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The Who At Panmet This Is Rock & Roll?

The Who At Panmet This Is Rock & Roll? image The Who At Panmet This Is Rock & Roll? image
Parent Issue
Day
3
Month
December
Year
1975
OCR Text

The Who come onstage to cheers and thunderous applause. Quickly they plug in and ready themselves-then they smash into one of their hard rock and roll standards that are helping to créate an era of glory for white rock and roll. The year is 1968 and it's a steaming-hot Friday night in Detroit. The Grande Ballroom - center for a rapidlydeveloping new socialcultural scène for young people in the area - is packed to the walls for the evening's performance by The Who. The entire crowd is on its feet, of course, and on the fringes of the dance floor there are many who somehow find the room to boogie, unable to resist the color and pulse of the music pumping from the band's monstrous arrmlifiers. Many of the Grande's 1 800 customers that night are "regulare" who often come to the ballroom to meet friends, dance, mingle, get high, and take advantage of the best opportunity they have to enjoy their favorite music. As The Who play on, the I people move and press closer to the stage, where sweat can already be seen soaking through the musicians'bright clothes. i Roger Daltry spins a microphone into the air. . . Seven years later - on Saturday, J ember 6, 1975,atabout 10:00 pm - four tiny figures will be seen mounting the stage on the tarp-covered astro-turf at the briglit, new Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium. It is The Who. Some 70,000 people are watching from their seats in this $48 million ' land County "super facility." Many use binoculars to discern the gestures of the band and get a hint of facial expression. In the third tier the music seems slightly ' out-of-synch to some of the fans who can make out the band's movements. ■, In an hour or so they will all go home i and the Pon-Met maintenance crew will clean up and ready the stadium for Sunday afternoon's National Football League game, the Lions vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The Who's road manager will tidy up the details concerning the $560,000.00 ticket revenue, which is to be split with the promoters. 1 A A The Who have come a long way in the last ten years or so - and so has Detroit's concert scène, which was once dominated by a large number of active ballroorns and clubs which supported quite a few thriving local and national bands and provided a wide range of musical experiences on any given weekend night for young people of this area. As was outlined in Part 1 of this article (The Sun, November 19 issue), all of these smaller rock and roll venues are closed now, having been wholly unable to compete with the large (4,000 +) concerts that have become the order of the day for Detroit and every other major city in America. A few years ago really big rock and roll events ("pop-festivals" is what they were usually called) seemed doomed. Many of these promotions were slipshod affairs which drew the fire of local pólice and, in some places, were outlawed altogether. Promoters with a little more determination and foresight, however, began finding that large rock and roll concerts could be con trolled well enougli to be inoffensive to most conservative powers-that-be, as well as resulting in astronomical profits in the shortest possible period of time. The ultímate tools in all of this were the huge places originally built for sporting events: basketball and hockey arenas (such as Cobo Hall or Olympia Stadium) and baseball and football stadiums (Pon-Met being the latest example). Rock and roll has become as American as ... professional football. But what does it all mean? What are the economie effects of the big concerts? And, where are they taking the music? The economics of the big concerts are actually quite simple. Professional promoters of live music know that there is a limited amount of money to be spent at musical events at any given time - there is only so much that people can afford for live music, especially during a depression. And, as is also the case with sports promoters and most . other businessmen in this society, the music promoters' idea is to get as much of the available money, and as k quickly and easily as possible. U L In other words, the bigger the concert the L better, as far as profit is concerned. But don't A ,_ the big concerts have an effect on the smaller events? People in the business say they do, and we have seen the actual failure of many small venues just because people apparently chose the bigger, more attractive events to the exclusión of those more intímate clubs and ballrooms. A comparison of the WhoPon-Met concert with a hypothetical alternative helps illustrate the dollar-effect of big concerts on the music business. (See box on this page.) On December 6, the attendance at Pon-Met will be limited to 70,000; at eight dollars a ticket this means total ticket receipts will be $560,000. If, instead of this, there were events at every major concert hall and club now operating in the Detroit área on that night (which would be about fifteen places, representing performances by over thirty different acts) the total gate receipts would be $246,073 . In other words, on one night The Who concert easily grosses over twice as much as all the rest of the live music places could possibly take in durine one night in the metropolitan Detroit área. And, even thougli expenses for larger events are higlier and planning more extensive, the overall profits are still substantially more than for smaller events. So what is essentially a one-night gig at the Pon-Met can outweigh all of the rest of the concert business in town, twice over. Another useful comparison is between the WhoPon-Met concert and a series of major musical events held in this area- the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals. The Festivals were three-day outdoor affairs wliich featured literally scores of brilliant seminal black musicians. Yet the overall gross at the two most well atten-ded Blues and Jazz events (1972 and 1 973) -6 days of music featuring some 50 acts- was still not equal to money earned in basically une night at the Pon-Met by The Who and one supporting act. If the possible economie effect of the huge concert industry seems stark, its effect on the music itself over the last ten years may, in fact, have been even more dramatic. Among people in the music business who have an.ear for the music itself, it is widely feit that the big concert-big profit scène has helped lead white rock and roll into a state of near stagnation, with fewer and fewer new and exciting bands coming up in the business because there are fewer and fewer places for unknown talent to play and earn a living. And many of the bands who are already established in the big money scène have significantly cut back on their artistic output. The Who, newest stars of the PonMet, may be an especially good exaniple of this syndrome. Their music developed in what was a very active club and ballroom scène in England during the sixties-it was a music defined by rock and roll dancing, it had social commentary but also was meant to be feit by the whole body and to be moved with. As they've progressed in the music business, however, the band has selected by its own choice to play in the largest plaees possible. 