Thursday, October 1, 2009

I've got the best seat in the house, if you know what I mean

My hair-obstructed seats at A Flock of Seagulls, 1983.

The best seat in the house isn't necessarily the one that God - or Ticketmaster - gave you.

I recently came across a Winnipeg Free Press article from 1993 in which reporter Stephen Ostick outlined "the strategy to buying the hottest real estate for shows."

The article harks back to a simpler time, when you'd stand in line (not online) all night long outside the Winnipeg Arena in order to get front-row tickets to Simple Minds. You snoozed? You losed. Quaint.

When you got to the front of the line, you could also actually request where it was you wanted to sit in the venue - something that Ticketmaster's online entity doesn't allow you to do, though you can search by price and level.

But between today's presales, VIP seats, and the insane number of "armchair queuers" competing for the limited real estate in the venue, your selection often comes down to a scenario that would give Sophie pause: would I rather see or hear the show? Because, as Ostick pointed out in 1993, "only the best seats allow you to do both."
"To complicate things even more at rock n' roll shows, audiences rush the stage, forcing everyone to stand up, and creating a sweaty logjam around the stage that's uncomfortable if not dangerous."
True dat. Although I have to say that the scariest mosh pit of which I've ever been a part was at the Belly show at First Avenue in Minneapolis - an all-ages concert that proved that the scariest, most rabid audience is girls between the ages of 12 and 21.

Not that Ticketmaster will ever give you a choice, but here are my picks for the best seats in the house at Winnipeg's venues:

1. MTS Centre:

The best seats I've ever had at MTS Centre were for John Mellencamp and Tom Petty - and they were, by some weird happenstance, in the very same row.

The magic location is Section 117, Rows two to five, Seat 15; just above the floor, next to the stage, at the same level as the performer. John Mellencamp stared into my eyes when he sang Jack and Diane. And it wasn't as creepy as it sounds!

2. Centennial Concert Hall:

One of the better venues in town; great views and sound in most areas. However, the best view and sound combo is in the block of middle seats, rows 10 to 20, seats 10 to 40 (dead centre).

If best sound is your thing, take the second balcony - but don't expect to see a damn thing.

The two loges (fun fact: the Concert Hall is the only place in the world the word "loge" is actually still in use) are also pretty great. I saw R.E.M. from the top row in the loge on the left, and it ruled.

Row one and two are actually too close to the performers; I've seen up the nostrils of one John Oates, and I'd rather not do it again.

3. Manitoba Theatre Centre:

A very bizarre layout - who thought that off-centre seating was a good idea? - means that you can have great seats or be seated in the parking lot.

Prime seats at MTC are main floor, rows six to 12, seats eight to 24.

In Ostick's article, he singles out row eight, seat 18 as the best.

4. Burton Cummings Theatre:

At all costs, avoid the second balcony - that is, unless you like watching your favorite artists from six storeys up at an angle that six physicists have tried to measure, but never lived to tell the tale.

The first six rows in the first balcony are great, and the floor is great for watching and listening - rows five to 10 being prime.

But why has the sound at the Burt been so insanely loud lately? It all started with the Strokes, and it came to a crashing crescendo, I'm told, at the latest Franz Ferdinand show.

5. Pantages Playhouse Theatre:

Rows four to 10 in the middle are just about perfect. The low rows of the balcony are also tolerable, but further back than that: you're in another postal code.

The exception was the one time that the Winnipeg Comedy Festival took the people in the last and worst row of the theatre - including me - and brought us down to the fourth row on the main floor at the beginning of the show.

6. IMAX Theatre:

The massive screen means that you still get the warning that "if you feel nauseous, put your head between your knees." Imagine my embarrassment when I got nauseous and thought I was supposed to "put your head between your neighbor's knees."

Your field of vision will be nothing but screen no matter where you sit, but rows D to H, seats 10 to 20 (the middle) offer the greatest "symmetry of viewing."

7. PTE:

Banks of seats in a semi-circle around the stage mean that you have a great view from anywhere; but the centre section is better than the side sections for that "traditional play experience."

8. MTC Warehouse/Gas Station Theatre:

All of the seats are the same in these venues: pretty good.

But it's better to stay away from the back row of the Gas Station, where you can hear the techies rummaging around their gym bags in search of Doritos.

9. The West End Cultural Centre:

I haven't been to the new-and-improved West End. Curse that sold-out Hold Steady concert...

10. Winnipeg Arena:

In the middle of that patch of grass is perfect.


  1. I've seen The Dears and The Hold Steady at the WECC since it was renovated, and it's an excellent venue. Standing-only on the floor, and there is a new U-shaped balcony at the rear of the hall, which would provide a good view. Nobody should have any trouble seeing the show if standing up front.

    I can't say the same for standing-only on the floor at the MTS Centre. I'm 5'4" and could only see the shaggy top of Neil Young's bobbing head for the entire show. I've avoided the MTC Centre floor at all costs since then - it's seats only for me!

    PS: I think you left out the Pyramid. Short folks also have a fairly good view of the stage there, most nights. However, seeing Bonnie Prince Billy over people's shoulders there was a bit of a challenge for me.

  2. Yeah, the Pyramid is a rough one - it can be a great venue, and it can really suck, depending on the number of people there, and who's playing.

  3. Yep. The Ticketmaster online system can be a real pain. Anyone who's used it more than a couple times knows full well that "Best Available" is a crock.

    And don't get me started on the presales. I once checked out an event and there were 6 (that's S-I-X) presales on the go. I had a code for one and the best available was the third level. The 2-day presale still had over 24 hours left on it too. Yeesh!

    No matter where you go, you definitely need to find the "sweet spot" for your listening and viewing pleasure. If only Ticketmaster would upgrade their online engine to the point where you could key in a section, row, and seat and it would give you nearest available. But that would probably just crash the system, as everyone fights for the best seats in the house.

    C'est la vie!


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