After a year of waiting having purchased our tickets back in April 2012 we finally arrived in London last night to see Rush perform on their Clockwork Angels tour at the O2 Arena in London.
Rush are one of our favourite bands, we’ve seen them three times before on their R30, Snakes and Arrows and Time machine tours in various venues including the SECC in Glasgow and the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle. We have been marginally disappointed on occasions in the past due to poor sound systems at some of these venues although on each occasion the band have quite obviously been playing their collective asses off. I had therefore hoped that last nights gig would be the best yet sound wise given the way the O2 big their arena up on their own website, which to quote says:
The arena at The O2 truly creates a new benchmark in what both fan and performer can and should expect from a rock or pop concert in the UK. You will only see the world’s hottest and most sought after acts on this stage; Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Scissor Sisters, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Take That… and what a way to enjoy them. With perfect sight-lines from every angle, crystal clear acoustics, obscenely comfy seating, wide concourses between aisles and a huge variety of snack and drink options to enjoy throughout the show. We’ve even put paid to that excruciatingly painful and frustrating tradition of the “fifty minute queue for the loo” by fitting 548 toilets.
This pretty much seems to say that the sound and venue would be good, at least better than Scotland’s SECC which is really just a giant metal shed and not the best venue for live music. However…. Last nights gig was by far the second worst live music experience we have paid for (The absolute worst was a gig by Alice in Chains a few years ago at a total dump in Govan, Glasgow, also funnily enough called the O2 where the sound engineer drove everything way up beyond distortion to the point where standing in front of a jet engine would have been more enjoyable).
From the moment we arrived I knew something was wrong. The doors which were supposed to open at 6 according to the ticket didn’t open until about half seven, so the concert started late, though not admittedly as late as anything involving Axl Rose. There were rumours of some kind of incident delaying the gig which were confirmed by one of the arena doorman when we left at the mid show break, and I have seen mention since of a Fox loose in the venue on other sites.
The interior of the O2 is certainly imposing, a massive cavernous space with 4 tiers of seats going up to the rafters probably several hundred feet in the air all round, a mighty distance to fall should you slip or trip on your way down the stairs to your hard plastic seat. The stage however was tiny for a venue of its size, the O2 has a capacity of 20,000 apparently. The PA and stage however looked no bigger than the system we have seen at venues half the size, all strung up in the lighting rig on thin looking wires. I don’t know whether the PA belonged to the house or whether it was brought by the band. The background pre show music being piped through the system, the usual mix of Genesis, Kansas, King Crimson and other stuff familiar to Rush concert goers was also barely audible through this system from where we were sitting, a portent of things to come.
As we sat waiting for the venue to fill up excited at the prospect of a good show for which for once we actually had a good view, eventually the house lights went down and the usual Rush pre gig comedy skit fired up on the screen. Problem was again we could hardly hear any of it, just an echoey mush. Then it ended and the opening keyboard chords of Subdivisions started pumping out, the band kicked off, the lights went up and… splat! The show rapidly went downhill from there.
Instead of the usual Rush powerful clear sound (and the promised ‘Crystal Clear Acoustics ) what we got was a muddy indecipherable roaring noise of harsh sounding guitar, keyboard, earth shattering subsonic bass, some drums (not the whole kit, mostly only a trebly snare and cymbals) and howling vocals all buried together in a wall of noise more reminiscent of a nearby hurricane than a premier rock band. Not one word Geddy Lee sang could be heard clearly, Neil Peart‘s usual needle sharp drum fills were lost completely in a wash of reverberation, and the bass was just a continuous rumble, any and all notes lost to the wind. As for Alex Lifeson‘s guitar, it was lost somewhere in the ether, only really cutting through on his solos, but painfully so as the noise screeched through at such an intense high pitched shrill volume that the only thing it really cut through were probably the ear drums of every dog in the East end of London, as well as our own. Painful.
As the first half progressed we sat desperately hoping the sound would clean up, that maybe someone somewhere would inform the sound engineer that the band sounded like a bag of drowning cats pumped through 100,000 watts of PA, these were some great songs that were being played somewhere out front after all. However it did not for the entirety of the first set. Song after song of inaudible vocals, gut rumbling bass and Peart’s whipcrack echoing snare drum, the only audible part of his kit washed over us. I found myself getting more and more annoyed, not to mention deafer as the distorted and unwelcome high frequencies pouring forth from the dangling PA took their toll.
