-stage well over an hour after the support act had finished.

The crowd, understandably, were annoyed, and getting more so with every slowly passing minute. They started booing. They started throwing plastic bottles on stage. They listened to Axl warn them he'd quit if they didn't stop and then -- like the good, honest, no-respect-for-authority Irish they were -- they threw more bottles.

Cue that diva-like strop, cue frantic attempts to get these petulant clowns to return and fulfil their contractual obligations, cue G N' R eventually slinking back on at 11.30pm for what was, by all accounts, a decent show. Just a pity it was about two hours late.

Even more recently, Michael Bublé's concert at the new Aviva stadium last week received poor reviews, most of which lamented the poor acoustics of the venue.

But at least Bublé turned up and tried hard to connect with the audience. Neither Prince nor Eminem fulfilled their contractual obligations to appear in recent years, and both felt the lash of legal action in consequence. First up, the midget from Minnesota: genre-bending -- and gender-bending -- genius Prince pulled out of a Croke Park gig in 2008 without giving too much of a good reason. (Rumours at the time suggested tickets hadn't sold well, which makes sense considering Prince hasn't released any good music since around 1994.)

Concert promoters MCD then sued him and his agents for €1.7m, prompting Prince to make this hilarious comment about MCD's Denis Desmond: "Tell the cat to chill, we will work something out." They settled the case out of court. The compensatory sum was undisclosed but Mr Desmond was happy enough, saying afterwards that he was "a very chilled cat". He even offered to work with Prince again.

It is probably a safe bet that Henry Mountcharles doesn't feel quite so sanguine about Eminem, after the hip-hop yob cancelled his 2005 gig at Slane Castle.

There were rumblings of disquiet from Slane fans anyway, that they were bringing in a rapper as opposed to the usual classic rock headliners. But it mattered nought because the bleached-blonde loudmouth pulled out, reportedly to enter rehab.

No official reason was ever given, though, as part of a legal settlement, after MCD -- again -- sued Eminem's insurance companies for €1.5m. Amusingly, the no-show was part of his Anger Management tour. Perhaps he should have called it Time Management instead.

Slane has been at the centre of more than one controversy, which is probably inevitable, given how long it has been going. Tragically, two people drowned while trying to swim across the Boyne when REM played in 1995. On a less serious note, Oasis's gig last year was mired in trouble.

First, a disgruntled fan threw a rock at the stage as the band were about to launch into 'Roll with It'. (We're guessing they quickly Rolled Away from It.) Liam Gallagher replied, with customary good charm: "If you don't like it, go fucking hang yourself."

But this was minor compared to other problems. Organisers had to later promise a "detailed review" of arrangements, after concert-goers endured lengthy queues to get into the gig, aggressive, drunken behaviour from other revellers, and even lengthier queues to board buses afterwards. Some unlucky souls didn't leave until 3am. There were also allegations of crushes and unsafe avenues of access.

Two years previously, thousands of Streisand fans faced massive delays, seating problems, and rain and muck at her show in Castletown House, Co Kildare.

This so-called "once-in-a-lifetime experience" was jiggered from the off, with enormous traffic jams, parking snarl-ups and the worst weather conditions in years.

Not all gigs are so catastrophic. Some are just dreadful, and that can be dreadfully sad. Take Whitney Houston's concert in Dublin earlier this year, in which the formerly glamorous, super-successful star was a shadow of her former self.

Our own reviewer described it thus: "Sweaty and bedraggled ... gasped and croaked her way through the song ... straining in vain for the high notes ... dishevelled ... the equivalent of someone scraping dirty nails across a chalky blackboard ... an extremely eccentric individual ... seeing someone fall apart minute by minute." Our reviewer also noted that nobody had the heart to heckle Whitney at the end: "Why boo someone who can't help themselves?"

Finally, there are those gigs that go swimmingly ... and that's when the trouble starts. U2's three Croke Park spectaculars last summer were a massive success, but their continental touring juggernaut shuddered to a halt for two days when locals organised a protest at the iconic stadium, stopping trucks from leaving with the deconstructed stage.

The area residents' association, which has a long history of protesting against Croke Park, said their lives were disrupted 24 hours a day by rumbling lorries and clanging scaffolding. Eventually, a peace was struck and U2 were able to carry on -- one hopes with the cries of 'Bono voyage' ringing in their ears.

Irish Independent

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