There is no denying the appeal of a stadium gig. Rock bands like Muse and Foo Fighters can fill stadiums time and time again, creating unforgettable spectacles. From the opening song 'Uprising' at Muse's 2010 Wembley gig, the atmosphere was electric. I hardly was given the option to jump or not because I was already being thrown about the third row along with the bustling of thousands of excited fans. There were stages rising into the sky, gymnasts spinning on balloons... This kind of scale could not be achieved in an intimate arena. “You wouldn’t go to see bands like U2 in an intimate setting anymore”, says Founder & CEO of Muzcentric Nenad Todorovic, who then adds, "the scale of the sets and lighting on their 360° tour works best in a large arena”. It’s true, that tour sure wouldn't have worked in The Kentish Town Forum. And while these giant sets are profitable too (The 360° tour made over $736 million, selling over 7.2 million tickets), many small arenas are closing down, such as Edinburgh’s famous Bongo Club.
On the other hand I’d say that intimate gigs have many more possibilities than stadium gigs, which can ironically do far less for live music. It pretty much has to be a loud, colourful extravaganza or it just wouldn’t work and that’s why some bands can’t do stadium gigs. Meanwhile intimate gigs can be loud with bands like Editors or atmospheric and emotive like with Imogen Heap, and in both cases you can be so close to the band and the sound, maintaining an intimacy that stadium concerts don’t have. And while stadium arenas often charge extortionate prices for tickets, smaller arenas are far more affordable.
I’d say it’s easier to enjoy yourself at a small arena. Blur closed the Olympics at Hyde Park, and many complained that they couldn’t hear them. When I saw Red Hot Chili Peppers at Earls Court, in the 19,000-strong crowd I was quite far back and I felt detached from the experience, clapping awkwardly while realizing that I could hear my friends singing almost as much as I could hear Anthony Kiedis. And my friends weren't great singers to be honest... If you don’t like where you’re standing in an intimate gig, you can shove through pretty quickly, but even from the start you're going to be fairly close to the band. But have you ever tried barging through 90,000 people? By the time you'd reached the front, Coldplay would be well into their encore! Another time I was seated at a large arena for Kasabian and it was like watching it on TV, whilst the other times I’ve been seated at smaller venues to see Band Of Horses and Sigur Rós I’ve loved every minute of the gig. So I feel that at large arenas you have to be pretty far forward to enjoy yourself, whereas in small arenas due to the smaller space you’re more likely to find a place and have a good time. Last night Bloc Party played at Birthdays in Dalston to 250 people, while they've also announced that they're playing at Earls Court to 19,000 in February. Given the choice of which gig to go to, I would have definitely gone to Birthdays last night.
So is there such a thing as a better type of gig? Well, both have their strengths and weaknesses so it depends on your preference. Intimate gigs provide more options for bands to see whilst stadium gigs are on a much larger scale and can create incomparable spectacles. Couple that with their ticket sales and it could be suggested that stadium gigs are in the ascendancy. The importance of intimate gigs cannot be underestimated though, as they are how many bands first engage fans and go onto greater success, as the enclosed setting helps the audience connect and the band practice their interaction with the audience. Big bands often recognize this, occasionally playing smaller arenas with a different sound like with the MTV Unplugged performances that had stadium-fillers like Nirvana, Eric Clapton and Jay-Z performing in the past.
The Live Music Act comes into force in October and will ease restrictions on pubs and small clubs, which will help the success of intimate gigs. No band starts in a stadium, so it is crucial that both types of live music thrive. Both types are enjoyable for different reasons and comparing them depends on your music preferences. It can be concluded then that both can be great experiences, because they are both able to engage audiences and remind them of the brilliance of live music.