Monday, September 14, 2009

In Which I Bitch About Soldier Field

One of the things Capt. Sweetie and I share is a geeky love for the Irish band U2. This is somewhat unusual for us, as we don't typically own the entire musical output of anybody. We're more eclectic than that. To put a positive spin on it.

But U2 is totally different. We have maybe a little fandom cred--Capt. Sweetie owned their first album "Boy" when it came out, and I certainly had them on my radar as well. But as the years passed, they kind of fell into the background. By the time "Joshua Tree" came out, we were in graduate school, where one has neither time nor money. When they took their turn into more experimental music with "Zooropa," we were new parents. Life was too busy to do much more than listen to the radio.

But then, in 2005, Capt. Sweetie said "Let's go see U2." Vertigo. It had been so long since I had been at a rock concert that I had more or less stopped thinking of them as part of my life at all. I can't remember if I took any convincing, but that was when we started catching up with the band's output and falling in love.

So when the latest album came out--"No Line on the Horizon," we were listening to it online before the actual release. One of Tonk's teachers mentioned "The new U2 album is coming out today" and Tonks was already sick of it. Thanks, U2.com!

Tickets went on sale, and I was clicking on "best available" mere seconds after the sale went live. Live, that is, for paid members of U2.com, limited to a set number of tickets and requiring a special password to purchase. That is to say, before they were available to the general public.

And I got great seats. On paper. Even with the front of the stage, on Adam's side, 17 rows up at Soldier Field in Chicago. Yup--we were taking our fandom to the next level of geekiness and actually travelling to another city for the concert. Roadtrip!!

We held those tickets for months, getting more and more excited about this concert. The reviews from Europe were positive, the set lists were nicely varied, we were ON! We flew down Saturday morning, checked into a lovely hotel, spent the afternoon basking in the sunshine of a delightful rooftop restaurant, and sauntered over to Soldier Field as evening fell. A perfect day, and a perfect night for an outdoor concert. Which we were prepared to enjoy from our really nice (and ridiculously expensive) seats.

The opening act was Snow Patrol, and we decided to forgo them. Like I said, U2 is an exception to my general non-immersion into music. We arrived in the stadium during their last song, and arrived at our seats once the house lights were on and the stage was being reset for My Band. Things were perfect.

Except they weren't. Our seats, these first tier, expensive, we-really-spent-too-much-but-this-is-U2, OMG we're so lucky seats--in short, they sucked. Completely and totally, even before the concert started.

First of all, although they were only 17 rows up, they were under an overhand for the next tier of seats. About 5 rows under the underhang, so not just "shaded" by the seats above; more like "tucked up under the eaves of the roof" overhang. This meant that we couldn't see any higher than the stage. So the 56 ton video screen was invisible to us. Well, if we scrunched down and nobody was standing up in front of us, we could see about the bottom third.

Then, they were only three rows down from the Concourse O' Stadium Food. So the lights of the hotdog and beer and popcorn and crap booths were shining over our shoulders and into our laps. It only got worse, but this was bad enough.

Bitter disappointment? Yup. Really bitter. As in "why the hell didn't I keep the General Admission tickets so I could actually SEE this concert." As in "I might as well not be here at all" bitter disappointment. I did not shed actual tears at this point, but all the excitement and crowd feeling you think you'd get at an event this size--was totally gone. I might as well be a sulky teenager in my room for all the joy I was feeling here. Capt. Sweetie could tell immediately that I was Not Happy, and he did his best to find the positives of the situation. Well, maybe it would be worth it to watch Adam and Larry and take a connoisseur's approach to this concert. And find another city to see them in. And, well, it IS U2, and the concert is guaranteed to be fabulous. Let's get over the bad and bask in the good.

He is a hero, but the circumstances were against him. Once the concert started, it became apparent that the damn overhang eliminated any treble sound. It really was a "Larry and Adam" show, because that was all we could hear: bass and drums. No guitar, no vocals. "Sorry folks, Bono and Edge couldn't make it tonight, but let's get it up for the U2 rhythm section!" But then, THEN, they did one of their patented things where on a key guitar riff the lights flood the stadium and bathe the audience in blue and green.

Except, see, over here by the vendors, there were these ceiling utility lights that stayed on, because without them, it was dangerously dark under the Damn Overhang. Four rows in front of us, people could see and hear and participate in the experience. Where we were, it was no better than sitting in someone's living room under the reading light while their kids played a concert DVD in another room. And we paid HOW MUCH for these tickets?

By this time, I was crying. I couldn't help it because it was so horribly horribly wrong. We couldn't see. We couldn't hear. We were so close, and might as well have been outside the stadium listening to what came out on the wind. By the fifth song, I had HAD IT. The cost-benefit calculus had shifted--I would rather leave to complain, no matter what I might miss, because I was already missing it anyway. After a brief stop to cry in the bathroom (so I wouldn't embarrass myself) I went in search of --what? What can be done at a time like this? Is there anyone who can refund my money? Can I find somewhere that is at least better than here? Someone I can bitch to?

