Concert Review: Foo Fighters at Irving Plaza

I suspected at some point I’d write a blog post about Sonic Highways, the brilliant new show and enjoyable album from one of my favorite bands, Foo Fighters. With Sonic Highways, the band recorded a new eight-song album in eight different cities, letting some of the musical D.N.A. of each city seep into the various recordings and lyrical constructions. It’s an ambitious concept that just about nobody in music but Dave Grohl, the nicest guy in rock and roll, could currently pull off.

But this is not a post about Sonic Highways. This is not a post about the ambitious undertaking of the album or the specific songs on the record or the awesome idea of the band playing a show in every city it recorded in, every Friday night, as a companion to the airing of that city’s episode. No, this is not a happy post.

This is a post about how the band, the New York Police Department and New York City’s Irving Plaza combined to construct a colossal failure of an event on Friday night. Gimme some rope.

——

Last Tuesday, Foo Fighters’ official Twitter account posted the following note:

Foo Fighters Irving Plaza

I’d suspected this was coming for months, with the show-a-week routine. I frantically checked my calendar the moment I’d realized this plan, and discovered the final episode – the New York episode – would air on December 5th, just one day after I was scheduled to return home after a pair of radio shows in Syracuse. Perfect. My only concern was that in-person tickets might go on sale earlier in the week, when I wouldn’t be home. The above message erased that. Everything had fallen into place.

I woke up Friday morning some time before 9 a.m. and immediately checked Twitter to find there were a few dozen fans already outside the venue, some of whom had camped out. I also found this on Twitter:

Irving Plaza sign

I weighed the seemingly contrasting sides and decided to head to Irving Plaza an hour earlier than I’d planned. I made my way to the venue around 11:00 to find a line of people across the street, with the sidewalk in front of Irving Plaza clear except for a couple of Plaza employees. I started a conversation with one of them, a friendly young woman, who informed me that no lines would be honored for the event and that the venue would honor the 3:00 line-up date. “Go inside and stay warm”, she told me. I unfortunately heeded her advice.

I lingered in the Union Square area, eating at Panera and filling out a few crossword puzzles before heading down to monitor the scene around 12:15. By this time, the unofficial line had stretched down East 16th Street and was wrapping around 3rd Avenue, with hundreds of fans waiting on a line that, to my knowledge, wouldn’t be acknowledged. I found the security woman again, asking if the people far down the block had any idea what they were doing. She reassured me the line would not be officially recognized by the venue. I relented on my curiosity and headed into Barnes & Noble to stay warm and read while waiting for a pair of friends.

Shortly after 1:00, my periodic checking of a Twitter search for “irving plaza foo fighters” found a result that made my stomach sink. A user claimed the NYPD was now handing out a limited number of wristbands in front of the venue. I raced down three escalators and hustled a pair of blocks to find confused masses of people everywhere, with the once-empty sidewalk in front of the Plaza taking on the genesis of a full-scale riot. I found a security guard I’d briefly befriended earlier, who was in anything but a chatty mood. He informed me and a few others, with no hint of sympathy, that the NYPD decided to hand out 175 wristbands (good for two people each) in order to remove the crowd. That was it. If you didn’t get a wristband, you weren’t getting in. You were done – nearly four full hours before tickets had been scheduled to go on sale. Why 175 – for a max of just 350? Per Foo Fighters’ request.

Shame on Foo Fighters. Shame on the NYPD. And shame on Irving Plaza.

——

For a band as committed to its fans as Foo Fighters – a band that’s jammed in garages, played a crowd-funded show and attempted to take down automated bots – this was a surprising misfire. Why book a venue with a capacity of 1,025 if you’re going to make no more than 350 tickets available? Why wasn’t this information noted beforehand to give fans a realistic idea of expectations? Why would, as Twitter reports claim, the remaining 600-plus spots go to celebrities and HBO employees?

Of course, Foo Fighters are within their rights to accept as many fans as they want at a particular show. They didn’t have to play these “surprise” shows at all. You could even think of them as bonus concerts. But – to mislead your fans, withhold information and make less than 40% of the venue available to the ticket-buying public? That’s not cool.

