In the second of our occasional series – Anatomy of a Gig – doctoral student Steven Brown explores the 2011 Roger Waters gig at the 02, examining the experience from pre-show to post-show to unpack what made the event so special.
Last summer, I went to see Roger Waters perform The Wall at the London 02 Arena. At £85, this was easily the most I have ever spent for a concert ticket and this is even before ones factors in return travel from Glasgow plus accommodation. The ticket price was one of a few factors which raised my expectations of this concert to dizzying heights. Unlike the previous entry in this Anatomy of a Gig series, however, this gig really did ‘work’ for me and I will map out how and why. Starting with ‘the concert experience’, which documents the decision-making process behind the purchase, I reflect later on motivations for live music attendance more generally.
Pre-purchase decision making process and concert warm-up
The concert experience for me begins some time before a gig and, in most instances, also continues afterwards. Quite often, I restrict myself to listening solely to an artist in the run-up to a gig, even to the extent of having playlists made specifically for the concert. One of the reasons behind this is to motivate any friends who are going to familiarise themselves with an artist so that we are on the ‘same page’ as the set-list unfolds live. Excited anticipation has long been a feature of the live experience. Lucy Bennett (CardiffUniversity) has also shown that this is now pushing the boundaries of the concert experience onto the web. In light of this, the discussion of set-lists, and even the use of playlists, is a feature of the evolution of the live experience. I used to create mock set-lists, informed by perusing recently performed set-lists, uploaded by online fans. On one occasion I managed to correctly guess 23 of the 25 songs performed by Radiohead (no-one was expecting Creep) but knowing what songs were to be played in advance effectively minimised the impact of these songs so I now steer clear of spoilers as much as possible.
When Roger Waters announced he was performing one of my favourite albums live in London’s 02 Arena, the sense of grandness surrounding it was enough to persuade me to buy a ticket. But this was no impulse purchase. It involved some planning and consideration.
Did I really want to spend such a large sum of money for two hours of my life? Not particularly, but as I said, the extended ‘concert experience’ lasts much longer than that so the potential for perceived value was much greater. Did I really want to spend such a large sum of money to see Roger Waters, though? It’s not a Pink Floyd performance and Roger Waters has a reputation as a spiky figure, who in any case sometimes seems to put on another performance of The Wall live every ten years or so. Another ‘not particularly’ then, were it not for the nostalgia factor, which I’ll return to later.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Waters would take The Wall on the road again, however. With the main source of income for artists now seemingly from live music rather than recorded music (Connolly and Krueger, 2006), it is no wonder that he would stage a major tour. In addition to an expanded festival circuit, there has been an unprecedented economic growth in super-star touring worldwide. The Rolling Stones, for example, made half a billion dollars on their ‘Bigger Bang’ tour in 2005–7 (Waddell, 2007), a sum surpassed by U2 before their 360 degree tour was finished (Masson, 2011). Holt (2010) adds that the average price of a superstar concert has more than doubled since 1996 – indicating that music fans are more than willing to pay a lot of money for live concerts. Dave Laing’s recent post on this site also highlights how global live revenues appear to be overtaking recording.
Nevertheless, “What chance do I stand of ever getting the chance to see The Wall live again, and in one of the best large venues in the country?” was more in line with my pre-purchase ruminations. I also used the twelve-month lead-in time to justify the decision. A year to look forward to a show is an exciting prospect, but one which also raises the bar high in terms of expectation especially when the rumour of a Dave Gilmour guest appearance on Comfortably Numb develops into a confirmed appearance, but crucially not at all of the shows. The sense of scale escalates. This could be a one-off and so three friends and I book tickets and then spend the next year immersed in Pink Floyd.
Fast-forward to a year later and my excitement builds up a head of steam on the train journey down, where my friends attempt to swallow side two of Ummagumma. The hotel smells exactly as one might expect given that it is seemingly inhabited exclusively by Pink Floyd fans, and the concert experience is now in full swing, thanks largely to one key addition – fans. As we board the tube, I’ve never seen so many people flocking to a concert in my life and there’s a real community spirit. It’s exciting and is further evidence that the scale of the show is reflected in revenues and gatherings beyond the venue itself.
