Sunday, October 9, 2011

Concert Day: The Braehead Arena, Glasgow, Scotland (October 8, 2011)

The Holiday Inn Express up on West Nile Street, just like any other Holiday Inn hotel, offers you the selection of two different pillows—a hard one and a soft one—to choose from. Those pillows are neatly wrapped in a deep, dark blue ribbon, and are beautifully laid upon a positively comfortable bed.

But I couldn’t care much less about that extra pillow, really. After spending the preceding two nights at the horrible Dublin guesthouse, I’d suffice even with one decent pillow and proper heating. Still, I was happy to once again be residing in a human-friendly shelter; a well-deserved good night sleep and I woke up ready for whatever Glasgow had to offer on a Saturday morning.

The weather outside wasn’t much unlike what I had expected the British Isle to feel like in mid October: it was grey and raining—in fact, it has been raining non-stop during the entire day. The impact of rain has been mitigated by a preemptive visit to Eco Outdoors Sports (back in Vancouver. Oh, Vancouver; you are indeed second to none). $130 for a waterproof breathable ultra-light jacket may seem a bit steep but it’s worth every cent to not have to carry an umbrella around.

Glasgow’s city center is pretty and was full of people on Saturday morning, the rain appearing to scare absolutely nobody. Some of the city centre’s landmarks are being renovated and there’s some considerable construction going on in Buchanan Street nearby the Princess Square.

Perhaps it was the combination of cloudy skies, rain and cold temperature that prompted us to step into a tea house. The Willow Tea Rooms up Buchanan Street, not so far from River Clyde, happened to be in the right place at the right time. It is actually the newer one of two locations—the older one is located in Sauchiehall Street and dates back to October 1903 (for more information about The Willow Tea Rooms, check Wikipedia). We will visit that older location as soon as I finish up writing this drivel.

The first thing you notice upon entering the tearoom is its design. Clean, comfortable design—exactly the way I’d like a tearoom in my own house to be designed. Especially those chairs: extremely tall backrests which may seem odd at first, but once you’re seated at a table, it gives you some sense of privacy.


Many good teas are offered on the premises. Despite the excellent health advantages of white teas, I usually am not big fan of such, but this place’s Pai Mu Tan blend is well worth a try.


Time flies when you’re “looking at the world over the rim of your tea-cup”. Back on Glasgow’s streets, it started raining harder as we went to visit the Clyde.

(One can only hope)

Even when grey, Glasgow is still pretty. Crossing River Clyde via the Glasgow Bridge, views are impressive and I imagine they’re even better (much, much better) when it’s sunny. There are altogether 72 (!) or so bridges crossing River Clyde, 21 of them are within Glasgow.


Short stroll and then back to Glasgow’s City Centre through the South Portland Street Suspension Bridge.


My capacity of excitement during long-running journeys is apparently not high this time of the year; not much happened for the remainder of the day, until it was time to get to the concert when things started to get a bit… well… interesting.

The Braehead Arena, where this tour’s Glasgow concerts take place, is located in the Braehead Shopping Center. Yes, you read it right: Braehead is actually a shopping center that happens to feature an arena. It features a huge parking lot, as well as a bus route hub.

Getting from the city centre to the arena is relatively unpleasant—comparing to other “city-to-venue” journeys I had the opportunity to take over the last few years. Going by train is a waste of time as you end up having to take a bus later on anyway (from the nearest train station to the arena), so other than a taxi cab (which would cost you; this place is about 7 miles from Glasgow’s city centre, and traffic leaving the city at evening time is painful at best), a taking a bus is your only option.

Buses leave Glasgow’s Central Station as well as the Buchanan Street Station (the latter is very close to the hotel I was staying at). There are a few bus routes you can take, and using Transport Direct’s website (check out the journey planner) seems to be your best bet. At least in the Buchanan Street station, you have no convenient way of figuring out your routes (unless you use their funny, extremely-loud primitive system to look up your schedule and have the machine yell it back at you in a rather annoying voice) so you’re better off doing the prep work online.

We arrived at the bus station a bit earlier than expected so we decided to take an earlier bus, just in case. Mayhem ensued afterwards when we ended up taking the 747 bus and buying roundtrip tickets for it, only to realize later (when we were already in the bus) that the 747’s last bus back to the city centre departs Braehead Arena earlier than the show’s expected end. Had we stuck to the original travel plans, things might have been less stressful. I take great pleasure in blaming Jeroen for this mess.

It’s a long, annoying bus ride to the arena; raining outside, traffic is hell and I couldn’t wait for this ride to be over. Took 35 minutes or so to get there, and we departed the bus back into the wrath of the elements. Luckily, the mall’s entrance wasn’t too far.

For this tour, as well as for the last tour, tickets ordered online were to be picked up at the venue. Signs on site weren’t very clear as to where one should go to pick tickets up, but at the end we sorted it out, only to find out that we were given different seats than the ones that were allocated to us in the confirmation email. No big deal—only one row behind, and as you’ll shortly understand, it was actually a good thing.

Ticket options for this year’s tour were for either GA (General Admittance; standing) in front of the stage, or for seats in the side terraces (I suppose the other, better terraces weren’t available for the initial ticket sales, or were reserved for Bob Dylan’s fans, or whatever). I opted for the seating option as I absolutely can’t stand standing, general admittance concerts due to personal space issues. Having said that, these seats we ended up getting were horrid. View angle to the stage was in the proximity of 15 degrees or so, and the sound in that particular location left much to be desired for.

