Monday, June 21, 2010

Rockin' Out: Scorpions/Cinderella @ PNC Arts Center 06/18/10

Much is being written about the slumping live music industry as summer concert season begins. I'm sure much more will be written over the course of the summer and even more once it is over and all the numbers are in. The outlook is dismal at best. I experienced first hand how bad it is from a consumer point of view this past Friday when I attended the Scorpions and Cinderella at PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.

I knew the show would not be sold out, but decided to purchase tickets in advance anyway. A four pack of lawn seat tickets cost $59 ($14.75 a ticket), so I figured why not go ahead and get them ahead of time because that was basically four tickets for the price of one. When we arrived at the venue, we were offered upgrades to seats for only $10 each as soon as we passed through the entrance gate. This seemed reasonable, so we accepted the offer. While this was great for us, it was surely a bad sign for the venue and the bands as that meant seats were not sold out and the promoter (Live Nation) was willing to get rid of tickets at below face value in an attempt to lessen their losses.

Once we were inside, it was time for the venue and the promoter to hold a metaphorical gun to our heads and steal our wallets. $33 for a chicken sandwich, a pretzel and two beers. Outrageous by anyone's standards. The merch booth had typical large venue inflated prices, but seemed to be doing decent business anyway (my friend and I could not resist dropping $45 each on a Scorpions' polo shirt). My understanding is that the venue is typically to blame for the large mark ups on merch, so bands could always decline to sell at shows and direct fans to their websites to purchase shirts, hats, etc. if they were truly opposed to the outrageous costs. Of course, a healthy percentage of merch sales at these shows could be and probably are impulse buys (buying a t-shirt while you are there in the euphoria of the moment is dramatically different than ordering it from a website days after the actual event) and the bands would run the risk of losing sales by not selling at the venue. Certainly no easy solution to the problem of high merch costs, but it seems like both venue and artist could and should be working harder to come up with one in this economic climate. Of course, I doubt they are.

Once we got to our seats, we were not surprised to see that we had lots of empty ones around us and would wind up enjoying plenty of elbow room for the duration of the show. [To be fair, we were in the upper section of the amphitheater and the lower sections appeared to be filled.] So, we got settled in and prepared for the most important part of the evening...the music.

I've been a big fan of Cinderella since their first album Night Songs came out. The follow-up Long Cold Winter was even better. Their third album Heartbreak Station was also excellent, but was the beginning of the erosion of their fan base and by the time their fourth (and final) studio album Still Climbing came out, they had largely been forgotten. Judging by the empty seats, many folks in attendance opted to stay outside and party in the parking lot during Cinderella's set, but they still had a respectable amount of people watching and basically delivered hit after hit after hit. Any song a fan of Cinderella could want to hear was in the set ("Night Songs", "Nobody's Fool", "Coming Home", "Don't Know What You Got ('Til It's Gone)", "Heartbreak Station", etc.) and the band sounded and played great. I always felt it was a shame that Cinderella's musical ability was overlooked because of their association with the hair metal scene. They are a great bluesy hard rock band that anyone who likes Led Zeppelin and earlier The Black Crowes material would probably enjoy (well, maybe not necessarily the debut Night Songs, but certainly the subsequent three albums, especially Heartbreak Station).

By the time the Scorpions hit the stage, the lower section seats had filled up and the lawn appeared to be a little more crowded. This is the Scorpions "farwell tour", but I knew not to expect a set of purely classic hits as they are out there promoting a new album as well. Sting In The Tail is actually pretty solid, so I didn't mind hearing a few choice cuts from it in the live setting. That being said, the highlights of the evening were obviously their hits: "The Zoo", "Bad Boys Running Wild", "Big City Nights", "Send Me An Angel", "Tease Me, Please Me", "Holiday", "Dynamite", "Coast To Coast", "Make It Real", "Blackout" and expected show closers "Wind Of Change" and "Rock You Like A Hurricane". Singer Klaus Meine, admitted to not being at 100% because of a battle with the flu, but overall I would qualify his performance as satisfying. Their current drummer did a fantastic solo complete with an elevating drum riser and a video montage of him "acting" out various Scorpions album covers (fortunately they skipped the Pure Instinct album cover in that montage). Guitarists Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker were in fine form and the bass player neither hindered, nor added anything spectacular to the performance. Clocking in at around 16 songs, the set felt a little short considering the depth of the Scorpion's catalog (they have been putting out music for almost 40 years), but perhaps they will have longer performances when they come back around again.

Another cool thing about the show was the age demographics represented. While there were plenty of "older" folks there (as one would expect for two bands whose heights of popularity were in the '80s/early '90s),  there was also plenty of young folks there either by themselves or with their parents/older relatives. As a fan of this music, I am happy to see that a younger generation is not only being exposed to it, but enjoying it. One of those kids could wind up being the next Eddie Van Halen for all we know!

So, the music was most definitely not a disappointment that evening, but with all the added in costs once you are through the door at these larger venues, I can certainly see how savvy consumers are saying no to these types of shows even with lower ticket prices. From a consumer perpsective, the solution seems to be lower prices all around from tickets to food to beer to merch, but obviously that is not a viable option for the venues because they have many costs involved with running and maintaining a large facility like that. It is all just a big mess, but ultimately venues and bands have to remember that the consumer is going to dictate their fate and right now the consumer is saying no the old model of high prices for an evening out at a concert.

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