Where have the spectacular gigs gone?

The answer to that ridiculously silly leading question at the top of this article is obvious, shows are expensive enough when they are the only way artists make money anymore, but I like moaning about things like this so give me a few hundred words to string something together at least.

Growing up and into my late teens, live shows were so otherworldly for me. I’m not someone who would go to festivals, who would often see local bands in tiny venues, so for the two thirds of my life Arena shows were pretty much all I went to. We’re talking Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Girls Aloud, Rihanna and Take That. I wasn’t exactly going to Leeds and Reading okay.

Rather than go off on a ‘back in my day’ rant that begins in the retro year of 2009(!?), I just want to explain what I mean by spectacular. I expect some readers might think I’m being silly actively asking for things as ridiculously over the top as Take That riding in on a 6 metre tall mechanical elephant across Old Trafford cricket ground while acrobats and trampolinists jumped across the stadium stage; but my god it was spectacular.

Take That and Robbie Williams for good measure are the actsI have seen the most live shows from in my life and aside from the music soundtracking pretty much my entire childhood, their shows are the most insane and incredible things I’ve ever witnessed. That massive mechanical man standing up in the middle of the Etihad stadium? A ball of fire descending from the roof of the arena. BMX riders jumping over members of the crowd in the standing area? All ridiculous and all worth every penny of my ticket.

Cut to 2022 and I’m paying nearly £100 to see a few dancers and an LED screen. Yes Inflation, yes the very valid point I made earlier on about artists barely making a penny from the music itself anymore, but there has been a shift to simpler more cost efficient shows while the tickets themselves have quadrupled in price.

Some recent arena shows I’ve seen have been really enjoyable, Dua Lipa, Years & Years and Little Mix putting together really engaging pop shows for adoring fans but I wouldn’t call any of them spectacular. Pet Shop Boys reeled through the hits at the arena, but after hearing so many claim they put on incredibly theatrical shows I was left disappointed. Even Kylie Minogue who I think has played Manchester Arena more than any other human has seemed to begin making her shows simpler after that one where there were literary swimming pools and water fountains on the stage in front of ‘the splash zone’. I’m not saying I want Sea World at the arena, but I’m also not saying I don’t.

Of course music is the most important thing, I feel obliged to mention that on a music website, and I’ve seen some brilliant live music as of late. Rina Sawayama has it in her to play spectacular pop shows, Little Simz and Michael Kiwanuka both blew me away with their performances of some of the best music of the last 10 years, while Blossoms had the whole of Manchester arena in the palms of their hand at a headline show last year. But I still want more from the sort of acts that have the capacity to do more. Nobody should come out of an Ariana Grande show and say the staging was ‘a bit boring’, no one should settle for the ‘will this do’ nature of some stage set ups by very high profile artists when they are charging such huge amounts for the tickets.

There’s a few spectacular shows left, P!nk is still flying around on zip wires somewhere in the world I’m sure, while Drake’s world tour a few years ago was one that genuinely shocked audiences in its unique use of projection and lighting, but they shouldn’t be the anomaly, I need to be in awe of massive ridiculous pop shows again.

Words by Sam Atkins

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