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HNC 2010/11 MUSIC HISTORY ESSAY

GEORGE KARPASITIS

CAVERN TO STADIUM: ANALYSE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VENUE, AUDIENCE AND THE MUSIC From Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles played some of their very first shows, to the Tampa Stadium in Florida, where Led Zeppelin became the first gladiators of arena rock, there will always be a ritualistic sense about the live music experience. This is where the audience comes in close physical, emotional, and often spiritual proximity with the performer and the music. How is this interaction and exchange of energy between audience and performer affected, in relation to the size and capacity of the venue? Prior to the advent of recorded sound, all music was live, and was experienced as such [10]. The first bluesmen and women, the godfathers and godmothers of contemporary popular music, performed their songs to entertain the people working at the cotton plantations of the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s. Through the music, the plantation workers came together to share their experiences and escape from the hardships of everyday life. When Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf moved to Chicago in the 1940s – soon to be joined by Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and other southern bluesmen, they played the rough-and-tumble bars of the South Side [9]. It is here that the blues became electric, as to compete with the sounds of urban life, electric guitars and drums were added to the line up. In the decades to come, many small clubs played a significant part in shaping popular music: Birdland and CBGB’s in New York; Whisky-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles; Ronnie Scott’s, the Marquee, and the 100 Club in London; the Armadillo in Austin, Texas; Tipitina’s in New Orleans; Tootsie’s in Nashville, to name but a few. In their early days, these clubs were tiny. There were no fancy dressing rooms, or backstage exits with limousines waiting to rush the performers to the safety of their hotel room. The musicians, whether they liked it or not, had to mingle with the public [2]. This created a sense of community, and led to interesting, often unexpected encounters between performers and patrons. One such encounter was the ‘discovery’ of Jimi Hendrix in ‘café Wha?’, New York, in July 1966, by Animals bassist Chas Chandler. Hendrix’s finger trickery and confident swagger astonished Chandler, signaling the start of what would become one of the most celebrated manager/producer-performer partnerships in rock history. Another such encounter took place at CBGB’s in 1987, where a set by the band Living Colour was witnessed by Mick Jagger, who subsequently took time off from his solo album, ‘Primitive Cool’, to produce demos for the band [9]. Local clubs serve as breeding grounds for aspiring performers. It is here that new bands gain experience in live work, build an audience, make contacts in the music industry and get discovered. They can also establish and popularize trends, as in the 1970s with American punk at New York’s Max’s and CBGB’s, and English punk at London’s 100 Club and the Roxy. A local network of clubs and pubs can create a ‘local’ sound. Examples include the Liverpool ‘Merseybeat’ sound associated with the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Searchers, in the early 1960s [10]. However, as the luckiest of the bands enter the mainstream, the small clubs can no longer contain their massive followings. This marks the arrival of arena rock.

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HNC 2010/11 MUSIC HISTORY ESSAY

GEORGE KARPASITIS

On Sunday, August 15, 1965, The Beatles opened their North American tour at the Shea Stadium in New York, to a record audience of 55,600 [1]. The “Beatlemaniacs” who attended the Shea Concert were mostly teenagers and women, crying and screaming so loud that not even the band could hear what they were playing. This was the first concert in history to be held at a major stadium, and demonstrated that outdoor concerts of this scale could be profitable and successful. In 1973, Led Zeppelin, with their energetic rock’n’roll, broke the attendance record previously held by the Beatles. They played to 56,800 fans at Tampa Stadium, Florida, and grossed $309,000 [5]. Many bands followed the example set by the Beatles and ‘Zeppelin, including Kiss, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, and Dire Straits. These bands were masters in writing anthems; universal songs that could drive huge audiences wild. Anthems such as Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’, have the ability to connect audiences and transport them into the spiritual realm. It may be argued that anthems often lack subtlety and refinement but, nevertheless, the energy exchange between the thousands of people and the “larger than life” character on stage becomes a religious experience [13]. In fear of losing intimacy with the audience, Bruce Springsteen stepped back from the arenas at the beginning of his breakthrough, and opted for medium sized venues, even though he was famous enough to play 20,000-capacity arenas. He eventually discovered that it’s not so much about the size of the venue, as it is about the size of the song [13]. He also realized that he could deliver to his audiences a much deeper message than the clichéd ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’. His anthems were politically inspired and aimed to raise awareness of issues around the world. The 1980’s saw a number of bands using stadium rock as a means to voice political messages and campaign for various causes. In 1985, the first ever Live Aid concert took place; a multi-venue concert organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian food shortage. Simultaneously held at Wembley Stadium in London, and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, the event inspired concerts in other countries and was broadcast live to an estimated 2 billion viewers worldwide [6]. The bill included stadium rock giants Dire Straits, Queen and Led Zeppelin. Sharing the Live Aid stage in Wembley Stadium was a newer band from Dublin, Ireland, known as U2. During their performance, front man Bono jumps off the stage, pulls out a girl from the crowd and starts dancing with her. His act not only saved the girl as she was being crushed by the crowds behind her pushing forward, but also showed his desire to regain the intimacy he had lost from playing big stadiums as opposed to clubs and theatres [13]. U2 went on to headline a series of shows in 1986 that helped bring a little-known London-based human rights organization called Amnesty International to the forefront of political awareness in the United States. Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Tracy Chapman carried Amnesty’s banner around the world – often to countries with frightening human rights records- two yeas later [8]. Some bands, such as Kiss and Queen, took stadium rock a step further by creating the socalled ‘theater of rock’. Their scripted onstage performances were “overblown”

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HNC 2010/11 MUSIC HISTORY ESSAY