They’re not the only ones at fault here. The NYPD botched this situation, as well, if Irving Plaza is to be believed. (The venue’s certainly passed its fair share of the blame on.) By handing out wristbands – mainly to those fans who camped out and broke the venue-stated rule (remember that one? No lineups before 3:00?) – the NYPD believed it was curtailing a crowd. It wasn’t. It was rewarding cheaters, incensing a mob and only delaying the inevitable. Check out these pictures from Twitter from after 3:00 – nearly two hours after the start of the wristband fiasco…

Foo Fighters riot 2 Foo Fighters riotFoo Fighters riot 3

…AND check out this video. Nice crowd control!

Ultimately, though, the brunt of the blame for this fiasco goes to Irving Plaza. How do I blame thee? Let me count the ways…

  • Posting the show information on Tuesday. You want to avoid security concerns? Don’t give fans of a band big enough to play a tour of U.S. stadiums that much advance notice. For the previous week’s show in Seattle, tickets were available on Wednesday – the same day the show was announced.
  • “No lineups before 3 p.m.” was an asinine idea from the start. No matter what, you’re going to have people crazy enough to camp out. You’re going to have hundreds of lingerers. Why not note a time for on-sale tickets and have a security guard monitor the line, only to cut it off at a certain point? That way, anyone showing up for an already full line could be immediately sent home.
  • Deciding to constantly and consistently tweet to fans on Friday morning that they’d honor the 3:00 time, only to go back on their word when confronted with any sort of adversity.
  • Being strong-armed by the NYPD or flip-flopping the rules on its own. I only spoke to one security guard, so I don’t know how true the report of the NYPD totally taking over the situation is. But to give out your entire supply of tickets four hours before the supposed start of ticket sales and two hours before the start of line-ups – after an entire morning of calming down worried fans – is gross incompetence.

At the end of the day, Irving Plaza lied to its potential customers. It reassured and reassured and reassured and then drove a knife through the fan base’s back when they least expected it. Blame it on the NYPD all you want – but Irving Plaza got this wrong, plain and simple.

What did the folks there think was going to happen? That nobody would show up until 3:00, at which case a peaceful group of 147 fans would come strolling in?

Actually, no – I know that’s not the case. In my first conversation with the security woman, she predicted the rush for tickets at 3:00 would be “like Black Friday shopping”. Read that again. Irving Plaza was prepared for this situation to get out of hand. They knew the mess that they were getting into! And they still completely failed in preventing it. That boils down to a total lack of any leadership or forward-thinking decision-making.

——

There are two truly unfortunate things about this. For starters, hundreds of dedicated Foo Fighters fans got screwed. People who followed the rules showed up to a venue that didn’t follow its own. Folks who drove in from out of state didn’t have a single chance.

As for me, I don’t know how I can possibly get to any of Foo Fighters’ 2015 tour dates, thanks to a jam-packed baseball schedule next summer. This may have been my only remaining opportunity to see one of my five favorite bands before a hypothetical next tour, years down the road. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The second unfortunate thing: nothing will change because of this. Irving Plaza will absorb the nasty but brief Twitter backlash and continue selling shows with no repercussions. And the members of Foo Fighters will likely never worry about this moment again. I’m not expecting Dave Grohl to show up at my house tomorrow with an acoustic guitar and flowers. (Though, it would be amazing.) I’m not expecting the band to play a second New York show for those fans that were screwed out of a chance on Friday. (Though, it would be a wonderful karmic event.) I – and I can confidently say that I speak for the rest of the Friday-afternoon “mob” here – would merely be happy to see a simple apology from somebody involved. A mea culpa from the band, the venue or the NYPD officers on the scene would be nice. But I’ll keep dreaming.

I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, and perhaps that ship has long since sailed. I knew from the start I was far from guaranteed to get tickets to the venue, no matter how many were available. But had I known that disobeying of venue-enforced laws would be rewarded, that Irving Plaza would lie to me and dozens of others and that my only chance at getting tickets was to camp out, I’d have packed a few blankets and stayed the night on a frigid Union Square sidewalk. I know I’m far from the only one. We simply don’t appreciate being lied to.

At some point soon, I’ll shake my fairly petty grievance and start listening to Foo Fighters again. I’ll watch the Sonic Highways finale on HBO. I’ll blast “White Limo” in my car and shout the words to “Learn To Fly” to nobody in particular.

That point is not today.

Grade: F

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