Seeing the biggest bands in the world play a tiny show seems like a once in a lifetime opportunity, but more often than not, they lead to a crisis of supply and demand.
Among fans of live music, many universal experiences are shared: the euphoria of standing together as your favourite artist takes the stage, sharing tales of other gigs in the queue and in the crowd, sharing a drink with those around you as you wait.
Before you get there though, you all must share a less enjoyable experience: braving the unintuitive layout of whichever ticket site you’ve decided to purchase tickets from, and praying that tickets haven’t been snapped up in the ten seconds they have been on sale. This problem is bad enough when trying to get tickets to arena shows, so when your favourite artist announces that their first tour in years will be ‘a string of intimate dates’, you can’t help but feel a little upset at your odds.
On the surface, the ‘intimate show’ sounds like a cute idea: just you, a thousand people, and a set from one of the biggest bands on earth. This was my thought when Arcade Fire announced that their first UK dates since 2014 would take place in locales such as a boxing venue, a refurbished corn exchange, and Scunthorpe. Unfortunately, this meant that tickets were gold dust, and while I personally managed the Herculean feat of securing tickets, plenty of fans were left out in the cold.
Arcade Fire are far from the only act to do such a thing this year, with high demand for sell-out shows from the likes of Jessie J, The Killers and Alt-j. Extrapolating the popularity of these shows seems to point to a general move away from the decadent, lavish stadium shows popularised by U2’s Zoo TV tour in the 1990’s, and towards a more stripped back and closer form of live show.
Many of these intimate shows are billed as ‘warm-up tours’ ahead of an album release, revealing them as an effective way of drumming up hype ahead of a big release. Practically, they also present an opportunity to debut new material in front of an audience who won’t care too much if the artist botches a performance of an obscure cut, which makes such shows all the more alluring to the super-fans who can’t resist the chance to say, ‘I was there’.
While I’ve been pretty sceptical up to this point, it is certainly worth pointing out how the trend of intimate gigs has been co-opted for positive social purposes. Sofar Sounds is a grassroots movement that seeks to stage secret, intimate concerts from major artists in the tiniest of venues, usually living rooms with less than 50 people enjoying sets from the likes of Ed Sheeran, The National and Tom Odell. Taking advantage of the high demand that such an event brings, Sofar Sounds spins scarcity into a force for good: a recent series of shows called ‘Give a Home’ was announced in aid of the global refugee crisis.
Perhaps my love-hate relationship with the intimate show stems from how it exacerbates the already existing problems present in ticket aggregate sites such as Ticketmaster, that is, the design of the website is stacked against the user when it comes to getting tickets: inconvenient crashes and the scourge of bots make a simple process into a draining and anxious experience, and a general scarcity of tickets on top of this only makes a bad situation worse. Events such as Sofar Sounds and bands such as LCD Soundsystem have found inventive ways around this problem: tickets for LCD Soundsystem’s New York comeback shows were distributed via a lottery system, with prospective attendees applying for tickets in advance.
This might seem like I’m making a big deal out of a fun little idea. And this idea is indeed fun, it’s just a shame that the very large price tag attached to it makes it such a problematic prospect for the end customer. Intimate gigs would certainly thrive better in an industry less cynical and profit-oriented than the one we are stuck with for now. Nevertheless, you will still catch me desperately mashing refresh on the morning tickets go on sale, trying to get hold of a rare ticket so I can see my favourite bands up close.
I just wish that there was some other way.
Words by Luke Charnley
Image by Burak Cingi