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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Maximum Capacity Bullshit

posted by on May 20 at 12:10 PM

El-P, Dizzee Rascal @ Neumo’s

Last night’s “sold out” El-P and Dizzee Rascal show at Neumo’s was my first at the venue since it’s capacity was recently cut by the city, and, to be blunt, it’s bullshit. Granted, I have no professional experience in evaluating building capacity, but I’ve been to a ton of concerts in the last 13 years (wow, oldster moment), and last night’s show was not at capacity by any reasonable standard. During the co-headliners’ sets, the “sold out” crowd only packed about the front half of the room and the mezzanine’s balcony; the rear of the room and the rest of the mez were totally sparse.

Before anyone accuses me or the Stranger of being Neumo’s lapdog (a notion Severin and LaJuenesse would be more than happy to disabuse you of), I have, of course, been to Neumo’s (and other clubs) when they’re overcrowded, and it sometimes sucks. Neumo’s can be especially hellish at a truly packed summertime show. From a purely selfish standpoint, it was kind of nice last night to have an artificially empty room—there were no long lines for drinks or the bathroom, it was painlessly easy to wander around the club. But there were probably a hundred or so more people who would’ve loved to see that show even if the place was a little more crammed, but who were unnecessarily shut out.

It must have looked weird from onstage for Dizzee and El-P, to go from a probably properly sold-out show the night before to this to another packed show the night after. I’m sure someone at the venue explained the situation, but still, if I were one of these touring artists, I would be left with the distinct feeling that Seattle doesn’t have its shit together about music and nightlife.

The show itself, when I finally got over the absurd amount of space in the place, was great. The audience that crowded the front of the room was totally enthusiastic, jumping up and down, waving arms, shouting call and responses loud enough to make the crowd sound twice its size (which, again, it could’ve been). Dizzee Rascal opened with “I Luv U,” played anthems “Stand Up Tall” and “Fix Up Look Sharp,” with DJ Aaron LaCrate, smiling wide, spinning the Billy Squire mash-up version of the latter track. I realized that the track “Paranoid,” with it chorus of “Rinse me out / use me up / cuss me down / fuck me up” delivered in Dizzee’s mad accented bark sounds like nothing so much as a lost Crass song.

El-P and Dizzee are, as has no doubt already been observed, massively different MCs. Dizzee’s voice and cadences may be foreign, but his charisma and moves are classic hip hop. El-P, on the other hand, has a stage presence more like lead singer of a rock band—I don’t think I’ve seen any other MC use a mic stand rather than hold his mic in his hand. El-P leaned on his mic stand, thumped it into the stage, held onto it for support as he shook and seized, eyes shut, like some bulkier Ian Curtis—total rock singer stuff, like he’s been spending a lot of time with Trent Reznor. The crowd was stoked; when El-P commanded they put their hands up and keep their hands up, they did; when he told everybody to scream, everybody screamed. He encored with “Tuned Mass Damper” and then hi-fived/shook hands with all the fans at the foot of the stage.

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I can't believe that was considered a "sold out" show - the place was half empty. This city is already limited on good music venues. I feel bad for Neumos if that capacity has to remain for future shows.

Posted by what a shame | May 20, 2008 12:44 PM

Yeah, I was at the Kills show on Thursday and it was the same way. Also, it was a pain in the ass to step outside for a second then have to wait in line to get back in for some unholy reason. I would have asked the door girl about it, but the poor thing looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown.

The city clearly HATES that block and wants to see it shut down. Pathetic...

Posted by Eli | May 20, 2008 1:09 PM

Couple of things to think about:

1. Will Neumos be raising the price of tickets to offset the number of bodies not allowed in?

2. Does a club make more money from alcohol sales when it's less crowded and people can get from the band room to the bar easier?

Crowded shows make for a more intense show experience, but when Les Savy Fav played Neumos last time I felt extremely unsafe. The show was massively over-sold (my friend and I were pretty much pinned to the back wall near the exit). Had their been a fire, a fight or God forbid someone shooting a gun it would have been a chaotic nightmare to escape that place.

There has to be a middle ground and I'm sure Neumos is trying to find it.

Posted by Jeff | May 20, 2008 1:26 PM
or God forbid someone shooting a gun

Yeah, 'cuz that happens all the time at Les Savy Fav shows. Won't somebody think of the children?!

But to address your your serious points:

1. Neumo's could increase ticket prices, but if other venues aren't having their capacities similarly reevaluated, that would put Neumo's at a serious disadvantage with regard to booking shows.

2. Fewer people having an easier time getting to the bar is no way going to be more profitable than more people having a harder time getting to the bar; when people want to drink, they will get to the bar, even if it's difficult—more people means more drinks sold, simple.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 20, 2008 1:48 PM

It was comfortable and not super stuffy last night. I didn't have any hassle moving around (inside/outside), but the whole floor was all ages so there wasn't a barrier dividing the floor.

Posted by drew | May 20, 2008 1:50 PM


I don't expect Les Savy Fav fans to pack heat, but I also don't think Great White fans expected to be burned alive either.

The rules provide a blanket protection regardless of musical genres. Should the city clamp down harder on hip hop shows than rock shows? No. That would show some extreme prejudice.

My point was this: It was packed to the point where I felt unsafe. Last time I felt that uncomfortable in a venue it was 3:30 a.m. at some illegal after hours party that you were DJing.