It took a while--like another 4 songs, but I found somebody with the authority to do something. He handed me tickets on the other side of the stage, where there was no overhang. Downside, they were not together. But it was better than what we had, so we took it.

As I walked out from the vending corridor down to my seat--it was better than I had dreamed it would be for all those weeks before. The 360 video screen didn't just show the band, but was being used artistically. The light show turned the entire stadium different colors, and lights periodically shot up into the sky. The night was perfect, the band was phenomenal, and it was a FANTASTIC OUTSTANDING concert that totally filled my geeky fan girl heart.

It was nearly enough to make up for the horrible horrible start. I was in the front row, actually, and on Edge's side of the stage. When Bono came out on one of the bridges and pretended to climb down into the audience, he was straight in front of me, separated by a few yards of field. When the band played a remix version of "Crazy," Larry stopped right in front of me with his cool African drum. Words can't really capture the feeling of being surrounded by music and lights, being immersed in music I love, while simultaneously being close to the actual human beings who are making the music. I need to stress this, because the concert was wonderful, and as I walked into the arena to the new seats I got to have that moment where you have to stop and say "This is AWESOME!"

But there is always a "but," isn't there. Who the hell authorized those seats to be sold as premium seats? There was a jerk behind us in the crappy section who Would Not Shut Up about "They had no business selling these seats without saying they were obstructed view." He was a jerk, but he was absolutely correct. They should not have been sold at top price. They probably shouldn't have been sold at all. And as a result of the crappiness of the seats, I missed 40% of the show trying to make them work, and then trying to do something about it. AND I didn't get to see the show with Capt. Sweetie, which wasn't fair either.

So, to whom do I complain? Ticketmaster? U2? Soldier Field? What can I reasonably expect to get to make it better? I think a complaint is more productive if I know what I want them to do in response. Certainly Ticketmaster needs to re-price those tickets and label them "poor acoustics and obstructed view." They might be great seats for a football game, but I doubt even that. U2 should know that someone is screwing with their fans and debasing their goodwill by charging top dollar for seats that aren't as good as staying home and watching TV. Without stereo. Soldier Field needs to be honest with any act that comes through that location--first tier seats on the east side of the field will suck if above row 12. Seriously.

So that would be my mitzvah for the day, but I was cheated and I want to get something to make up for that. Equivalent seats for a concert date here would be nice, assuming they are coming here at all this tour. Equivalent seats for a concert date somewhere on the current tour would also be an option as well. But are those realistic? What is my bottom line to shut up and go away--if I know what that is, I'll get at least that, and I'll do it in a way that is courteous and civil but determined.

Any hints?

8 comments:

Neil said...

I googled "u2 overhang soldier field" and found your post. Wow, it sums up my entire evening sans the being moved to an acceptable location. My wife and I feel like we need to join a support group. We had four seats, two for our friends, section 110 row 16. How great was the Sanyo CRT TV circa 1990 showing a static feed of the concert? But you couldn't see that either because the glare from the vendor lights on the plexiglass shield protecting the TV rendered even a standard-def static feed of the concert unwatchable! Concert snob - no way! Bitter - youbetcha!

I have emailed the fan club, no response. Called Ticketmaster, will be receiving a customer support address to send an email complaint. I will keep you posted. I have two other fans with similar complaints I have found on the U2 fan club message board.

There are hundreds of fans that had to have had a similar experience. I think if we use the power of the internet to organize we have a chance to get our money back and get the tickets labeled 'obstructed view' when they come back to Soldier Field next summer.

I am a busy professional with plenty of other things to keep me busy but I am not letting this one go. I have never paid for a level of service/entertainment like this and felt so shamelessly ripped off.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you penned your sad description-only because I know exactly how you feel. I was in tears during Snow Patrol as I heard the irritating echo from the first instant knowing I was in for a hollow evening. Section 246 had TWO sets of drummers, or so it seemed. I missed the whole level of undescribable joy I usually have at a U2 show. Sad, Sad day for a Long time Fan, over 12 shows! THE ICING ON THE CAKE is these tickets were purchased through the website subscription!!! I don't think the band was bad, it was bad show managing. wmpost@hotmail.com

Cate Ross said...

You know, TicketMaster got sued in New Jersey over the Springsteen ticket debacle, where literally seconds after the tickets went on sale, Ticketmaster announced they had sold out, but they were curiously available on Ticketmaster's resale site at massively inflated prices.

Maybe I need to talk to some of my Illinois lawyer friends about a class action suit on behalf of the hundreds of people who were stuck in those terrible seats.

What would make up for your bitter disappointment? I have a wish list--TicketMaster has to properly label those seats AND provide recourse both AT the concert site, and AFTERWARDS, so this does not happen again.

U2.com (paid fan site that provided pre-sale opportunity, but only through TicketMaster) should know about this--the band put on a great show, but literally hundreds of people had no way to know that. I'd take some free fan merchandise, and a free renewal to the site--or even better, how about tickets to a concert where I got to be in the red zone?