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A matÊmÊmm I TOOTS ■J ƒ í &THE MAYTALLS METRO DETROIT'S MAJOR LIVE MUSIC FACILITIES Place Capacity Ave. Price Total Ticket Receipts Olvmpia Stadium . 16.000 5.50 S8S.O00 Cobo Hall 12,000 5-50 S66.000 Masóme Temple 4 645 5.50 $25.547 Michigan Palace 4.200 5.50 S23.1O0 Ford Auditorium 2,872 5.50 S15.796 Showcase Theatet 2,100 5 00 S11.550 20 Grand 700 4.00 S 2.800 Lowmans 615 4 .00 S 2.460 H.nrvs Lounge 500 lest.l 4 00 S 2.000 Ethels 400 lest.) 4 00 S 1.600 Golden Coach 350 6 00 S 2.100 Ben's H, Chapparal 250 (est.) 400 $ 1.000 Kino's Ro 250 (esU "00 $1,000 WatfsClubMoambique 200 800 Jazi Wt 200 (est.) 3.50 $ 700 Bobbi.'sPub 180 2-50 $ 450 Raven Gallerv 160 3 $ "80 Bakers 110 S 440 RedCarpet 100 (est. I '-=0 $ 150 Cobb's Corner 100 (est ) 1 $ 100 Total For All Of Above 45,932 S246.073 Pontiac Stadium (Pon-Met) (limited to 70,000 tickets) 70,000 8.00 $560,000 THIS IS ROCK S ROLL? continüed fróm page 13 and the ever-present concert seairity guards. The bigger concerts siniply mean bigger earnings for the bands that are there- and foi much lesswork. Wliile the Who used to play constantly in their earlier diys, their big earnings have made much more leisure time possible - they have to work together less than three months out of every year. The big concert profits seem to dull the creativity of the super-groups on their records, as well. Critics now seem to find it difficult to applaud new recordings by The Who (see, for example, Paul Grant's review of The Who By Nwnbers in our Vortex section this issue) - a band which was once considered a major trend-setter, even "avante-garde." The latest Who records are often described as rehashing of old t heines, pressed into plastic principally 10 fill recording contract quotas. One thing is certain: as the big concert business has grown, concentrating most of the rriöney and power in the hands of fewcr and fewer acts and promoters, the entire rock and rol] scène lias suffered on many levéis, with new. developing musical talent often finding it as hard to survive as the smaller clubs and ballrooms did. Indeed, the small teen-clubs and dance places made the music possible in the first place, back in the middle sixties, providing bread and butter work for a whole generation of growing y oung musicians. The bigger concert! not only cancelled work for young bands at the smaller venues, but they also seem to have altered the essential character of the performance business in general, with results few would have predicted even five or six years ago. The Who's earnings for their 90-minute set at Ponmet, for example, are expected to be approximately 90% of profits after expenses, or gome S200,000 by conservative estimates. They demand most of the proceeds because they novv have the power to set their price as they see fit, and they take the money out of the community which generates it without regard fot replenishing the local music scenc. Not even the local promoters, who once hired streams of indigenous talent along with the touring acts, and who spent their own money in the community which produced it, still enjoy their previous status as the exclusive exploiters of the local bands and fans. Many in the business feel, in other words, that it's the supergroups who are fïnally responsible for the negative effects of the huge concert industry, since their interests seem to lie in making astronomically large sums of money for themselves at the expense of both their music and their audience. The promoters no longer have the upper hand; they essentially service the desires of the super-groups in return for a small piece of the action, on terms dictated by the super-stars. It's not asif there's no alternative to the monstrous stadium shows cm even the big arena cóncerts which are the standard of' the modern-day pop music industry. But the superstars - those acts who work only when tliey want to - would liave to lower their financial expectations in order to make any significant change. Tliat is, they'd have to live more like the rest of us live, while con cent rating on their musical output, and the traditional reward for achievement in a capitalist society is too attractive to most big acts for them to be persuaded to take another, less spectacular approach. One hopeful straw in the wind is Bob Dylan's current "Rolling Thunder" tour, an almost impromptu sweep of snuill New England concert halls by a troupe including Joan Baez, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Mick Ronson, Ronee Blakely, Roger McGuinn, and Allen Ginsberg. Dylan, who made his performing "comeback" last year with a Bill Graham-produced tour of large arenas, has chosen to limit the size of the concerts for the Rolling Thunder Revue to achieve the intimacy of music and communication which the artist's work demands. All but two of the shows are scheduled for halls of 3,000or less, despite the tact that Dylan & Co. could have refused anything but stadium dates if they so desired. They're paying their expenses with two large arena dates and the anticipated revenues from recording and filming the historie series, appare.ntly looking to profit from the musical rewards for themselves and their audiences rather than outrageous gate receipts. Musical dedication at that level of the business has been just about non-existent to date. particularly among the super-rich white super -groups. If Dylan, a centra! figure in both the business and the mythology of pop music, can convince his peers in the industry to follow his present course of action, something interestingis very likely to happen over the next few morïths. The prospect, however, is for bigger and bigger spectacles and the concomitant grosses they bring to a smaller and smaller pool of performers, who get richer and richer as the rest of us get poorer and pooier. And the incongruity of rock and roll music, once considered a form througTi which to communicate intimate, deeply-felt emotions and ideas for people to dance lo, being played at a place like Ponmet, designed for high-priced football orgies of 80,000 sports fans, remains hauntingly stark.