Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air @ The Riverstage, 23.07.2011

I enjoy the evenings that the Queensland Music Festival (QMF) puts on each year at the Riverstage as the festival’s main event. They always provide something different, the sort of show you’re unlikely to see in Brisbane unless it’s a special one-off, as with tonight’s pairing of Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky.  They’re always well organised and pleasant ways to spend an evening under the stars. They’re also well attended events, although I’m never sure whether the people who come to the shows are particular fans of the people playing or general music fans or are just the more cashed-up ‘Patrons of the Arts’.

If there is one downside to the QMF events at the Riverstage it’s the segregation of the audience into the different priced seating plan that stretches up the hill, with the General Admission area at the top of the hill being a patch of grass and a BYO rug.

Ticket pricing and ticket buying is something that I often find myself thinking about, especially at nights like tonight when what you pay is directly related to how close you are to the stage. Growing up in an age when getting tickets to an in demand and obvious sell out show meant getting up early and queuing outside the box office and getting a good spot generally meant getting to the show early and claiming a good space (I’ve always despised people who turn up late and then push their way through the crowd), it’s all changed in the last 10 or so years. The days of queuing up outside a venue, a ticketing agency or a record shop to buy tickets are, for the most part, long behind us. Yet there was something honest about the whole process of lining up: You wanted to see that show or get to that festival, you had to physically prove how much it meant to you. Now it’s just a click of a button with fingers crossed that the server isn’t too overloaded at the time the tickets go on sale. For some of the main festivals, with the amount of time spent hitting refresh is it actually saving any time than would have been spent in a physical queue. At least at the end of the queue, so long as the event didn’t sell out) you’d get your ticket, and the better organised sellers would be sending people along the line to let you know if you were likely to be queuing for nothing. There’s no guarantee with buying tickets online.

In addition to the changes in how tickets are bought, there’s also been changes to the ticket pricing structure over the same time. The first gig I ever went to was U2 at Cardiff Arms Park, and the tickets were priced at £14.50 and that was for every ticket, the whole stadium was general admission. It was the same for indoor seated venues. If you wanted a good seat you got in there early to make sure you bought a good seat. If it was an arena or stadium show you got there early and made sure you were as close to the stage as you could get or wanted to. These days prime positions is all about how much you’re willing to spend, up to as much as $400 a ticket if you want to watch Kylie from the splash zone right in front of the stage. Spending a lot of time in the photo pit I’m always thinking whether the people on the other side of the barrier are the true fans or just those with the most money to spend on a concert ticket. Sometimes, even at the really big shows, the response from the very front seems so muted that it feels like it’s the latter of the two options.

While I’ve digressed ever so slightly, I do wonder about the audience at the Riverstage and whether those in the expensive seats would go and see Paul Kelly play somewhere less refined than a QMF event at the Riverstage. I don’t think ticket prices were too expensive but at $99 for the reserved seating would they be out of the range of your typical Paul Kelly fan? Or were all the Paul Kelly fans in the much more reasonable $49 General Admission area at the back?

As for the show itself, the one main issue is the lack of Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky. Whilst their faces adorned the adverts and the very large billboards around Brisbane (there’s still one up by the train line on the way out to Salisbury more than 3 months after the event). Both of the main players start the show on stage before leaving after the first song, with the two female singers performing the second song. From memory Paul Kelly comes out at the end of the song to introduce the third song and promptly exits stage right before making an appearance towards the end of the third song to provide some backing vocals. It’s a theme that runs throughout the night, much to the increasing annoyance of the crowd. Although he’s on stage for some of the songs played, in others he’s only there to introduce them, and only makes fleeting cameos to add some vocals at the end of others.

A toilet stop after the three songs in the photo pit finds the main topic of conversation to be that the show “needs more Paul Kelly”, and a couple of minutes after this someone in the crowd makes their feelings known, yelling out “We want Paul”. The voice sounds like it comes from the back half of the crowd, from someone in the general admin area; I’m not sure if the gathered patrons of The Arts in the pricey seats would have been so bold (or been bothered enough) to voice the same opinion.

On its own merits the show, for a one-off event, is fine. It’s a pleasant evening the band play really well and the singing from all involved is beautiful. Despite all the grumbles about the poor sound at The Riverstage I’ve never experienced anything that could be marked out as being really bad; the sound for most of the events I’ve seen here has been excellent and tonight is no exception.

But the event has been sold on the names and the faces of Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky, and it’s clear that the majority of the crowd has come to see them and are obviously disappointed at how the evening has unfolded in front of them; they haven’t got what they expected.

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