GEORGE KARPASITIS

spectacles, complete with actors, pyrotechnics, props and screens. They were not just about the music, but also about the entertainment. Outside the venues, merchandise such as t-shirts and posters were sold, bringing even more profit to the performers [13]. However, the use of commercial sponsorship for the large-scale tours and concerts of this era began to lead to the music being branded as corporate rock [3]. A number of reactions arose from the commercialization of rock. What was once a musical movement born in the streets and garages of working class towns, and subsequently enjoyed in clubs by a small number of people who chose to be more eclectic about their music, evolved into a mainstream phenomenon so powerful that it could gather thousands of people in one place, and generate millions worth of income for the artists. However, this evolution did not come without a price. The lack of direct interaction between audience and performer led to the formation of a ‘barrier’ between them. Not surprisingly, small club and theatre owners became frustrated with the whole situation and started shutting down their venues. The big acts found they could make us much money by playing one stadium show as from several shows at small and medium sized venues. One of the most iconic music venues to shut its doors with the arrival of stadium rock was the Fillmore East in New York. This 2,000 capacity ballroom, where the likes of Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors and Carlos Santana had previously performed, was no longer profitable, and on July 2, 1971 owner Bill Graham surprised the rock world by closing the venue [9]. One of the first bands to express the alienation from the audience were rock theatre pioneers Pink Floyd. As the crowds grew exponentially, the band became disgusted by people in the audience screaming and shouting instead of listening to the music. Founding member Roger Waters came up with a radical solution to solve the problem. In 1980/81, he decided to physically build a wall between the band and the audience to state his feeling of isolation. The wall was built brick by brick while the band was performing, gradually obscuring them. By the end of the first part of the show, the last brick was placed as the band played their song ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ [11]. By the mid-1970s, a new generation of misfits was born, that demanded the return of rock to its roots. This movement, known as punk rock, was led by bands such as the Ramones and Patti Smith in the US, and the Sex Pistols and the Clash in the UK, and was characterised by rawness in attitude and clothing as well as in the music. These early punk bands brought rock back to the small clubs and venues of its early days, and rejected stadium venues [12]. In clubs like CBGB’s in New York, and the 100 Club in London, there was no need for expensive theatrical installations, makeup and actors. The music was honest and genuine, and the direct interaction between band and audience often resulted in a communal feeling. The barriers had been taken down. It is no wonder then, that some of rock’s most iconic acts weep and shed tears when the venues that helped kick-start their careers close down. Anyone who’s anyone showed up to say goodbye to the legendary CBGB’s when it had to close down in October 2006 due to increases in monthly rent. Patti Smith was the star of the night, and special guests included Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Television’s Richard Lloyd. Patti Smith said towards the end of the show: ‘Now the kids will, they’ll find some other club. They’ll need some place to play and they’ll…(boos) Yeah, cause that’s what’s supposed to happen. This place is not a fucking temple. It’s just what it is and the greatest thing about 3


HNC 2010/11 MUSIC HISTORY ESSAY

GEORGE KARPASITIS

it and the best way that it can serve the people is just show the people an example of what you can do. You just got a place, just some crappy place that nobody wants and you get one guy who just believes in ya and you just do your thing and anybody can do that. Anywhere in the world. Anytime’ [4]. More recently, on the 17th December 2010, former Beatle sir Paul McCartney took to the stage of the 100 Club in London to save it from closing down. Away from the sell-out arenas he got used to playing over the past few decades, McCartney expressed his solidarity and affection for small venues and showed why the 100 Club should remain in place as part of Britain’s musical heritage. In February 2011, a partnership with Nike subsidiary Converse was arranged, enabling the 100 Club to remain open [7]. Throughout its history, rock music has moved from tiny clubs and venues to massive arenas and stadiums, and back. The sell-out arena shows proved that rock music has no boundaries – geographical nor spatial – but at the same time created a boundary between the performer and the audience. No matter what the next stadium show attendance record is, no matter how big the screens or bright the lights, there will always be a tiny venue somewhere in the world, where something new, exciting and magical is happening. There, the music is all that matters.

REFERENCES: 1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

The Beatles Off The Record. Keith Badman. London: Omnibus, 2000. p. 93 The Cavern: the most famous club in the world. Spencer Leigh. London: SAF Publishing Limited, 2008. pp. 9-10. Expanding Curriculum Theory: Dis/positions and Lines of Flight. W. M. Reynolds and J. A. Webber. London: Routledge, 2004. p. 24. Great Concerts: Patti Smith at CBGB’s Oct. 15, 2006. Jason F. Media Decay. Web. Accessed 10 May 2011. <http://www.mediadecay.com/2010/11/greatconcerts-patti-smith-cbgbs/> Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga (LPC). Stephen Davis. New York: Berkley Boulevard Books, 1995. pp. 32, 44, 64, 190, 225, 277. Live Aid. Bob Geldof official page. Web. Accessed 22 May 2011. <http://www.bobgeldof.com/> Paul McCartney breathes life back into the 100 Club. The Telegraph 17 Dec 2010. Web. Accessed 10 May 2011. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/8210284/Paul-McCartney-breatheslife-back-into-the-100-Club.html> Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture. DeCurtis, Anthony. Duke University Press Books, 1992. p.7. Rock & Roll Traveller USA. Tim Perry & Ed Glinert. Fodor’s, 1996. pp. 2637, 164. Understanding Popular Music - Roy Shuker. Routhedge, London 1994. pp. 198 – 200. The 7 Ages of Rock: White Light, White Heat. Francis Whatley. BBC, 2007. The 7 Ages of Rock: Blank Generation. Alastair Laurence. BBC, 2007. The 7 Ages of Rock: We Are The Champions. Sebastian Barfield. BBC, 2007.

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Cavern to stadium