I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It). My Bloody Valentine — a quarter of a million copies sold, decades of highly-regarded EPs, singles and albums, a once-mythical new release… and, until now, only one tour to Australia ever, some 21 years ago.
(Oh yeah, and they still have never even been to New Zealand.)
Wednesday’s show at the Tivoli in Brisbane followed through on the band’s notorious promise of a deafening show. The Irish shoegaze band has a somewhat excessive live setup of eight towering amps, their own stage crew, gear and technicians – which makes it no wonder why travelling anywhere is a challenge for one of the most obnoxiously loud bands in the world. That final roar of noise during ‘You Made Me Realise’, I can confirm, is indeed the loudest fucking thing I have ever heard. A 15-minute-long slam on the brakes in an otherwise aerodynamic performance to send your guts flying right into your muscle walls. The 1100-capacity venue shuddered under the pressure, as many across the world have in decades before. It’s a shame New Zealand has no venue of this size to support a band of such clout. Oh but wait yeah we do.
Unfortunately, to be one of the loudest bands in the world, you have to be costly. The Brisbane show had tickets at $99 AUD – it didn’t have a lot of trouble filling out the Tivoli, but it still wasn’t a sellout. That’s $120 in New Zealand currency, which for comparison is roughly what it costs to see The Stone Roses reunion show this week at Vector Arena, a band of twice the popularity and sales. So, not really a rewarding amount to pay for a measly Powerstation show. Besides the issue of all that dang gear they have to lug around, there’s a presumably hefty guarantee – a band of such stature wouldn’t be shy to ask for less than five figures. This is the band that nearly bankrupted Creation Records, remember.
Why was Australia so much more affordable, then? Hint: festivals have a lot of fucking money. Especially those that can afford their own inter-continental spinoff. By the sounds of it, profits made by their Melbourne appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ would have been what made their four-stop AU tour a possibility, even if it meant a challenging ticket price.
If $120 each by 1,000 a head sounds like a lot of money, you might’ve not considered the expenses before profit. To break down everything a promoter has to consider: Tax, flights, visas, accommodation, per diems/food, promotion (publicist, radio, online, print…), venue hire, crew, van/trailer/truck hire, drivers, catering/rider… and of course, thousands of dollars in freight. And THEN you have to pay them. It’s a tricky trade. Even huge bands like Radiohead and Weezer spent most of the last decade refusing to visit, despite absolutely guaranteed sellout arena shows. What makes it even worse is that there’s no more Big Day Out to convince these huge headliners to cross the water.
So by this point, it’s thoroughly unsurprising that MBV’s manager came back to me with this kind response: “We tried to get there but didn’t get an offer to make it financially viable for us. Hopefully another time!” But there’s a trace of optimism in his reply. Same goes when looking at their tour itinerary, which presents a sizeable hunk between their last scheduled Australian show and their first show back in the UK. Perhaps this two-week gap was originally left open in case an NZ show could be arranged, meaning that someone, somewhere, wanted it to happen.
Maybe New Zealand promoters didn’t feel too good about local demand. In a fickle market in a small population, you couldn’t blame them for wondering if 1,000 New Zealanders would come to this show. Well, all I know is that the petition I started in 2009 to bring MBV had as many members in its Facebook group – and half as many went so far as to even sign the damn thing. It worked for the Clash and it worked for the Cure, so why not My Bloody Valentine?
There have been bands like Fugazi – who’ve turned down million-dollar offers from Coachella and Lollapalooza on the grounds of alcohol sponsorship and high ticket prices – but in 1997 did a completely DIY, all-ages, 5-stop tour in New Zealand at the height of their popularity. But not every band can be Fugazi. Like Fugazi, however, My Bloody Valentine are tough on their demands. (They’re a notoriously hard band to work with – their sound guy had quit on the day of the Brisbane show and their tour manager had to step in at the last minute.)
Because of the uncertainties involved in a New Zealand tour, the relationship between Australian promoters and New Zealand promoters can be shaky. There’s more money in Australia, so naturally that will be more of a concern for Australian promoters, while over here it tends to be a desperate balance between not losing money and rewarding a starved audience. More New Zealand promoters should be thanked, in fact, for their tireless dedication to bringing bands that will almost certainly cost them their cash. And it sucks – twice as many shows could come out of a few less jaded promoters in Auckland alone. With the amount of amazing acts that pass through Australia without getting a chance to experience New Zealand, more should be done, if there is a way, to get them over here.
At the end of the day, little can be done for those that missed out on seeing one of the most influential guitar bands of the last twenty years, but a bigger issue has been illuminated in the process. There are too many bands that come to Australia but won’t come to New Zealand. Who should be lowering their expectations, the promoters, the bands or the fans?