In which I am baffled by the O2

So, we know I don’t get out much, right? In particular, I don’t get out to arena spaces because they are unpleasant, inconvenient and rammed with other people. Still, I was lured out to the O2 for Country2Country, and duly battled my way to the armpit of London where the O2 lurks.

Thankfully, the music was great: Dwight Yoakam killed it, Ashley Monroe did a lovely turn on the small stage,  and Miranda Lambert rocked out hard. Thomas Rhett can come back in a few years, by when he might have found his feet better, but Charles Esten is touring later in the year, and I’d love to hear him play in a smaller space.

But the venue. Oh dear, the venue.

Now, in my lack-of-getting-out naivety, I’d rather assumed that the O2 was a proper venue. I mean, they’re all over the place. People even I’ve heard of play in them. So I was quite surprised when this turned out to be very much not the case, and instead the whole site had more the air of the cheap end of the shopping centre. You know the bit I mean, it’s where the signs for John Lewis tell you how far away you are in miles, but it’s dead handy for cheap phone cases and non-brand fried chicken. (How do I know this, you ask? It’s because I’ve been to Milton Keynes and parked in the wrong bit, and then had to traverse acres of unfamiliar territory before stumbling tearfully back into the land of Pret and House of Fraser. Don’t go south of Clarks, that’s my advice.)

Anyway, back to the O2 (although, not physically of course. Never again.) Weird place. There was a small stand selling the usual gig merchandise: t-shirts in a size that suits no one, and which are only a good idea while you’re in concert mode. As if the gear wasn’t expensive enough, the vendors were taking the opportunity to wring more money out of people by charging £1.50 for card transactions.

Then we went in, and things got weirder. The guy at the gate made a big deal about how once you’d had your ticket scanned and were inside, you couldn’t go out and come back in again. In case you gave your ticket to someone else. Eh? If that’s a big problem then you probably need better security measures than a print out of a ticket without any ID check, mate. Talk to Glastonbury, I’m pretty sure they’ve nailed this basic entry security stuff.

They searched our bags. My friend, who is vegetarian and gluten intolerant, was told that she couldn’t bring in the protein bars she was depending on to get her through the next several hours. There seemed to be no rationale for this, other than that the O2 wants to force everyone to eat total crap. But maybe we were all jumping to wild conclusions that the food would be shit and there’d be nothing she could eat? Maybe, what in fact lay beyond the carefully guarded portals, was a vegetarian and gluten free cornucopia?

No, our first assumption was right. The O2 is stuck in some kind of localized time warp. If you want to eat yourself into a carb, sugar and salt coma for the cost of a dinner for two at a proper restaurant, then hie ye to the O2 and load up on Krispy Kremes and fat burgers. If you think that eating something that doesn’t start clogging your arteries at 50 paces might be an idea, well, then you’re shit outta luck. As for gluten intolerant, the O2 hasn’t heard of this new fangled faddishness and have you thought about popcorn as an alternative to actual food?

My friend’s partner wasn’t allowed to bring in his plastic bottle of water. There really is no justification for this, other than the venue being determined to charge water drinkers three times the going rate. So yes, you could buy water, but you weren’t allowed the bottle cap. Eh? After puzzling over this, we decided that it’s in case the crowd decided to sod listening to the music and waving their phones in torch mode, and instead chose to spend the entire time gnawing bottle caps into weapons and rising up en masse to inflict minor flesh wounds on hapless fellow concert goers. Well, just think of the insurance premium on that risk! Suddenly… no, the whole bottle cap thing just Does. Not. Make. Sense.

The thing is, tickets for that evening were about £100. That’s not cheap. That sets certain expectations about the whole experience, which do not include ridiculous rules, not being able to get anything to eat for six hours, or having to queue so long for a bathroom that you risk missing part of a set. If anything clearly demonstrates a venue’s lack of interest in attendees as other than walking wallets, it’s the brazenness of charging £4 for nachos (by which I mean literally the corn chips, not the dish including actual ingredients).

It is disrespectful commoditization of people, and frankly, the O2 can fuck right off.

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