One sub-standard meal later, we enter the venue and blag ourselves into a semi-backstage area for Sky customers. Beyond the surprise that being a Sky customer was in any way rewarding, it was a welcome substitute support act, reinforcing the social dimension of live music ahead of a seated performance which will involve minimal interaction with other fans.
After a massage, we have some make-up applied and mime songs on instruments in a booth wearing Sky 3D glasses, where we could watch ourselves performing in 3D. Before Waters has played a single song this is already great fun and, not coincidentally, valuable promotional activity for Sky in terms of adding perceived value to the £85 ticket price. However, the promotional tie-in between BskyB and the 02 arena, along with the ticket-price, is also testament to the expense of running venues like this, and not within the artist’s control either. The value of a concert ticket depends to a large extent on its scarcity (certainly relative to recorded music) and ‘value-added’ parts of the venue like this are another way of increasing that ‘scarcity’.
Obviously relative ‘scarcity’ also applies to preferred seating spots and when we make our way into the venue we discover we have ‘good seats’, (high up and quite far back). This is my default cinema choice and I may well have chosen here if given the pick of an empty arena. I can see the stage perfectly, with the advantage of being angled enough to also see what is going on at the side of the stage where I am fascinated by the construction of the show. The comparison to a cinema pertains because the seating arrangement provides optimal views across the arena wherein the relation of seats to stage is maximised to make the most of ‘spectacle’ (and hence distance), rather than proximity to the band.
I also take the time to scout the venue and the stage whereupon I clock an aeroplane on the ceiling, and wonder when it will be used. Again, the entire space, rather than just the stage, is deployed. We flirt with the prospect of Gilmour making an appearance and move from 5-1 to 4-1 odds; confirmed to play one of the five London shows (not there the night before). I convince myself the odds are against us so as not to raise our expectations any higher, but before I know it, the lights go out and the show itself begins.
I get my money’s worth in the first five minutes. I have never been to a ‘big’ show like this before and wasn’t expecting so much to be happening. Costumes, sound effects, pyrotechnics (the plane also crashed), with stunning visuals and searchlights shining on the audience. It was a strong introduction and if audience participation singalongs were always going to be difficult with this music, the ‘special effects’ occupied a similar role, extending the ‘space’ of the show out into the audience.
As the songs are played in identical order to the album, with some extended introductions and other subtle variations, a huge wall is erected on stage between the audience and the band. Other aspects of the album artwork are brought to life via huge puppets and machine gun blasts echoing through the venue. I am spoiled for choice over where to look; every song has unique visuals, some of which are impeccably timed to the music, such as on Goodbye Blue Sky. This enhances a feeling of immersion, a sense that the entire space – audience seating as well – is being used to recreate the original work. And that original work is always in the background – no Gilmour on Mother, easily my favourite song of the first half – which in my mind writes off the likelihood of an appearance later.
As the first half reaches a close, the final bricks of the wall are put together to leave just one hole through which Waters peers, singing the haunting final words of Goodbye Cruel World. It’s a fascinating feat to engage an audience where you are physically putting a barrier between performer and fan. It works in this context and adds a unique dimension to the performance – memorable and ultimately integral to the show.
All of the visuals, in fact, felt as though they had been specifically designed with the O2 in mind, where everything fitted together. A definite thumbs-up to the technical crew who, I would hope, received a substantial chunk of my £85 ticket.
After a brief interval, the second half begins in a much more low-key fashion as the band perform behind the wall. A quite spectacular sleight of hand follows, as Roger Waters sings Comfortably Numb in front of the wall, with no visuals to distract from the performance. For the first time of the night, all my attention is on Waters. So it’s a surprise when out of nowhere during the chorus, a spotlight appears from above the towering wall to reveal none other than Dave Gilmour. 20,000 people rise to their feet in admiration, applauding and singing their hearts out. This was the obvious highlight of the show.