Later as the first drum solo of the night kicked off the problems remained the same. The kit was awash with reverb and distortion from a clearly over driven PA, the sound bouncing off of the back of the venue creating a chronic slapback. The crowd obviously wearing beer muffs cheered on nonetheless, and as the band came back in after the drum solo I found that I could no longer make out what song they were playing. They later kicked into the Analogue kid, one of my favourite Rush songs, and it was ruined by the fact that what is a simple guitar, bass and drums rock tune with nice flashy fast riffs was rendered a reverb soaked murky mess in which you couldn’t separate guitar, bass, drums or vocals from the treacle mix. Lastly they played Far cry, and the only clear sound of the night emerged from the murk, the usual massive pyrotechnic spiralling firework bang at the end of the second ‘Circuits Blowing’ line (the first time they did that song at the SECC years ago I just about s**t myself at that point!).
After that the house lights went up and we headed outside wondering whether to bother with the second half. I had been looking forward to the performance of Clockwork Angels with the string ensemble, but once outside, woolly eared and very pis**d off, I didn’t want to go and sit through another hour and a half of ear splitting noise. So we decided to call it a night and head off to get something to eat down in ‘Entertainment Avenue’ more on which later…
All in all it was a completely disappointing night and represents probably the last ‘arena’ gig we will ever fork out for.
As for the O2 itself what can I say? This is our first and probably last visit to this soulless end of the line overblown marquee. I remember the controversy this place whipped up when first built as the ‘millennium dome’ as our government of the day saw fit to dump truck loads of public money into what appears to be little more than a giant grubby tent squatting over a concrete carpark. Today it houses the worst sounding music venue we have ever been to, and that is saying something coming from someone who has previously been to numerous gigs at Scotland’s very own gig spoiling barn the SECC on the muddy (sound wise) banks of the Clyde.
Not only does it house the worst sounding music venue, it is also stuffed full of the typical usual suspect high street fast food eateries along the outskirts of the O2 arena itself which the owners have jokingly called ‘entertainment avenue’. The only difference between the branches of these chain eateries in the O2 is that they charge way over the odds in the O2 than they do on most high streets. The same can be said in the arena itself, nearly £3 for a normal bottle of oasis fruit juice? RIPOFF!
Some adjectives to describe ‘entertainment avenue and the arena’ could include ‘Cold’, ‘Soulless’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Expensive’, ‘Windy’, etc.
As for being ‘Entertaining’, well that adjective is really more apt for the outside North Greenwich tube station where we actually managed to hear some Rush music with a bit of clarity, a happy busker standing at the top of the escalator, at the exit doors from the station to the O2 playing an instrumental of ‘Closer to the Heart’ to a backing tape which with his single guitar and two small tinny speakers on the floor at his feet sounded a thousand times better than the real thing in Thunderdome outside with several thousand watts of PA at their disposal, a lot of our money and a sound engineer who I suspect was either unconscious drooling over the mixing desk or just somewhere else entirely while the sound of Mad Max and Masterblaster battling it out continued on stage.
So, where does the fault lie with the sound issues on this gig? To be honest I am not entirely sure. Did the band bring their own PA and engineer, or was the PA part of the O2? I would really like to know. If it belonged to the O2 then the fault lies with them and possibly the sound engineer. If however it was the Bands sound system then to be honest they should really be ashamed of the sound quality they are offering to those fans who have paid out a lot of money to come and see their favourite band live, and at the very least the sound engineer should really be for the high jump for presenting the band in such an awful light. Other than that I have to say that despite the awful sound it was quite obvious that the band were actually playing really well, they continue to be at the top of their game as musicians unlike pretty much all of their peers from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. Its just a pity we couldn’t hear it.
Either way, having had the ‘Evening with Rush’ spoiled I would really love some of our money back, and then I might instead invest in the inevitable live DVD when it comes out and enjoy the concert properly on a decent sound system and wide screen at home.
So if you are considering shelling out for future gigs at the O2 arena, think long, think hard and maybe consider saving your money and not going as its bloody awful, and really disappointing if you travel a long distance to see something you have been looking forward to for over a year only to have it spoiled by inexcusably bad sound, and ridiculously expensive drinks. I have it on good authority that certain other gigs have been marred by similar problems. If however you are happy to slap the booze down your throat, strap on several thousand watts of chronically band sound and try your hardest to pretend it was actually a good night as you race toward alcohol soft middle age, then please, don’t let me stop you.
Now we are off to see the Happy Mondays in Bristol at the Harbour, with any luck they will hopefully sound much better than last nights ‘ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’ long distance runaround.
The Happy Mondays in Bristol were great. With a tiny stage and several thousand less watts of power than Rush had to play with, and only a few minutes of soundcheck on a stage shared with various acts (including 808 State) prior to their headline performance, they and whomever the sound engineer was managed to fill an open air concrete space on Bristols harbour-side amphitheatre with a really impressive sound, and performed brilliantly. The live sound was well mixed, loud, powerful and clear. Hundreds of pounds wasted on Rush vs a relatively cheap but highly enjoyable gig. Corporate arena rock sucks.