On the very rare occasions when I go to a big popular music concert I usually end up wondering why. A couple of years ago I queued for ages to get into the cheap seats (£77) for Big Bang’s gig in Wembley Arena. At least they didn’t have a support act, and worked hard to entertain their fans for a set which I think lasted well over an hour – though I didn’t stay for much more than half of it.
The thing is, you seem to have to queue all day and take out a second mortgage if you want to get a decent spot where you are tolerably close to your idols; otherwise you’re miles away from the stage and might as well be watching it on the telly where actually you’ll be getting a better experience.
I thought maybe that things might be better with Zion.T, but I was wrong. I didn’t want a £120 VIP meet & greet ticket (turn up at least three hours early to get 15 seconds and a photo with the star). Instead, I settled for the cheap £40 ticket. Doors 8pm for a 9pm kick-off with the support act. I fortified myself with a beer at the pub a few yards down the road and turned up at the venue at 8:50, thinking I’d be able to waltz in. Wrong. The queue still looked like it had half an hour to go, so I returned to the pub and was very tempted to stay there, particularly as there was a singer / songwriter sitting at the piano entertaining the punters upstairs. It was very cosy and convivial.
I finished my crossword and my second pint and returned to the venue at 9:20. The queue had vanished and I submitted myself to the frisking and bag search before fighting through the fans obstructing the aisles to find myself a spot to perch. Right at the top, as far up and as far back as you could go without being in the ladies’ toilet. You’ve heard that hot air rises? It’s true. It was sweltering up there.
The DJ, Choice 37, was playing some tracks by the YG stable of artists, some less excruciating than others. The fact that the set finished with my least favourite Korean track ever, CL’s Dr Pepper, summed it up: I should have stayed in the pub. Sitting on the floor next to me a teenage boy was playing a video game on his phone throughout the set, leaving his dutiful mum to reserve the good viewing spot in front of me at the edge of the balcony. As someone more well-versed in these matters said to me later, “I think if you go to an R&B concert the DJ should play R&B. It’s a no brainer.” Yup, I’m with you there. Fortunately most of the audience were more catholic in their tastes, and were enthusiastically singing along to the tunes, where that was possible.
But my pain didn’t last for too long, and the gap before the main act was mercifully brief. Zion.T came on and everything was alright. His melodious R&B, with the occasional infusion of funk at one end of the genre spectrum and hip-hop at the other, is easy to enjoy. The crowd loved it, as did I. It’s a universally appealing style of music, with a tune and a gentle lilt. The sort of music you could take your mum along to, in fact. I’d be surprised if you ever find anyone misbehaving at a Zion.T concert: it’s infectiously feel-good, and makes you want to smile.
But really, the venue could do with some air conditioning. To avoid passing out (and also to beat the crush of fans leaving en masse) I left just as Zion.T was announcing his last track (though probably the gig went on for a couple more songs after that).
Was it worth forty quid for around half an hour of decent music? Yes. Although it sounds better on my hi-fi at home it’s nice to be able to say that I’ve heard him sing it live. But when you compare it for value with an indie gig where for a tenner you can get the real thing and have a beer with the band into the bargain,1 well, I’m not sure I’ll bother next time. Except that I probably will.
Zion.T performed at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town, on Friday 17th February in a gig organised by Cult of Ya.