Sunday before last was a day of firsts. It was my first time at the new Wembley Stadium, my first time seeing Muse live and it was the first proper gig that my two daughters had been to. Big and good.
I had been a bit disconcerted to find that Wembley is a "Public transport stadium", which in English means that there are minimal parking places and you're meant to go by train or something that poor people go on.
But, to be fair, getting there was easy, just a matter of a short train trip to Waterloo and a tube ride from Waterloo to Wembley Park station. Muse were due on about 8 PM and that there were at least two supporting bands, Biffy Clyro and My Chemical Romance so I knew we had time to get there at our ease. The tube journey was interesting. As we got to the last stages it was evident that most of the people on our train were actually destined for the gig too. The Muse T shirts and the general look and smell of the people was quite the giveaway. I love music, I love going to gigs, but I still wash. I don't know why some of these others just don't.
We arrived and looked around with some awe at the new national stadium. It truly is a masterpiece, albeit one that was late, over budget and what not. It's obvious from the second you enter the place that this is a national stadium to be proud of. It had an air of cleanliness and efficiency about it, but not in a German way, not in a way that made it feel clinical. It really did feel to me as if it retained much of the feel of the old place but had also been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
I felt a bit annoyed as we went in. My bag was searched, fair enough. The chap asked me to remove the caps from the four little plastic bottles of Evian water I had in the bag. I thought he wanted me to taste them to prove that they were really water, a strange illogical thought I know. But no, he said that we had to carry the water in without the lids on the bottles, as lids on the bottles could make them airtight and therefore a potential danger if they were thrown.
I know there are health and safety laws and all but I did think this was just outrightly ridiculous. Ban glass bottles for sure, but this is just getting silly now. But, we went in, complete with four open bottles of water.
Girls of almost 11 and 13 are always hungry, it's some kind of law of nature I think. So on arrival, despite the fact that we had only eaten a short while before, the 13 year old made some noises about being fed. We bought some food. I must confess to a dichotomous feeling here. There is something in me that totally objects to paying £7 for a chicken and chips (it may have been £6 or£8 but it was about that). But I don't mind it that much if I don't have to queue for hours and if it's served quickly and properly. That seems to be what they've done at the new Wembley. There are food stalls all over the stadium, they're properly staffed and they have only a few things on offer, but those few things, whilst expensive, are served decently and cleanly.
Frankly I can live with paying more and getting more. Not that I actually got more of course.
As we walked through to the seats we were all bowled over by the vastness and splendour of the new place. It is breathtaking and stunning. Then we sat. We were at about the halfway line, in seats about 10 rows back. The stage was to our right and our view was good, well as good as it can get bearing in mind the sheer distance between us and the stage. There was some sort of DJ playing and the atmosphere was warm and exciting. Everyone knew that this was the first proper band to play at the new stadium, I say proper because George Michael had played there a few days ago, but he doesn't count. This was pure stadium rock 'n' roll at its finest and we all knew what was coming.
After about only fifteen minutes My Chemical Romance hit the stage, it became apparent that we had missed Biffy Clyro, the first support act. I was in for some surprises. My experience of stadium gigs is limited, in fact I've only ever been to one before and that was about 20 years ago. I knew that we wouldn't see the band in any detail. Gigs I go to tend to be at smaller venues, primarily so that I can actually watch the drummer playing and see what he's doing and how he's doing it. I knew that my view of Dom Howard, Muse's drummer, and the chap in My Chemical Romance, wouldn't be so distant that I wouldn't be able to see any detail in their playing with the naked eye. I also knew that, with the big video screens, I'd get very good filmed views of them, although I'd be at the mercy of the editor or producer in terms of exactly what I saw and when I saw it.
The bit that I hadn't foreseen was that there'd be a time delay between the "live" footage and what was actually going on onstage. I estimated it to be about half a second. The sound through the PA was effectively perfectly synched with the vision on the big screens, so there was no problem there. The problem was that the sound and the vision ran slightly behind the activity on stage. The delay wasn't much but it too much for me to watch the drummer live and listen to what he was playing and out the two together. This was a bummer. It meant that I couldn't watch a fill or a groove being played unless the producer chose to put it up on the screens.
So, after a bit, I admitted defeat and just watched the screens. It wasn't such an issue while watching MCR, but I harboured a hope that when Muse played the time lag wouldn't be there. My hope, like the meat counter at Tesco, was fruitless though, the lag was there for the whole evening. I'm not sure if this is normal for a stadium or whether it was more specific for that gig, venue or PA.
I received a few text messages from a few friends who were at the gig too. It made me more aware of what a big occasion this actually was. I got one text from a friend who told me where he was in the stadium. We tried to establish visual contact but it proved impossible as we were too far apart, so we gave up on that plan. I then got another from someone at work. We spoke and figured out where each of us were. But our view of each other was obstructed by a Carlsberg lorry parked on the pitch. Probably the best lager in the world! Now I think back I wonder exactly why we had spent so much time trying to spot each other through crowds of people. We may have made visual contact, waved, smiled and been rather thrilled. But this is someone I have known for about 10 years, who I work with and see about 3 times a week. What would have been the big deal about waving to her at Wembley?
Then I sent one to my best mate's son, who I knew to be there. He's a drummer, therefore he's a good chap. We actually managed to meet and have a chat. I pretended to be younger than I am and he pretended to be older than he is. I asked him about youthful type of things, he asked me about older types of things. Both of us failed to carry it off as we didn't have a clue what the other one's answer meant. Cool, as the kids say.
We watched MCR. They were good, but a bit too American. The girls recognised some of their songs, me and academic bro didn't have a clue, but we were content with that.
After the first song the singer, who is way too good looking to be anything but American, introduced themselves:
"We're My Chemical fucking Romance" He said.
He was a good singer and a good musician but these Americans don't understand that us Brits are allowed to swear in public. We can watch TV and hear a swearword, we can buy alcohol if we're over 7, or whatever the age is these days. Ok we can't take bottles into Wembley with lids on them but we have some degree of freedom.
At one point the singer started to ramble on to us about suicide and depression, how violence wasn't the answer to your problems and that it was always best to talk to someone.
I glanced at the 13 year old child, the one I had brought with me. She was staring at the singer with a look of exasperation on her face. It was a look of wonder, wonder that Americans like that do exist in real life. At that moment I could understand totally. I glanced to the other side towards the 11 year old. She stood there in her Converse All Stars, the ones that she had coloured in and added skater girl touches to, or should I say sk8er girl? She looked amazed too, as if some dreams had been shattered. She caught my eye and, as we exchanged glances, she tutted and rolled her eyes at the singer. The wisdom of an older person and the attitude of British kid who didn't want to be American were apparent. And I was pleased. We Brits don't go to gigs to hear lectures about the perils of suicide and violence. Unless we're hippies or Sting fans of course. But my girls think Sting is the bloke from that band who copied that Puff Daddy song; I'll be Missing you.
All American cheese aside, My Chemical Romance were pretty good. I'll probably buy an album of their's now to investigate them a bit more. And American cheese? That doesn't exist does it?
They played well, they had a certain amount of stage presence that can't be easy to project to an audience that is so massive and is mostly watching on video screens. They did a couple of encores and went off. We had a wait, the girls were intensely excited at the thought of Muse playing soon and even the academic Bro had a sense of anticipation about him.
And we waited.........
to be continued