This is a low (volume experience)
I have seen some truly awful gigs by bands I’ve liked (The Sleepy Jackson at the Astoria and Fight Like Apes at Cargo, to name two indulgent messes). I’ve had other shows totally ruined by the actions of those around me (drunk guy at The National smoking, bellowing every word out of tune and threatening to punch my friend, you were the worst). Bands and fans are unpredictable things. It’s something you just accept, if not always happily. I’ve never felt as deflated at a gig as at Blur at Hyde Park last night, where both band and fans were entirely blameless.
The problem was really simple: the sound was laughably quiet. During “Beetlebum”, someone saying ‘this is the hard bit in Guitar Hero’ at conversational volume several people away was louder than Graham Coxon playing that part. “Song 2” sounded particularly comedic, great roars from the crowd with the weediest of rock in between. Backing singers were never audible and the mumbled singing of people around us generally drowned out Damon - I stopped singing along at many points because I was aware that those around me would only hear me.
Between moments of bleak comedy, mostly it was just a slow drip of disappointment. People seemed unsure of how to react. Initially thousands chanting ‘turn it up’ at every break with occasional smatterings of boos, but all but a few gave up and went for muted applause only. There was a bit of a sense that a Blur show was a rare and precious thing regardless (and this one might even be their last) and that it would be disrespectful to make too much of a fuss. Or that having looked forward to it so much the only thing to do was to act like everything was fine and not heartbreaking.
Looking at all of the reactions online, there seem to be a lot who had similar experiences, a few people saying ‘it was Hyde Park, what do you expect’ (same band and same venue in 2009: no problems), lots adding complaints about queues, and remarkably few people even mentioning refunds. Apparently expectations of what a concert ticket entitles you to are really low. But a set up allowing the crowd to hear the band isn’t something which is down to the vagaries of chance. It’s not the same thing at all as having a bad experience because the weather was terrible or the band had an off-day. If the quietness has been dictated by noise complaints, as seems to be the case, that should spell an end to Hyde Park gigs altogether, not this absurd compromise. I really hope that there will be some kind of consequence for LiveNation or (sponsors) BT or the park management, though I fear there will not.
(on the plus side, I did get to meet and spend a great day with Hendrik, who I feel even more sorry for since he travelled much further to attend)