Comfortably Numb seems to stretch on endlessly as Gilmour performs his trademark blues inflected solo, signature strings bends and seemingly infinite sustain to the fore. It was phenomenal and choreographed for maximum impact for fans. 1 in 4 odds? Good enough for me in the future.
For all the relative exclusivity of VIP areas and maximising the value of seating allocations to present a rare immersive experience, the appearance of Gilmour at a Waters gig is something that attains ultimate scarcity value. This has been played upon in the run-up to the show and so its significance for those on the night is explosive.
There are parallels here with work on recorded music too, and it’s the recorded legacy of the Gilmour solo on Comfortably Numb that has such potency here. On the concept of perceived value (and to draw briefly from digital piracy research), Bhatacharjee, Gopal and Sanders (2003) noted that participants’ willingness to pay for music depended on the perceived value of music, and several studies have shown that consumers who attach a higher value to a product typically tend to purchase it rather than download it illegally (Cheng, Sims and Teegen, 1997; Conner and Rummelt, 1991; Gopal and Sanders, 1998). A sure-fire way to increase the perceived value of physical goods is to make them exclusive (as discussed in an article of mine currently in press). The same effect is accomplished with live concerts where, in this case, the duet with Gilmour was highly exclusive. It’s a marriage of Pink Floyd’s recorded legacy and the live experience that ties fans into the narrative history of the band personnel. A one-off, in fact, and this invocation of the band’s – and The Wall’s – history is completed at the end of the show.
After the dark final songs, replete with circling inflatable pigs, I find myself drawn into Waters’ psychodrama, mindlessly chanting ‘Tear Down the Wall’, upon which it is destroyed, seemingly crushing those in the front rows. Emerging some minutes later in a cloud of smoke, Waters thanks the audience – the first time he has broken character – and welcomes back Gilmour. Who would have thought these two would get back together again onstage, if only for a brief time? To our astonishment, Waters invites Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason onstage, reuniting the complete line-up of surviving members of the group and once again drawing the audience into a moment in Pink Floyd’s biography.
Joined onstage by the principal musicians from the show, we are treated to a suitably quiet and minimal close to the show in the form of the album closer Outside the wall. And with that, it’s all over…
Now, I paid what many would consider a ridiculous amount of money to see this concert and I genuinely feel like I got my money’s worth. The show was monumental but quite apart from the spectacle there were specific experiences which could not have occurred on any other day. Gilmour’s appearance, in this context, was effectively priceless. What if, however, I was there by myself? A different story altogether. The point is that it was a shared experience and, indeed, Packer and Ballantyne’s (2010: 178) research noted a comparable link between the musical and social experience in festival audiences.
“The music experience was seen to provide the common ground upon which the other experiences were built” (p.178).
This is all the more convincing when we considering music itself as an ‘experience good’ (Regner and Barria, 2009).
Given the significance of the historical moment, as well as the musical performance, I was surprised at the price of the merchandise. I would have loved a physical memento, but the t-shirts were around £45 – easily the most expensive gig merchandise I’ve ever seen. Purchase is of course optional, and I opted out this time, but questions remained. Was it assumed that having spent so much already on a ticket fans, wouldn’t think much of forking out another large sum for merchandise? I’m of the opinion that more money would have been made from merchandise from selling more units at a lower cost.
A word on nostalgia
I have no doubt that a lot of the fans there that night would call The Wall their favourite album. To date I have only seen three artists perform an album in full although there has been a trend in recent years for bands to perform albums live in full, most notably Primal Scream (another concert ruined by knowing which songs were going to be played).The thought of seeing one of my favourite albums live in full excites me, however, and seeing a performance of a particular album live, and in full, grounds your affinity with a band in a particular time period. To my mind, this is bound to motivate concert attendance.
Tied to this, the other nostalgia-based activity is, of course, the reunion.