Well, I suppose things can’t go perfect all the time; better luck next time around.

As mentioned in the last post, this tour carries a strict “no photography” policy which is as strict as can be enforced in venues such as this one, that is—not enforceable at all. People seemed to ignore the various “no photography” pleas altogether, as photos were taken during the entire show. Some people were also seen video-recording the show, which really is impossible to prevent as most of the audience was actually on the floor, at the general admittance area.

Well, I sort-of expected this policy to not be enforceable. Unfortunately for many of you, though, I still decided to follow the band’s wishes so no concert pictures this time around, either. However, now that I know that this venue doesn’t confiscate cameras altogether, I will have some venue (non-concert) pictures to show for the next post.

7:30pm, the show’s slated start time, arrived and passed; about ten minutes later, the lights went out and the band captured the stage.

I suppose one thing that was evident in last night’s show—that is, evident even from where I was seated—was Mark being in some great mood. Often on the move, sometimes dancing, and even humming along the instrumental parts of Privateering, all that was missing was for him to wear a wig and put a huge hat over his head, and you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was Mark Knopfler or Slash playing in front of you.

Also, reminiscing on Mark’s guitar work from the last tour, yesterday’s Glasgow show featured a more elaborate, fast, and relatively precise guitar playing. After watching this band play so many times, believe me when I tell you that Mark being in a good mood serves to greatly enhance any concert.

There were a few set list changes and things worth noting during this show. What It Is opened the show this time around (it wasn’t played in Dublin), and Cleaning My Gun has been enhanced with a fair bit of steroids as it went rocking through the arena.

As this was the second show in the tour, the “first show” rush was over so I took some time to pay attention to the music. Jim Cox’s work in Sailing to Philadelphia served very well to demonstrate the difference between Cox and Matt Rollings: while Matt Rollings is very technical and precise, Jim Cox appears to have his own piano tone. Cox’s tone is much mellower, to the point that, sometimes it was barely heard—which is a great shame as this guy really knows how to play. Someone please pump up the volume during Jim’s solo, please… thank you.

I haven’t seen Jim Cox perform live before this tour, however I did watch his performance during the “A Night in London” concert (circa 1996) where he did wonders during the Sultans of Swing intermission. So if you remember that piano tone… yes, that’s Jim Cox, and that’s what it sounds like live. Very pleasant.

Privateering followed and folks, this is such a beautiful tune. If Marbletown used to be the musical pinnacle of the last tour, Privateering takes its place this time around. A beautiful C Minor piece with Mark & Richard on acoustics, Jim on the accordion, Mike on the pipes, John on the fiddle… Bliss.

The new, cyan-coloured Gibson Les-Paul Standard made its reappearance during Song for Sonny Liston, sounding different (obviously) than the traditional Les-Paul but still pleasant. The same guitar appeared later during the first Dire Straits song to be played during this tour; call me picky (wait, not everyone at once), but while this guitar sounds great for Song for Sonny Liston, it just doesn’t cut it for Brothers in Arms. The latter calls for a soft, mellow, deep tone and the new Gibson’s tone is more on the “stingy” side.

A fabulous Golden Heart tune, played exactly twice during the Get Lucky tour, was a great surprise to listen to. A bit of a rocky start as it seemed as if the pipes and the National guitar weren’t quite in sync tone-wise, but the situation was rectified shortly after.

Altogether a good show; one song longer than the Dublin concert, a bit “rough around the edges” but I’d attribute most of this roughness to the awful sound where I was seated. The band left the stage shortly before 9:00pm.

I’ll just go ahead and say it. I truly appreciate Bob Dylan’s contribution to worldly music over the last few decades. So many artists are influenced by Bob Dylan (Mark Knopfler included) that if you gather all Dylan-influenced music together, you’ll get a huge chunk of today’s music in your hands.

That being said, Dylan’s live shows aren’t for everyone. I suppose my biggest problem with Dylan’s live shows is that they are loud. Way, way, way, way too loud. So loud, that I went back to my Dublin hotel with a headache after the concert. I wasn’t going to put my eardrums through pain and suffering anymore so I decided to evacuate the scene as soon as Mark’s set was over.

And yes, I know. I know about so many people out there looking out for a joint Knopfler/Dylan performance. Obviously, had I known that such a joint performance is in the books, I would have stayed; however, the entire “joint performance” issue is nothing more than a speculation at the moment and I decided to favour my eardrums’ health over speculation.

The mall was basically all closed and empty as I left the arena. Out to the bus station; it was (of course) raining and with the help of a few locals we found the “stance” (that’s how they call a “physical bus waiting-area construct” in Scotland, I suppose) for the correct bus to take back to Glasgow.

I believe the driver drove about 600 km/h on the way to Glasgow. Within 15 minutes we were already in the Buchanan Street station; off for a late dinner and back to the hotel.

Signing off this post at 1:00pm, Sunday October 9. Will go for lunch now, then some more unwinding & rest before the concert tonight at the same Braehead Arena. Stay tuned.



Anonymous said...

many thanks, dear Isaac: Your information is very interesting and well described

Bill said...

Consider getting yourself some foam earplugs... and cut one in half. You'll discover that it does wonders for cutting down the volume of a too loud concert but doesn't ruin the acoustics.