Photo: John Price

Small in size, big in meaning: the joy of gigs in small venues

Picture this: you are a few rows back in a nightclub-turned-music-venue. The singer makes eye contact with you. You are surrounded by like-minded people with the same objective in mind – to have fun. The guitarist beckons you on stage. You climb up, and of course, because it is a small gig, there is no barrier or security to stop you. Suddenly, you’re part of the band. You look into the crowd – it’s not that big, 500 people at most. If you squint through the brightly coloured lights, you can see the bar at the back of the club. You can even make out individual faces and expressions. And like them, all you feel is pure joy. Then you jump. At once, you are caught by a sea of people. You ride a wave of sweat and skin and hands before you are let down. Your feet are on the ground and you are part of the crowd again – as if nothing ever happened.

That is it – that feeling of intimacy and connection between artists and fans is the reason why smaller gigs are inherently more enjoyable than their larger counterparts. When you are at a small gig, artists go from being someone who only exists on a screen to a real-life person right in front of you. Seeing artists up close also makes them human – watching them fumble around with their microphone, or check their setlist, or even do something as mundane as drink water. They are no longer an airbrushed, flawless figure in a magazine – instead, they are another human being, just like everyone else in the crowd. In larger gigs, the interaction between artists and fans is weaker. If you’re in a stadium with 50,000 people, there is no way the artist can make eye contact with everyone. These sorts of shows also impede post-concert conversations with the artist. Instead, interaction is limited to generic cries of: “Hello (insert name of city here), how are you doing tonight?”. Or instead, my personal favourite: “you guys are the best crowd we’ve ever had”, a pre-written announcement repeated every other night of the tour.

It is only natural for world-renowned artists to charge higher prices. But as a rule of thumb, smaller gigs tend to be much cheaper

And of course, the cost. If you don’t want to spend half of your life savings on good seats, you are most likely going to end up watching the concert on a large screen – in other words, as you would at home. While stadium and arena tours require hundreds of individuals to be transported across countries and continents – not to mention expensive equipment – smaller gigs do not require nearly as many members of staff or specialised equipment. Which, of course, dramatically lowers the price of your ticket. While front-row seats for a stadium tour can easily set you back £200-300, front-row spots for a small venue may only cost you £10-40. Of course, this depends on the artist you see, and it is only natural for world-renowned artists to charge higher prices. But as a rule of thumb, smaller gigs tend to be much cheaper.

Larger gigs are not all bad. I would even go as far as to argue that some artists belong in arenas or stadiums. Tours such as Muse’s 2019 Simulation Theory tour and Roger Waters’ 2018 Us + Them tour would not have been as jaw-dropping (or even possible) had they taken place in small venues. These tours employed holograms, robots, and even a giant inflatable pig in Waters’ case, for dramatic effect. However, the nature of these shows is inherently different, making them less like gigs and more like full-scale theatrical productions. And while these experiences are incredible, no amount of production can compensate for the human connection lost in the vast emptiness of a large venue. 

Unfortunately, it is not usually possible to choose the size of the venue where you want to see an artist perform. Some artists are trying to work around this – for example, Twenty One Pilots’ upcoming Takeover Tour features a different sized venue each night. And even though opportunities like these are few and far between, it may be worth waiting for certain artists to announce intimate shows rather than jumping on the first opportunity to see them. However, despite the size of the venue, a gig is still a gig, and you are sure to enjoy yourself no matter where it is.

 

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