In my mind then, the ultimate form of nostalgia would be a reformed band performing a particular album in full, and this came close, which is effectively what made it so grand. Another related point is that in the months following the concert I rented several live Roger Waters concert films, the concert having promoted an interest in Waters’ work in general. Touring was historically in support of a new album but it’s also a longer-term process and, here, ancillary sales in the form of the soon-to-be-released Pink Floyd re-issues are sure to have been encouraged.
On live music attendance motivations
To briefly consider more academic research on live music attendance motivations, Dilmperi, King and Dennis (2011) identified that live music attendance peaks amongst 15-30 year olds. This observation would tie in with literature on musical preferences which consistently finds music to be of great importance to individuals in this age group. It seems likely that these preferences are what many carry with them through their later lives. Anecdotally, I expect the majority of the audience at the Roger Waters concert would have been approximately 15-30 when The Wall was released. I was certainly one of the youngest people there at 25 years of age.
McIntyre (2011: 150) has noted the ‘[k]ey generational identity differences in intrinsic meanings, values and associations inherent within their differential music transactional processes’ whilst Lee and Ashton (2004) found that there was a generational difference regarding purchases of hard copies of music, also illustrated in the findings of a qualitative study by Nutall et al (2011: 155) where one female teenager commented: ‘I think there’s a generational difference. For older people there’s a preference for CDs and records as they were the only way [for them] to access music’.
I wonder if older music fans are by implication more likely to purchase concert tickets as well, or at least tickets at such premium prices? In any case, the demographic weighting of the audience at the Waters concert would suggest that the nostalgia market often assumes that people carry the musical totems of their generation along with them into higher earning brackets.
Indeed, experience emerged as a major selling point of live music attendance in a recent study conducted by Professor Raymond MacDonald and myself in which over 800 open-ended responses to ‘List three main reasons why you go to live concerts’ were reduced into categorical variables, grouped into 4 themes: Experience (46.2%), Engagement (28.4%), Novelty (13.9%) and Practical (11.6%).
I expect it really is the unique selling point of the concert experience which drives ticket sales. Holt (2010) suggests that being at a live concert remains a distinct kind of experience; measurable in the atmosphere, the artistic performance and in social interaction.
Concluding remarks and the notion of ‘the unexpected’
This was one of the best concerts I have been to. Normally, when I go to see one of my favourite bands I bring baggage in the form of various expectations. If they are very high, but not met, I might convince myself it was better than it really was. Alternatively, when I see an unknown band and do not bring any expectations with me it is arguably easier to walk away satisfied.
In this instance, my expectations were extremely high (largely thanks to the financial investment). I knew the act, but key details of the show remained alien to me so I had no formal expectations of what the concert would be like, nor could I have known for certain that Gilmour would be there. As such, a specific type concert experience emerged – a mix of the expected and unexpected.
And it is on that note I would like to conclude, returning to a point which has surfaced a few times. It was the element of surprise that ultimately defined the show.
In his seminal article ‘Music and the Internet’ (2000), Steve Jones speculates on the nature of fandom in relation to music suggesting that the affective dimensions and loyalties associated with popular music practice may find new forms of expression through use of new technologies. Today, fan-shot YouTube clips of concerts are posted online moments after they occur, with set-lists and other such spoilers also uploaded to the Internet. Fans do so to share and document their concert experience with like-minded individuals, and for all the right reasons. However, I dare say upon reflection that these new forms of expression (whilst promoting the concert experience) may reduce the potential impact of the concert experience itself. How I managed to ignore such spoilers, I don’t know.
But I’m glad I did.
Steven is a doctoral research student, researching attitudes towards music piracy. He recently launched http://www.musicpiracyresearchblog.blogspot.co.uk with bi-weekly updates and daily Twitter updates @musicpiracyblog. A full reference list available upon request (firstname.lastname@example.org) where he recommends the following resource for further reading on concert attendance motivations: Earl, P.E. (2001). Simon’s travel theorem and the demand for live music. Journal of Economic Psychology, 22, 335-358.
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