As do many people, I am sure, I have a complicated relationship with live performances of any stripe. There is so much expectation associated with them; so much bother and expense. Booking for a performance seems too much like laughing in the face of Fate, as far as I am concerned. I recollect that a few years ago, I would see while walking to work posters advertising a Coldplay tour that was something like eight months in the future. What kind of person can hand over close to three figures for a ticket with complete confidence that they won’t be dead in eight months?
On the other hand, I can remember when live performances for me meant nothing but pleasure. I recall, for example, Ron Haddrick putting his all into it as ‘the Beast of Belgrave Square’ at Neutral Bay’s The Music Hall in 1976. In the souvenir photograph, mounted on old-time cardboard, that was taken on the night, I look as happy as if a soothsayer had appeared before me and told me that when I grew up I would never have to work a day in my life. There was also the occasion that I saw Richard O’Sullivan and Doug Fisher, from television’s Man About the House, appearing in a matinee of Boeing Boeing at the Theatre Royal in 1977. One of the things about this production that filled me with childish wonder was the two actors’ cunning reversal of roles. I was used to seeing Doug Fisher as Man’s sheepskin-encrusted seducer Larry, but instead it was Richard O’Sullivan who was visibly enjoying himself playing the cad. Another happy memory is of the Sunday afternoon in 1979 that I saw Michael Beecher (who so beautifully realised Dr Brian Denham, benevolent superintendent of the Albert Memorial Hospital in The Young Doctors) as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion.
It’s all much more painful, though, now that I am grown and have to spend my own money to see a live performance, and thus have much more invested in the exercise. In the early 1990s, Rudolf Nureyev embarked on his final tour. My mother, who is the first to admit that she was hypnotised by newspaper advertisements featuring photographs of him in his prime almost flying across the stage, excitedly booked us tickets. I actually can’t even recall what the ballet was in which we saw Nureyev; what I do recall is that almost all he did on the night was clap his hands a few times and shake the skirt of his robe. I admit that he was dying of AIDS, but it was still a letdown. We spent the interval talking of anything but the performance. Apparently, we were not alone in our reservations about the quality of what we had seen, as, while queueing in the bathroom, my mother heard another attendee say, ‘Well, he’s no Pavarotti.’
I am more forgiving when I’m not handing over my own money to see something, but not that much more forgiving. A few years ago, I was able to attend for free a Lou Reed concert that took place in the decaying splendour of Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. I have to be honest, I am not fanatical about the man and his music at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. My main memories of the show are that he recited Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in its entirety, and that at one point I turned around to see the woman behind me reading a book. In my experience, Reed’s only real rival for hatefulness as a live performer is PJ Harvey. I always keep a strict eye on how long concert-givers are on stage for; well, the underfed songstress gave us merely an hour of her valuable time and the only word for her performance was lackadaisical. Is this value for money? No, it is not.
My thoughts turn now to a Rod Stewart concert that I attended at the Superdome. The bad news was that the show featured songs from The Great American Songbook but the good news was that, once again, I hadn’t paid for my ticket, due to a well-connected friend. The simple fact is that I have a soft spot for Stewart and would defy anyone not to enjoy the excellent song ‘Maggie May’, so I was very much looking forward to the evening. Sadly, though, Rod did not exert himself overmuch, and the backing singers were on stage more often than he was. He would occasionally turn up to kick a football into the audience, or to sit with his tie loosened while he murdered a Cole Porter standard, but I got the feeling that he would as soon have been home watching television. I would have too, once the last notes of the splendid ‘Maggie May’ mandolin solo had died away. All I could think while making my protracted way from Homebush was that if I had paid to be in the audience, I would have wanted to kill a whole lot of people.
So, there it is – my simple wish that going to see live performances were not so often a vale of tears. I suppose, though, that there is really no option but to keep risking my money and time, as there is almost nothing as exciting as seeing in the flesh a person whom you have until that time seen only on television. Even if that person is Lou Reed.