Upfront: Queen was a concert I’ve been waiting for since July 1986 when I STUPIDLY and for reasons I can’t even remember, passed up the opportunity to see Queen with Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium which turned out to be one of the last big performances Freddie gave in the UK. The combination of Freddie Mercury on big screens at key moments, and Adam Lambert performing brilliantly, gave me two hours of goose bumps. Those songs are just so deeply embedded in my life, hearing them live in that setting was spine tingling.
I’ve read most of the English press reviews of last night’s Queen concert with Adam Lambert in Park HaYarkon, Tel Aviv, Israel. More than anything else I learned how many ways you can build a famous killer Queen song title into an innocuous we will rock you sentence without it being another one bites the dust obvious.
None of them give you a special flavour: what is it really like to go to Park HaYarkon to see a major rock band. I’ve been going to big concerts since the mid 80’s. I’ve been to dozens of venues: Hammersmith Odeon – too many to name (now renamed but I’ll never accept that), Wembley Arena (never the stadium to my great regret), Hyde Park (Roger Waters the shame!), The Albert Hall (classical and rock – Jewell), Milton Keynes Bowl – Robbie Williams, O2 Arena (the Millennium Dome) – Take That and in other cities in the UK like Judas Priest and Robert Plant (not together) in Sheffield’s very small City Hall.
I’ve now been to four big concerts in Park HaYarkon: Paul McCartney; Bon Jovi; Elton John and last night Queen. I’ve been to a few other smaller concerts in Israel at other venues, but there is nothing else like Park HaYarkon in Israel. The venue is a large grass area and somewhat natural open bowl that slopes up at the back. It can be configured to hold different sized crowds. Most of the audience stand on the grass. For Queen there was one large stand with seats (where I was along with my parents who are roughly the same age as the Brian May, Roger Taylor and as Freddie Mercury would be if he were still with us). For Elton John they had two of these big stands but that cuts down the grass area they can use.
At Bon Jovi, my wife and I were in the “Golden Circle”, which is also standing area but closer to the stage. The Golden Circle is right in front of the large stand so this is the hot ticket if you want to be close. Today, with such amazing high definition giant screen, mostly one is watching the wide spectacle of the stage anyway.
Here’s the location as seen from space:
The Yarkon river runs through the park on its way to the sea (just 2km away) and most Friday mornings I walk along a beautiful shaded path in the forest. There’s a secluded coffee place in the forest by the river, accessible only after a walk or ride of at least 1km where I stop for a coffee on my return.
There’s a tethered helium balloon in the park. If you take a ride in that you can see the area from above. It’s the largest grass area you can see below.
When this venue is configured for a big rock concert the large oval area I’ve highlighted is fenced off. There is actually a double ring of fences: an inner and outer ring. Security is at another level to anything you’ve ever seen outside of Israel. Yet it isn’t oppressive and, when we walked home last night and my father remarked that he hadn’t seen much security, my wife and I chuckled. He just doesn’t know what to look for.
This next photo was taken after Elton John’s concert while they were cleaning up the next day.
On the right you can see black fencing: that marks the inner area inside which the concert actually can be seen. Down the hill (you may have to enlarge the image) is an outer fence. That outer perimeter is the first security check point. It’s hard to estimate how many people they have to employ for an event like this. There are so many entrances and all of them have armed security checking bags and tickets.
There are police and border police around, some with long rifles, all with side arms. At each entrance of the two perimeters there are armed guards. There are others blending in with the crowds. Flying above is a small, tethered helium balloon with cameras for observation.
All this security is part of the reason why we pay very high ticket prices. There’s no escaping that.
I have my own system for getting in and out of the park for a concert: in the afternoon I parked my car in a free car park. The one I use for my Friday walks. To get to the concert we got a taxi and had him drop us off as close as we could before the traffic ground to a halt. We had a 3/4 KM walk to our seats and on the way home we walked through massive crowds for about 1 KM to the car I’d left. Walking through the crowds afterwards I could tell this had been a big concert. The newspapers put the figure at 50,000, TV news mentioned 60,000: Elton John and the Paul McCartney concert from 2008 came in around 40,000 and Bon Jovi similar, but last night felt the biggest I’ve been to here. The venue can be configured to expand to hold as many as they can sell tickets for to a certain extent.
A panorama from the seats we had looks like this (heavily processed for the dark).
I don’t think many of the reviews mentioned the second support act (I missed the first). Lina Makul was the 2013 winner of Israel’s version of The Voice. She auditioned with the song Hallelujah and she played that before the biggest audience of her life last night. She couldn’t conceal her excitement at the sheer scale of the concert. After Hallelujah she played a new song: if anyone can tell me what its called I’d love to know.
She ended with a Queen song: quite a brave move! She played Too Much Love Will Kill You.
Seems a bit crass to point out she’s an Arab, born in the USA but brought up in Acre (Akko) in northern Israel. It was as she walked off stage someone in the production team started playing “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd…. I can’t help but think that was a bit of a laugh at senior BDSHole in Chief, Roger Waters.
Dave’s post has a great collection of videos from the concert including the Adam Lambert and Brian May both having a go at Hebrew. I can’t do better than most of those but I hope this gives a deeper feeling of concerts in Israel. In all the interactions with the band, there is a deep and real gratitude for bands and stars that come here. And I’ve detected, in all the concerts I’ve been to, that Tel Aviv and Israel are not just regular stops. We’re not Yet Another Anonymous Western City. Performers genuinely look forward to coming here and as an audience member I know I feel that.