When I join the clamour for an arena in Bristol, I do so in the most magnanimous way. Generally speaking, few of my favourite acts would even play an arena show, never mind being able to fill an arena. I don’t even like the impersonal nature of arena shows or the hassle of getting to, from and in and out of an arena show. My experience is the hassle outweighs any sense of enjoyment I get. But for many, tonight’s Spice Girls concert at Ashton Gate is as good an illustration as to why Bristol needs an arena and soon.
Those attending tonight’s largely outdoor show are going to get soaked to the skin. The weather forecast indicates near 100% certainty of heavy rain throughout the gig. People will squelch their way at glacial speed to enter the stadium, many will stand for two miserable hours (and that’s just listening to the music) consuming food and drink at ‘event prices’ and then squelch their way home again. Hard core fans will doubtless feel it’s worth the damp experience, but many will surely have preferred the warmth, albeit generally soulless warmth, of an arena show?
The one and only stadium gig I saw was at Wembley Stadium. In 1975. The line up was, in ascending order, Stackridge, Rufus ft Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, the Eagles, the Beach Boys and Elton John. It was a boiling hot day in June, the sound system was generally abysmal, the Beach Boys had an off day and Elton John decided to start his set by playing his brand new album which hardly anyone had heard, kicking off with Funeral for a Friend. Apart from standing next to a gorgeous topless woman for much of the day, the gig scarred me for life. I never went to another stadium show and never will. And that show featured three of my favourite acts of all time – Joe Walsh, the Eagles and the Beach Boys, when all three were still relevant musically.
If I don’t care much for arena shows (Massive Attack’s astonishing show on the Filton airfield was a massive exception to the rule), and don’t even consider attending stadium shows, the crowds at the recent nostalgia/generic stadium rock concerts in Bristol have shown there is a terrific market for them. It’s a real embarrassment that our fair city doesn’t have a venue for Premier League artists. Perhaps, when people squeeze themselves out of their sodden clothes after tonight’s heritage show by four fifths of the Spice Girls – last single and album, 2000 – they might just put more pressure on the politicians in order to make the arena happen. Or, if reports of ‘sound problems’ at recent Spice Girls shows are true (this may have something to do with the fact that at least three of the girls can’t actually sing), they might be put off forever.