On Tour Bookings, Pt. II: Iron & Wine, Beirut, James Blake

Last month I sounded off on my distaste for Fleet Foxes’ choice in booking DC’s 3,700-seat DAR Constitution Hall instead of the more acoustically-friendly, third-of-the-size 9:30 Club. I also praised indie legends Low for resisting the temptations of the large venue in favor of the cozy Black Cat Mainstage (capacity 700).

There’s another side to this discussion, of course — when popular artists choose venues too small to accommodate their rabid audience — which DC is currently experiencing with at least three upcoming tours.

Iron & Wine, Beirut, and James Blake all recently announced DC dates for spring/summer that sold out nearly instantaneously. I&W booked the 9:30 Club where they could have probably filled DAR. (That one sold out in less than five minutes, trust me!) Beirut, a band with no new album and only a small handful of U.S. dates announced, quickly sold out a Black Cat show that should be held at the 9:30 club. (A Tuesday nighter three months from now, no less.) And dubstep wunderkind James Blake — recipient of a whopping 9.0 on Pitchfork for this self-titled debut — chose the ridiculously undersized Rock and Roll hotel (capacity 400) for his first U.S. tour.

Certainly the booming second-hand concert ticket market (which I also posted about) isn’t helping. Just one reseller, StubHub, currently shows 87 tickets for I&W on sale for a minimum of $85 (or, 7% of all tickets that were available at a markup — assuming a list price with fees of $40 — of at least 113%). Even worse, 75 tickets for James Blake (original price $15… OK, including fees, let’s call it $20) are currently on StubHub, priced from $93 (or 19% of all tickets at a minimum 310% above list!). Screen shot is below. What the frick?

We might also call this ticket scarcity a symptom of living in a comparatively large metro area. Other factors remaining equal, a tour of 1,200-seat clubs is going to sell out quicker in DC than in Minneapolis-St. Paul (a reason why I still prefer the concert scene in my home town). Hell, even Cake — the wieners behind “The Distance”, a song that is indeed fifteen years old — have sold out three dates at the 9:30 Club in April!

Ultimately, I don’t really know what I can do as a fan to set things right. Clearly, somebody is going to have to do something about these second hand markets. I realize that they serve a function in meeting excess demand (again, see this post), but what’s to keep the holders of the 75 tickets above from refusing to sell their James Blake stashes for ANY price below 3x the list? Will the show end up being a quarter empty?

Whether a band plays a dive bar near the train tracks or a concrete hockey stadium is a decision that’s probably best left to managers and the artists themselves. In an era when buzz can build and fade so quickly, it’s not always going to be an easy call. Iron and Wine have announced a second area show at the Ram’s Head in Baltimore, so at least they realize the mistake. But James Blake should have known better than to book a 400-seat room in DC: When your debut makes that big a critical splash, you lose your hole-in-the-wall touring privileges!

At least I’ve got my two tickets for Beirut in June. Yes, I’m going. No, I’m not going to trade with you! Scram!


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