Friday, August 27, 2010

Is supply and demand ruining Winnipeg concerts?

We are not alone.

It used to be easy to be a concert fan in Winnipeg.

When I was a kid, the general concert-attendance rule was simply "see every show that comes to town," because no shows ever came to town.

So, if weak artists on their way out showed up - David Lee Roth with special guest Andy Taylor without Van Halen and Duran Duran, anyone? - they'd still get book the arena. You'd get up at 6 a.m., stand in line all day for tickets, and be grateful to get something in the last row of the nosebleed seats.

At the show, you'd pay attention to every, little nuance and consider every last word that David Lee Roth had to say, no matter how boneheaded it was.

"Yes, Mr. Roth, you make some good points."

You'd drink up the concert like the last bottle of a fine wine, scrapbook the ticket stub, and talk about it for the rest of your life, because you knew that the artist would never come back.

My friends and I would also drive to Minneapolis to see concerts three or four times a year. Minneapolis was the land of concert milk and honey, and we saw everything we could: the Violent Femmes, Peter Gabriel, Bow Wow Wow, the Pixies, U2, Belly, Throwing Muses, Psychedelic Furs, Jerry Seinfeld, the Sounds, Weezer, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Elvis Costello.

We agreed that if we lived in Minneapolis, we'd be broke for an embarrassment of great concerts.

But we also noticed that Minneapolis concert fans weren't as excited as Winnipeg concert fans to see their heroes. In Minneapolis, the crowd greeted John Mellencamp with friendly applause. In Winnipeg, the roof nearly caved as the crowd screamed, "Oh yeah - life goes on!"

No more Black Eyed Peas - I'm full

Now, thanks to the perfect storm of MTS Centre opening up at the same time that the idea of paying to buy recorded music evaporated, we're the new Minneapolis. We get every tour from everybody, multiple times a year.

It's one of the only ways an artist can make money these days. As actor/singer Juliette Lewis said from the stage at her latest show at the Pyramid, "I'll be signing autographs at the merch table after the show, because that's how I make money when I go on tour."

Any idea how many times the Black Eyed Peas have played here? Five? Six? 200? Gwen Stefani with or without No Doubt? Even Tom Petty, who ignored our city for 30 years without batting an eyelid, has played here twice in 12 months.

As we know, the law of supply and demand states:
When supply is down, demand goes up, price goes up. When supply is up, demand goes down, price goes down.
Which means: as musicians come back over and over and over, audience demand to see them goes down, especially in the absence of a hit album or song. As more concerts come to Winnipeg, the idea of going to a concert seems normal, not special.

Five bucks, five bucks, five bucks

That might explain why, in recent times, there has been a sudden burst of "last-minute ticket sales" to concerts at MTS Centre for the low, low price of $5.

How would you feel if you paid $500 for your tickets, and found out that the guy next to you paid $5?

There's also no doubt (see what I did there, Gwen?) that a guy who pays $5 for a concert isn't going to feel compelled to "get his money's worth," because in his mind, the experience isn't worth very much. It's the classic case of a sales promotion decreasing a brand's value.

If everyone else in the crowd has seen the artist six times, maybe they won't be into the show that much either, proving the old adages that familiarity breeds contempt and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

What does it matter, then, if they gab to their friends or push their way past you during the "boring songs" to go pee or buy beer - hundreds of times a show? The artist will be back next year anyway, right?

At the most-recent Bob Dylan show at MTS Centre, the aisles were blocked the entire time with a never-ending stream of people going up the stairs with full bladders and back down the stairs with full cups of beer.

In the past, we'd call that "rude."

And what of the arseholes who yelled out so many "suggestions" at the recent Neil Young Concert Hall shows, they ruined the show for everyone else and even garnered mention in the Globe & Mail review?

At the last Bright Eyes show, I sat next to a bonehead who talked to his "would-be girlfriend" (keep trying, kid) for the duration of the show. And Bright Eyes can get really, really quiet. During one of my favorite songs, I couldn't take it anymore; I finally suggested that the young man "shut up."

"It's a concert!" he yelled back.

"That's right, it's a concert," I yelled back.

We were at an impasse, as it became clear that my definition of a concert is "listening to the music" and his was "talking during the quiet parts."

Out here in the field...

As the concert experience erodes, and it's no longer a special night out, I have to wonder: what are the odds that anything I'll see will live up to the time I saw David Bowie in the front row of the Arena? Dane Cook's surprise show at the Pyramid? Arcade Fire at the Burt? Green Day at Le Rendezvous? Queen - with a real, live Freddie Mercury! - at the St. Paul Civic Centre?

I got momentarily excited when I saw that Arcade Fire and Holy Fuck were coming back to the city, but I hesitated to buy tickets to both, because I didn't want to spoil the great memories of seeing these bands with bad memories of seeing these bands.

I still love it when the occasional show surprises me, grabs me by the throat and won't let go - the Kissaway Trail at Lollapalooza, the Hives at the Burt, Elvis Costello at the Folk Fest, The Who and Roger Waters at MTS Centre (not together) - but I wonder if the surprises will get fewer and further between.

We'll find out at the Flaming Lips. I'll be the angry guy telling everyone else to shut up.


  1. There really are a lot more concerts coming to the city, especially in the last few years. I've been buying tickets to more and more shows - and I'm going to be going to see Arcade Fire next month when they come here.

    Unfortunately, like you, I've noticed that people are more likely to go for beer after beer at concerts. It's annoying, 'cause I've paid to see the artist, and I want to see them, not a stream of people who would be better off going to the nearest night club.

