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Burn The Arenas
By Kirsty Walker
I find it hard to express in words how much I detest the Manchester Evening News Arena. Usually I settle for a primal scream which is a cross between a slaughtered goat and the first spasmodic mewlings of a Boyzone reunion tour audience. Sometimes I dress a dummy in a big yellow jacket and burn it, simultaneously hitting it with sticks and crying.
The MEN is like a punishment for wanting to be entertained. I suspect it was designed by a member of Opus Dei who is sickened by the decadence of performance that he wants us all to be metaphorically birched by high ticket prices, ridiculously overpriced food and a Gestapo like staff who would sooner leave your children orphaned than allow you to use flash photography.
I haven't been to the MEN for a while, in fact I have avoided it like the plague. Actually, if someone said to me "Kirsty, there's a village over there with the plague, or there's the MEN arena", I would hitch hike to the plague ridden village singing Hallelujah. Unfortunately, any performer slightly more popular than The Wurzels seemed destined to end up there and so I ventured to see Steve Coogan wishing I could just be blinkered and sedated like a travelling racehorse until I reached my seat.
First off, you don't park in the MEN if you want to get home before dawn. The arena car park is so congested that you all sit beeping and shouting at each other, edging forward inch by inch until someone just speeds over the edge of level four and everyone is rescued by helicopter. The alternative is to give £6 to Dazza who will ensure your car isn't broken into by waving a baseball bat with nails sticking out of it.
Once inside, that's it – you can't exit unless you're going home. This is because all of the tickets are checked by barcode, so once you get scanned, you're a prisoner of the venue. This is where the real fun begins. Fancy a drink? Well you've been frisked for bottles on the way in so you'll have to pay £3 for a warm mini-bottle of Becks that looks like something you'd give to a child so he could play at being a landlord. Either that or a pint in a plastic cup for £4.
Food is relegated to the starchy and inedible. They have a team of Chinese kids selling ice cream and candy floss, or a strange chicken wrappy thing, also £4. The hotdogs look like they've been made from previous employees and the pies were last seen on I Wouldn't Eat That, the hilarious consumer programme hosted by Nicky Campbell's devolved sense of self-importance.
Whilst sitting in this consumerist nightmare I recalled this summer when I went to Los Angeles and saw the new musical by Eric Idle at the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl is one of the best and most famous performance venues in the world, but rather than beat you over the head with this fact they actively encourage people to come for the music and not the opportunity to spend. You can bring in your own food and drink (yes, even alcohol) and although they do provide food themselves it's reasonably priced. They rent you cushions to sit on for $2 and the only programme is a $3 magazine listing all of the season's performances and interviewing the people involved. Once inside the venue you can wander round as you please, the staff are actually there to help you rather than make you feel like you're in jail, and you can take flash photography all you want – it's an outdoor venue so it will look shit anyway. Oh, and by the way – the seats were even cheap. £10 to see the show from the cheap seats, with a view ten times better than the top tier of the MEN.
If the Bowl was transplanted to Manchester they'd ban all outside food and drink, force you to buy their rancid fast food and ensure that all staff members were on strict instructions not to allow anything which might pass for enjoyment or freedom. Ticket prices would skyrocket and they'd draft in Tweenies On Ice for a few months to make sure that a whole new generation of gig goers believed that this was the pinnacle of entertainment.
The Echo Arena is exactly the same, as is the NEC in Birmingham and the SECC in Glasgow. All nasty soulless places which have little to do with music, or with fun. Luckily it seems that all but the leviathans of music have deserted the Arena circuit, preferring to play twice as many shows in small venues and not have to spend millions on lighting design just to make sure the stage doesn't look too shit in the aircraft hanger they've been booked into.
Carling venues aren't up to much either but at least they don't try and masquerade as some kind of 'experience'. I'd rather 'experience' a rectal examination than the plastic scalping that goes on at arenas. I suggest an organised rebellion whereby 20,000 people all buy tickets to an event and walk in there wearing nacho hats filled with hot cheese. If I win the lottery this weekend I will make it happen. And so perish all tyrants!
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