The Good, the Bad, and the Live

An unfortunate incident two weeks ago led to the indie pop-rock group Passion Pit cancelling shows in their hometown Massachusetts. Touring currently to promote their 2012 album Gossamer, the band were unable to perform due to issues, which they didn’t much shed light on. On Tuesday, though, they uploaded a (very cryptic) blog post citing some of the most common reasons why concerts are called off.

Broadly classified into four categories, they included:

1. General illness

2. Mental illness

3. Bad weather

4. Conflicting schedules

The band conveyed their apologies to fans and promised to do a 2014 tour that would make up for this.

While all that seems really thoughtful, the list is hardly complete. I’d like to add to it from personal experience of having been at an international level show that was cancelled two hours after it was scheduled to start. The weather was all right, the band were mentally and physically sound, and they had nowhere else to be. Nonetheless, the promoters called off the concert without giving any reasons. The audience was left hanging, and angry fans went on stage and wrecked the band’s gear.

Where in the world did this shit happen? At a Metallica gig in New Delhi, a city whose vandalism prowess is second only to its per capita spending on gunpowder.

October’s a bad time to be in Delhi. Well, any time’s a bad time to be in Delhi. But the October of 2011 was particularly bad. The nights were frigid and the days saw searing heat. Amidst the general chaos that the city is, an ambitious group of promoters decided to organise a concert for the US-based metal group Metallica.

The gig was scheduled for October 28, on a ground called Leisure Valley in the fringe city of Gurgaon. The people there are not to be messed with. It’s like the whole of Russia condensed into a 1,000 square kilometre radius, with summers that last 11-and-a-half months and instead of AK-47s people lug around country-made pistols.

I worked with Vh1 India at the time, and we were telecasting a delayed feed of the concert along with an interview. We were also given a booth at the venue to sell merchandise and do online promotions. My team and I got there a day before the event, and went for a venue reconnaissance.

Around 3 pm the promoters seemed in full preparation for the big day. Hetfield, in shorts and a tee, was casually strolling around the park while Ulrich tuned the drum kit. The security barricades were set up, the stage looked fantastic and the PA sounded amazing! It was going to be the best fucking gig I’d ever see. Or, in hindsight, the best fucking gig I’d never see.

At 9 am the next day we were in our booth waiting for the gates to be thrown open. People had been lining up outside since 8 in the morning, yelling abuses, shouting their lungs out… in 6 hours they were going to see one of the biggest metal bands perform live. The opening act, a local Delhi band, came on stage and started sound check.

At 4 pm – an hour behind schedule – the gates opened, and people literally flew in. There were old people, young people, teenagers, children, parents… everyone who’d ever heard or heard of Metallica. They all ran in hordes toward the stage, getting as close to it as they could. Twenty minutes later the venue was packed. It seemed like the gig would start any minute, except… it just wasn’t starting. The opening band had walked off stage an hour ago, without performing, inviting a smattering of boos from the audience, and Metallica had just never come on. They were now an hour late, and no one knew what was going on.

It was 45 degrees Celcius out, and people were waiting tirelessly for a concert that was over an hour delayed. The audience decided to take its frustration out on the management, and, charging at the barricade between them and the stage, tore it down. One of the promoters thought that would be a good time to address the audience, and came on stage. But he was so clueless about the entire affair (and at such a loss for words), he wound up blaming the unruly audience for the delay.

Apparently, the band wouldn’t play fearing for their safety. And now that the security barricade was ripped, the band refused to go on stage until it’d been fixed. He was bullshitting us; he knew it, we knew it. About five minutes later he admitted to it too, simply saying the concert had been cancelled as the band had refused to perform. This aggravated the audience more, and about ten guys barged on stage and shoved the amps down on the ground. Another group attacked the drum kit and, within a timespan of ten minutes, a part of the stage broke into flames.

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You know what’s worse than ten thousand people rushing into a venue all at the same time? Ten thousand people rushing out of it. What unfolded in front of me was chaos on a level. People ran around in all directions trying to get to the closest exit while police and firemen ran around trying to calm everyone down. All this while, the promoter, still on stage, kept on screaming: “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. THIS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.”

Ensconced in our little booth, and a considerable distance from the stage, my team frantically started packing up. We were debating the real reason behind the debacle when one of us noticed a group of angry guys charging at us. My colleague, pale with fear, pointed to the hoarding. It read: “Metallica in India… in association with Vh1 India.” This was it. They wanted a reason why the event wasn’t happening. Why WE’D cancelled it.

We grabbed everything we could lay hands on – our laptops, merchandise, bags – and jumped into our car. Speeding out of the venue, I turned around to get a last look. Stage completely wrecked, people running about, the whole scenario looked grim… and an embarrassing cliché kept coming to mind: the audience there that fateful day wanted to seek and destroy.

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The strangest bit is, to this day no one knows what went wrong. Some people got refunds on their tickets, some never bothered. Papers speculated about the organisers not having the requisite number of licenses required to organise a live gig while some spoke about lax security arrangements. Rumours also circulated about how the band were never scheduled to perform there in the first place. But no one really knew.

The after party happened anyway. Hanging out amidst some of the people that were at the venue (and five-six beers down), we were able to put the incident behind us. But in those tense moments between when the show was cancelled and the men charged at us, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see my life slowly… well… fade to black.

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