  2. I'm looking forward to the Flaming Lips, I feel it might be a turning point too. I've been there (in the "Shut Up!", vein, I mean). Kids are spoiled nowadays, I guess.

    But it does enrage me when I go to concerts and half the audience wastes their time at the beer vendor, and then annoys me for the other half of the concert... Then it's punchin' time!

  3. @ Jennifer

    I've gotta say the worst, the guy who gets it the most, consistently, every time, is Matthew Good. Just a bunch of drunk people screaming "plaaaaaay riiiiiicoooooo" amongst other things during song breaks. Makes me want to go punch those people in the face, tell them to stop listening to "Underdogs" and go buy something from the last decade.

    Ditto for people who scream "plaaay fiddleeeeeers greeeeeen" at Hip concerts, before 2009, they never played it, ever.

    Hmmm hmmm...I will think on this.

    I do regret not ponying up for REM and Sigur Ros concerts in Minneapolis....

    Pick and real music. Can't say I was at Black Eyed Peas nor would I refrain from telling anyone I meet that did go how horrible their ears are. Notice however, we get these travelling roadshow money-hungry fake tours and re-tours, like Blink 182 and Fleetwood Mac respectively. Now we're getting the old timers run-out-of-gas-and-need-more-money stadium gigs like ACDC, Aerosmith, pfffsh. At least Bon Jovi is still actually making music.

    Winnipeg is out of the way for a lot of touring musicians who place the music before the money. I'll be damned if REM ever comes back or a guy like Billy Corgan comes here. But that's big acts. The Garrick (although jeez I hate that venue) and the Walker are fairly frequent destinations for me I'd say maybe once a month each. Haven't been going to the WECC as much lately though...only one show since renovation.

    Music industry jus' don't work the way it used to. Now all the best acts aren't on the radio, and all the shitty ones nobody wants to see are, and then Winnipeg media plays up Rock on the Range as if it is some huge deal.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Ah, yes, Matthew Good fans make me like his music less! Ha, ha!

    When I saw the Who in Toronto, the crowd was just brutal - in Winnipeg, it was much better, because they hadn't played here in 30 years.

    She Wants Revenge stopped a song in the middle of their Pyramid set to tell people to shut up, and that was pretty embarrassing.

    Sam, I have some crappy neighbors I'd like you to punch after you're done at the Flaming Lips show!

  5. .... I'm still going to Holy Fuck, it'll be my third time and since they've only played here once I'm hoping it'll be a groovin' time. I almost throttled that girl at Neil Young though....

  6. It's just getting to be too much money to see all these shows. I seen Tom Petty in Vancouver about 15 years ago and it was more special than at the MTS centre.

  7. Chris: you were at the Neil Young show, eh? I heard that both concerts had crazy people yelling and screaming - and couldn't "take the hint" to shut up. How bad was it?

  8. We were sitting two rows behind the "woooooooppppp" girl at the Tuesday night show, everyone in the area told her to shut up (and worse, I think I heard a death threat) but she just wouldn't relent. Her boyfriend did nothing, I'm hoping he was just so embarrassed. I couldn't stand it, probably makes the show not so special to me, that and the unfortunate email I got afterwards, which I think I told you about...

  9. Steve Earle's most recent concert in Winnipeg this past winter was a solo performance devoted almost exclusively to the songs of his mentor, Townes Van Zandt. The show was ruined by drunk loogan "fans" yelling out for Copperhead Road and other Earle rockers. It quickly devolved into an embarrassing shouting match between artist and audience. Worst thing I've seen in nearly 30 years of attending shows.

    As for concerts generally in our burg, I'll feel better about the Minneapolis comparison when we can generate a who's who of punk, rock and folk greats like the spray-painted stars that grace the exterior of First Avenue. I marvel at it every time I walk past...

    Things might be getting better in Winnipeg, but our concert slate still weighs too heavily toward acts well past their artistic, if not their performing, peak. And still never Springsteen!

    Nothing wrong with catching the legends while they're still around, if you're willing to pay the ticket prices. But I'm really looking forward to seeing Arcade Fire, a group still on the creative ascent (let's hope), at MTS Centre next month.

  10. Hey! I saw Green Day at the Rendez-vous! That was an amazing show.

    Having the benefit of an employer who has box seats at the MTS Centre and regularly gives the tickets to their employees, I have sen quite a few concerts as of late. Unfortunately,I have been dissapointed with almost all of them, and it's not because of rowdy fans or because I didn't pay for my ticket. The concerts themselves were lackluster and seemed very repetitive. Among these were Marilyn Manson (so bad, it incited a riot!), Motley Crue (one of those $5 shows you mentioned,and they've been here pretty much every year since the MTS Centre opened!)and Iron Maiden (didn't even play Run to the Hills. Boo.)

    This new musical landscape means that bands have to tour more than ever to make money,and this leads to more concert dates and the same exact shows in every city, year after year. It's like they're a factory, churning out performance after performance and they do nothing to engage the audience.

    Now, the best concert I have seen as of late was actually Kid Rock and Bon Jovi. It was a stadium show (always fun!) and both acts put on a great show and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves on stage. The crowd was into it and I had an amazing time! And I didn't pay for those tickets either!

    So really, the artists can be just as (more,really!) responsible for a bad show as the fans are.

  11. How does one get these $5 tickets? I stopped going to concerts years ago because I can't bring myself to pay the $100+ ticket prices (I saw that David Lee Roth / Andy Taylor show too...for under $20).

  12. I'm the guy who pushes you aside and says, "Oh, my girlfriend is up there," to get front and centre on the floor. Please, feel free to push back and call me out on not having a girlfriend.


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