So this Friday, tickets for the Rolling Stones O2 Arena gigs – their first shows in the UK since 2007’s turns at the, er, O2 Arena – go on sale. Unless, of course, you are an AMEX customer, in which case, by 1pm yesterday, you could have got your pair of £400 floor seats on eBay (and don’t you just love all the “Sadly, I can’t make it anymore” brigade?).
Or even better: you had £950 + VAT to shell out on a VIP hospitality ticket, which gets you in spitting distance of Keef, and also prior to the show offers a champagne reception, a three course dinner by a Michelin Star Chef and – no lie – “décor, music and lighting”. We are, no question about it, a long way from the Marquee Club in 1962 here. Even the cheapest set in the house – right up at the back, in the literal nosebleed seats – will likely set you back £120, and that’s if you can get through on Friday morning.
In light of this, as has now become tradition with Stones tours, “fans” are now showing their “outrage” at the extortionate price despite the fact this has been the case at every Rolling Stones show in living memory.
This kind of pricing and this kind of thing at these kind of mega-events has been the norm since the Stones’ American Tour of 1981, when perfumieres Jovan Musk paid $1 million to put their brand name on the zillions of tickets sold: something that quickly became commonplace on classic rock tours.
The Rolling Stones first sojourn without Bill Wyman – the Voodoo Lounge Tour, in 1994/5 – was the highest grossing tour by any artist ever for ages, due in no small part to the high prices and introduction of premium packages and suchlike, aimed squarely at the not-small Fat-Cats-Who-Were-Rebel-Rockers-In-Their-Teens demographic.
The ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour of 2005-7 went one better: featuring a bloody 400-capacity bar and restaurant on the stage, behind the band, so the super-privileged could shake their vol-au-vents at the proles in row Z (who had themselves shelled out a not-cheap 70 quid) to the strains of ‘You Can Always Get What You Want’. At its opening show in Fenway Park, then-Governor Of California Arnold Schwarzenegger flogged 36 places in his VIP box for $100,000 each: meaning that these one-time poster boys for rebellious America had raised $3.6 million for the Republican party before they’d even struck a chord.
So the bottom line is: while it might disgust you that the Stones have made the chance of you seeing them virtually impossible without a second mortgage, it is nothing new. As a former student at the London School of Economics, Mick Jagger knows exactly what he’s got. He started overseeing the Stones’ business affairs in 1971 (“No-one else seemed interested” he has shrugged), saw what Led Zeppelin and manager Peter Grant were doing in terms of maximising the fuck out of their live profits, and hasn’t looked back.
Say what you like, but there ain’t many more shrewd: he has taken the Stones’ bad-boy image of 50 years ago – still handily personified by his sidekick, who of course doesn’t have a CLUE about anything as uninteresting as business deals, maan – and turned it into a Premium brand. And he knows that to remain a premium brand he’s gotta sell more tickets than anyone else, at a higher price than anyone else. Simple. He also knows that people will pay it. You can bet that for all the moaning, the O2 will be full on both nights.
My advice? Get your buddies together, buy some cheap beer, seek out the ‘Get Your Leeds Lungs Out’ bootleg from 1971, turn it up loud and get on down. Either that, or bite the bullet.