Soldier Field? Again--on site management for complaint resolution and more honest marking of their seats.

So, what did you do--did you find somewhere you could at least hear Bono's voice?

Neil said...

I stayed put, I had my wife and two friends there. I thought the sound was probably terrible everywhere. By Beautiful Day I could make out some vocals and could barely hear Edge's guitar. So I thought the boys at the sound board had done their job the best they could. I didn't think loitering around the aisle of a different section was appropriate or following the rules, especially with four of us there. We left during Moment of Surrender was starting, I caught a beautiful vision of the night sky and the immense claw, and heard the band in full beautiful sound (LET ME IN THE SOUND) and realized in absolute horror what I had missed.

I don't want any other fans to experience sitting under that overhang, especially not at the premium level pricing.

I had my FLIP MINO HD, but didn't take any video because, well you know why. Now I wish I had for evidence.

I have started a thread on the U2.com message board. It's under the paid member forum, called Soldier Field Overhang Support Group (ha). There are several posts in the Chicago concert threads complaining about this. We should organize and I would like to seek a reasonable resolution of this matter.

Neil said...

I stayed put, I had my wife and two friends there. I thought the sound was probably terrible everywhere. By Beautiful Day I could make out some vocals and could barely hear Edge's guitar. So I thought the boys at the sound board had done their job the best they could. I didn't think loitering around the aisle of a different section was appropriate or following the rules, especially with four of us there. We left during Moment of Surrender was starting, I caught a beautiful vision of the night sky and the immense claw, and heard the band in full beautiful sound (LET ME IN THE SOUND) and realized in absolute horror what I had missed.

I don't want any other fans to experience sitting under that overhang, especially not at the premium level pricing.

I had my FLIP MINO HD, but didn't take any video because, well you know why. Now I wish I had for evidence.

I have started a thread on the U2.com message board. It's under the paid member forum, called Soldier Field Overhang Support Group (ha). There are several posts in the Chicago concert threads complaining about this. We should organize and I would like to seek a reasonable resolution of this matter.

Neil said...

http://www.insidestl.com/TimMcKernan/tabid/61/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3144/Timmys-Tidbits--Everythings-Disappointing.aspx

MildManneredBoy said...

I too had very much the same experience Sunday night. Was 17 rows up in 104 on the stage's left side. My wife loves Snow Patrol, so i sent her down to the front of the section to watch them in some still vacant seats, but as u2 started, i was bummmed instantly, as you were. So i took a walk back towards the other end of the field, looking for someone to talk to about it.. failing with misinformed or unhelpful ushers and security i just kept walking, and I passed thru the section which held the overhang into the concourse that had no overhang over the seats (yet still i was standing under the overhang, just now at the south end, where the overhang only comes to the edge of the seats, not over them on that level), suddenly, I could hear again! or so thats how it seemed... the show was so different there, you could hear and it sounded great. i noticed a few people standing behind the last rows.. i almost ran back to my wife, who was still in the seats hating life and grabbed her, we walked all the way back and took up some space behind a small handicapped seating area just barely to the left of the giant 2 story sound booth, so we could see most of the stage and the whole set finally and life was good.

There were two of the biggest asshats who had bribed the user to let them into the handicap section and they stood in front of us high fiving and generally acting like tools, but after about 5 songs they snuck down on the field. We stayed and guarded our new space agains several people trying the same thing, and some drunk guy even wanted to fight me when i asked him politley not to just srtep in front of my wife and stand there, when we had been there most of the show. This whole thing is the kind of crap that goes on in GA, its the reason we didnt get GA tickets that were more than half the price of our seats.

So my wife got to see her first U2 show, albeit, from a worse vantage point and with a sour taste in our mouths... She loved it. This was my 5th, and i tried to enjoy it but the whole thing kept buggin me... I am sure they can try to validate $40 tshirts and $8 beer, but $250 to sit with no view, and no sound? come on!

If anyone finds the right person to email, call or whatever, can you let me know... i would love some money back, but more importantly, I want the band to know this happened, I want an appology, I want this not to happen to others. This cost me $500 and I am not a rich guy... this was a reach for us. There was buget tightening just to have this chance, to see them "up close"... so much for that.

FritzClifford said...

I too feel totally ripped off by the poor sound and Section 200 overhang that left us with the effect of watching U2 through a tunnel. The "Claw" was totally obscured by the overhang and the echo was unbearable. We were in Section 105, Row 18 seats 15 & 16 and paid $544.45 for two seats. Supposedly we were given priority through “Horizon” U2 Fan Club membership. If I don’t get a refund, this will be the last U2 show I attend. I've called Ticketmaster and gotten nowhere. If anyone wants to proceed formally with a complaint against U2, please contact me.

Fritz Clifford fclifford@charter.net
7090 Oakland Ave.
Richmond Heights, MO 63117-1882
314-781-0704