When James and I first booked tickets to The Stone Roses at the Sydney Opera House way back in August this year, we had a difficult choice to make. “Do we sit behind the band?”. It’s not something either of us had done before, and the tickets, while still pricy, were heavily discounted if we chose to view the backs of the band’s heads. “Bollocks,” said James (he’s a pom so he actually says this), “let’s just do it”. And so we did.
And it was beyond incredible.
James, Amanda and I begun the night at the (relatively) new Gateway Shopping Centre (No.1 Macquarie Place) in Circular Quay where we ate deliciously fragrant Chat Thai and sampled the specials at Messina. A strong start. We headed up to the Opera House, and with the gig starting at a late 9:45pm, we had some time to take in the surprisingly cool Sydney summer night’s air alongside our famous, tessellated, slightly off-white Opera House sails. James quipped “there’s an awful lot of people breaking the No. 1 gig rule – never wear the band shirt of the band you’re about to see”. Amanda noted many of the shirts were merch purchases on the night, which we agreed would be an exception to the rule – but the guy wearing a Stone Roses 2012 tour shirt received nothing but the disapproval of our shaking heads as we headed into the Concert Hall.
We were front row behind the band, and it was truly special for me to finally see what a live band on stage sees. Contrast the following image:
With this image:
And you’ll get an idea of what it felt like.
I mean, all those people COULD have been cheering for James, Amanda and I. They weren’t. But they COULD have been.
From the opening explosion of “I Wanna Be Adored” to “Waterfall”, “She Bangs The Drum”, “Made Of Stone”, “Love Spreads”, “Fools Gold”, “This Is The One” and the closing “I Am The Resurrection”, this was one of those gigs were the band played every song I hoped they would play. And the crowd, presumably full of poms too (given 50% of my immediate company hailed from the UK) were incredibly vocal and confident in their choral efforts, especially on “This Is The One”. It’s rare to have this combination of factors at a gig, but when it happens it’s a wonderful thing. Expectations met. Hopes and dreams satisfied. Self-actualisation achieved.
Sitting where we were, you also get to people-watch the crowd – it’s like the show is both the band and how people are enjoying the band. The diehards begging for some memorabilia at the front, the tired balding man, arms crossed, who was probably dragged out by his younger son standing in the middle, the Union Jack being thrust about proudly at the back of the theatre. Amanda remarked “wow why are there people wearing sunglasses in the audience?”. She wasn’t wrong, and sure enough about 4 or 5 people were wearing sunnies. Maybe the lights were too bright. Maybe they were all just hectic Manchester (Mancunian?) lads. Hard to tell. Either way, they were having a good time.
When I focused my attention on stage, I begun to notice all the hand signals, malfunctions, subtle interactions between band and sound guys/roadies, wiring, setlists, little lights – the parts of a live show that you never have exposure to from the front. Look at the fan (as in electrical fan, not crowd fan) blowing on Reni, the drummer’s, back. So THAT’S how drummers keep cool. Go figure.
The Stones Roses are also an incredibly generous live band. They played with hardly any breaks over almost 2 hours and were exceedingly warm with the crowd. Lead singer Ian Brown indiscriminately distributed what felt like an unlimited supply of tambourine jingle sticks to fans lucky enough to be at the front. He posed for selfies with crowd members, boxed and danced with an inflatable kangaroo hurled on stage, high fived and fist bumped anyone he could reach and gave a lot of love to the people sitting at all 360 degrees from the stage. Set lists were distributed, drumsticks and picks flung – all this free stuff for the crowd, was I watching Oprah?
No. It was The Stone Roses.
At one stage, Ian took a girl’s iPhone and filmed all the band members up close on stage before handing it back – a video to be cherished. I know a lot has been said about filming at gigs, and it can be annoying – but I smiled at a band embracing the attempts of fans to keep a special piece of the show after they leave the gig.
My only qualm with sitting behind a band is, obviously, sound quality. You get plenty of drums and the bass is audible but guitar and vocals sound either quiet or flat. This is to be expected. The side effect of compromised sound was completely forgotten when, at the end of the show, James caught one of Reni’s drumsticks and had to sit down due to the overwhelming nature of what he had just experienced. Just look at how happy he is:
This is again the sort of experience I hope Viva can bring to people. A gig from a different angle, a new perspective on an age old experience and the excitement and thrill of seeing people enjoying what they love. Pure fun. Would do again!