Booze free for the weekend

This bar is unlicensed
This bar is unlicensed

Review: Vampire Weekend, Festival Hall, Monday 6 January 2014

We should have known something was wrong from the door bitch. She looked at our tickets, looked at the three grown men waiting impatiently in front of her, then looked back at the tickets with a frown. Just checking that you’re in the right place. Eventually, she shrugged and waved us in. Once inside, Curly looked at us and asked that classic rhetorical question, Beer? Ads and I nodded. Even though he stood less than ten metres from the “bar” Curly asked a security guard for directions. Sorry pal, this is the dry section. He pointed to the ceiling and the three of us looked at the NO PASS OUTS sign and panicked. This is what can happen when pregnant ladies book tickets for a gig.

We made our way to our allocated seats in a daze. I was too bewildered to notice at the time but, in hindsight, it’s amazing how easily you can navigate cramped and crowded aisles when you aren’t balancing three plastic cups overflowing with beer. We sat down and I looked across at the sticky carpets and beer soaked heaving mass just twenty metres away, on the other side of a row of thin medal bars. I’d never been stuck in the unlicensed area of an All Ages gig. How had it come to this?

Curly had called around lunchtime. You heard of Vampire Weekend? he asked. Yep, they’re good, I responded. Just so happens, I’ve picked up a couple of tickets to see them tonight. Want to come? I hesitated. It was a school night, the first Monday of January and I’d decided to try for fewer boozy nights in 2014. Sure, I’m keen. Seeing more live music was my other New Year’s resolution. It turned out that Curly’s pregnant cousin, Ella, had bought three tickets but she’d gone into labour early. Earlier that morning, Ella had given birth to a healthy little boy but obviously she wasn’t going to make the show.

It was a Festival Hall gig with an 8pm start. I naturally assumed that meant: doors open at 8pm, support act at 9pm and Vampire Weekend would hit the stage around 10ish. Curly had managed to rustle up another mate, Ads. The three of us met at a pub, the Hotel Spencer, near the gig at about 8pm. We had a couple of pots before walking down the hill. We got to Festival Hall at 8:40pm making it far and away the earliest I had ever arrived to a gig. Unfortunately, that event had coincided with being stuck smack bang in the middle of the dry section of licensed venue with the band at least an hour off hitting the stage.

Surveying the crowd, I realised that we were surrounded on all sides by kids. Everywhere I looked the oily sheen of prepubescent skin was lit up by the reflected glow mobile phone screens held closely to naïvely optimistic faces. The bitter irony of my situation dawned upon me, I’d been worried about going out on a school night but given the number of fifteen year olds around, I could have been back at high school. I spotted a few other adults scattered amongst a sea of adolescent exuberance, parents chaperoning their children on first dates, pregnant couples and maybe a reformed alcoholic or two.

Determined to make the best of the situation, I tried to identify a weak spot in the barrier that separated the unlicensed and licensed sections in the hope that we could sneak across. Try as I might, I couldn’t see a weakness. It looked fun on the other side of the barrier. Punters laughed, drank and chatted beneath an abundance of signage directing people to a dozen different bars where money could be exchanged for alcohol. It was as if the signs had been strategically placed just to taunt us. My frustration increased when I saw a guy buy soft drink from a licensed bar. Had he no regard for our plight? As far as I could see the only advantage of the unlicensed area was the lack of people waiting to be served at the so-called “bars”. I’m not an alcoholic but I do enjoy a drink. I had a couple of beers under the belt and was keen to enjoy a few more (responsibly of course) while listening to some quality live music.

Thankfully, we had completely misjudged the schedule, the support act (Gang of Youths) had actually played before we arrived so we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before Ezra, Rostam and the two Chris’s hit the stage. The relative lack of alcoholic accompaniment became a distant memory once the music started.

Sitting there and watching, I mean really watching and listening, I noticed details that would have been missed from the middle of a sweaty, booze-fuelled crowd. I laughed during Oxford Comma when a clapstick thrown from the crowd nearly hit Ezra while he sang the line, “Take the chapstick, put it on your lips”. I noticed that there was something painted on a sheet that was thrown on the stage and Erza made a bandana out of. It was the reaction of the kids around us that was the most enlightening. For many, it would have been their first live music experience and they were pumped. I dawned upon me that All Age venues provide the gig going punters of tomorrow access to live music.

The boys from New York City produced a pretty solid set. Laid back melodic ballads such as Step and Obvious Bicycle suited a band whose frontman wears three-quarter length pants, boat shoes and likes singing with one hand planted in his pocket. Cousins, One and A-Punk where highlights. Their high energy percussion heavy tone was complimented by the happy hoping and double denim of bassist Chris Baio.

It wasn’t just gentle swaying and adolescent innocence in the unlicensed section either. Shit was getting loose by the time the encore rolled around. Kids stood on chairs willy-nilly for When Walcott. It looked like security was going to have to start grounding people. The set came to an end at 10:37pm and we made our way onto the street in an orderly fashion while discussing the relative merits of the gig and our seating arrangements. We were sober but had been treated to something different.

The unlicensed section had provided a novel vantage point that had given me a new perspective on the live music experience. I looked at the L-platers that surrounded us in the hope that someone might give us a lift to the pub on their way home.