Like New York and Chicago, the Twin Cities has three large stadiums that host big-time concerts.
However, we are the only three-stadium market that has one with a roof.
And that’s not necessarily good news. At least, not for concerts.
“Stadiums are built for sports,” Kiss frontman Paul Stanley told me last year. “It would be pretty impossible to compromise sports venues to make them acoustically effective. [At concerts], all you hope for is volume. Fidelity is not something you can put in the equation.”
In other words, having two giant video screens is more important to stadium architects and owners than having pristine — or even good — acoustics. Heck, bands don’t even bother to use those pricey in-house video screens; they travel with their own cutting-edge systems.
Before Luke Bryan headlined the inaugural concert at the billion-dollar U.S. Bank Stadium last August, the country superstar echoed the words of Kiss’ Stanley. Actually, he was more polite about it. He simply said domed stadiums don’t sound as good as open-air facilities.
After hosting the butt-shaking Bryan and thrash kingpins Metallica on back-to-back nights in 2016, USBS will get an even more extensive test this summer with three really big shows: Guns N’ Roses (July 30), Coldplay (Aug. 12) and Justin Bieber (Aug. 18).
The concerts will feature three different stripes of sound: hard rock, more nuanced rock and screaming girls, who will be louder than Biebs’ pop-soul.
No matter who’s onstage, the main issue is acoustics. There are certain limitations at USBS that you don’t have at Target Field, where Paul McCartney and Kenny Chesney have triumphed, or TCF Bank Stadium, where Beyoncé and U2 were spectacular.
There is the deflection of sound off hard surfaces, namely USBS’ roof and the massive glass doors and empty seats behind the stage. An enterprising, deep-pocketed promoter might hang a curtain behind the stage to mitigate this issue.
The bouncing of the sound at USBS depends on where you sit. For instance, for Bryan’s country hoedown, I landed in the fourth row on the field. No sonic complaints from me. But for the opening set by Little Big Town, I was ensconced in a press box at the far end, opposite the stage. If I hadn’t known the lyrics, I couldn’t have deciphered what LBT was singing.
It was similar for Metallica the next night. Near the speakers on the lower level, it rocked. I was mesmerized by the band’s stunning video footage on a five-section screen. But in the upper decks in the far end of the stadium, forget about it. It sounded like you were in your car with the windows rolled up listening to the stereo system in the car next to you cranked to 11. Dude, what’s that song?
You don’t want to pay $150 for that experience.
Guns N’ Roses is not Metallica. But Axl, Slash and the boys are loud. And GNR didn’t exactly reach any heights of audio satisfaction when they played at the old Metrodome — the worst-sounding major venue in the history of mankind, or at least the Twin Cities. Welcome to the sonic jungle.
For my money, both Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota are vastly superior concert facilities to the Vikings palace. They have good sound and good sightlines. Concessions could be improved, but that’s another story.
Hitting the Target
Nothing’s booked at the Bank this summer but the Twins ballpark will play host to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel (July 28), for his first stadium gig in the Twin Cities.
A few pundits questioned whether the Piano Man, who hasn’t released any new music since Bieber was born, has enough appeal to fill a stadium. The usual rule of thumb is: If an act can sell out two arena shows, then go for a stadium. But seeing Joel in the confines of Target Field could enhance his appeal.
On the other hand, one could question why Bieber has graduated to stadiums. He’s essentially on the same tour that visited a sold-out Target Center last June. Has his star shone any brighter since then? Nope. But again, maybe it’s the allure of the stadium experience.
That may be part of the draw for Coldplay, another act that inexplicably graduated to stadiums after that forgettable Super Bowl halftime show in 2016. Actually, the Brit band is performing in a mix of stadiums and arenas in the United States, but it’s all stadiums on other continents. Their performances in Twin Cities arenas have been outstanding, but are they ready for a football dome?
Florida Georgia Line crossing over to Target Field headliner (July 29) also sounds like perhaps too much too soon. Last time the duo was in town they opened for Bryan at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015. Now they’re headliners in a Major League Baseball park? With the Backstreet Boys?
Promoters are banking on the sum of the concert being greater than its parts — that one red-hot country duo, which has had 12 consecutive top 10 country hits, combined with a once-white-hot 1990s boy band will add up to something special. Oh, don’t forget about opening act Nelly, the rapper who joined FGL for a remix of “Cruise” to help it cross over into a huge pop hit.
One thing to remember about these stadium gigs: Live Nation, the world’s biggest promoter, likes to book them on back-to-back nights because the shows use the same stage (Joel and FGL this year), and that way Live Nation saves hundreds of thousands in production costs.
Maybe Live Nation could take some of that extra cash and spend it on improving the acoustics at USBS.