Posted by Jeff | May 20, 2008 1:58 PM

Granted, I have no professional experience in evaluating building capacity, but I’ve been to a ton of concerts in the last 13 years (wow, oldster moment), and last night’s show was not at capacity by any reasonable standard. During the co-headliners’ sets, the “sold out” crowd only packed about the front half of the room and the mezzanine’s balcony; the rear of the room and the rest of the mez were totally sparse.

When was the last time a Seattle nightclub, for example, caught fire and killed a bunch of people inside? Gee, why bother having all those expensive fire alarms and sprinkler systems for that once-in-a-lifetime disaster. That's how maximum capacity regulations work.

The next time you're at one of these "not at capacity by any reasonable standard" shows, ask yourself: if everyone in the room suddenly thought they were going to die, how many would be trampled in the rush for the exits? The idea of of "maximum capacity" is not "How many people need to be stuffed in here so that we feel like we're at an electrically exciting show?" but "What's the most people who could get the fuck out of here alive if the shit hit the fan?" That's the "reasonable standard" they're going by.

Posted by Tiktok | May 20, 2008 2:06 PM

But Jeff, there are already policies to prevent unsafe pyrotechnics and gunfire in Seattle clubs. Those are separate concerns from capacity. If you think they're not being adequately enforced, that's another issue. Honestly, if someone opens fire in a nightclub, the problem is the fucking firearm, not the capacity.

But if you're just feeling uncomfortable, or as you insist "unsafe" in a club, no one's forcing you to be there. To say nothing of dubious after-hours parties. I don't feel comfortable at shopping malls, so I avoid them, but I don't pretend it's because I'm not safe. Maybe you shouldn't go to shows that are likely to be sold out or without assigned seating.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 20, 2008 2:07 PM

@7: Yes, I get it. In extreme circumstances, a mass exodus is required from a building, and so buildings have to have a certain number of exits and limits to how many people they allow inside. I'm not against regulation of capacity in general, but Neumo's seems to be suffering a sudden, undue degree of regulation that only applies to their building.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 20, 2008 2:12 PM

Eric, I agree.

Neumos seems to be getting singled out right now, but perhaps that's due to the fact that they consistently over-sell beyond the legal capacity.

If not, I want to know why, but for now (and from my perspective) that seems to be the logical reason.

Until someone can provide some solid evidence otherwise it's all just speculation.

Posted by Jeff | May 20, 2008 2:21 PM

And I agree with you, Jeff (this has turned into quite the little love-in), I think Neumo's is probably being singled out due to how crowded their shows have been in the past. But the newly enforced capacity that was evident last night just seemed ridiculously punitive. There have to be limits, and there have to be ways to hold clubs to those limits, but the limits also need to be reasonable. And the new limits at Neumo's are not.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 20, 2008 2:29 PM

Seriously Eric, the issue here isn't whether Neumo's was under- or overcrowded at this particular show, but whether the number of people actually there did in fact represent the legal capacity for the venue.

If so, then clearly Neumo's has been overselling their shows. One can argue about whether they did so because of a genuine desire for more people to experience the performers, or, whether it was just crass exploitation for the sake of profit, but it's telling that in previous statements Neumo's staff have indicated that serious reductions in the number of patrons will cause them to have to "rethink their business model", which in my mind would seem to indicate they KNEW they couldn't make a profit UNLESS they oversold beyond capacity.

Posted by COMTE | May 20, 2008 2:36 PM

Or, to the last comment to "rethink their business model" may just mean that they have to charge $25-$30 a ticket, like the Showbox or Triple Door. And that maybe some bigger names will choose to play a bigger venues, like the Paramount or White River to make their money rather than a % of ticket sales and liquor. We'll just lose out on a good venue with great bands.

Also do you really feel safe being at any music, art or lecture in an enclosed space? It would unfortunately be tragic in most of these venues in a fire- and I'm thinking McCaw Hall, Benaroya Hall- or for those of you at the Mariner's game during the earthquake you may remember trying to get out. Panic and crowds just don't make for a very quick get away. Now Neumos, relatively speaking, is fairly small with many exits. The Great White incident came from large pyrotechnics in a too small and flamable environment (they caught the flammable soundproofing material on fire) with not many or clearly marked exits resulting in bottlenecking for one. Also a lot of folks thought the fire was part of the show, so there was a delay and not great alarm system in place. Neumos does not have these issues.

Posted by JenS | May 20, 2008 4:13 PM

I felt bad, at first, because Neumo's looked about half full for a Dizzee Rascal show -- and not half-full-for-Neumos, but half full for any club -- which isn't something to be missed (boom!).

But now I hear it was sold out?

At least, if it wasn't a kiss-up, Dizzee said Seattle had the loudest crowd of anywhere in the U.S. And that's an even nicer thing to say in the face of the news.

Posted by Fawkes | May 20, 2008 4:31 PM

so why isn't the city cracking down on Showbox SoDo? overselling by HUNDREDS. worse exit setup than Neumo's, etc.

Posted by Moch | May 20, 2008 6:46 PM
so why isn't the city cracking down on Showbox SoDo? overselling by HUNDREDS. worse exit setup than Neumo's, etc.

Because the city, like all other people with common decency, secretly hopes all those people packing in to see Coheed and Cambria tonight die in a fire?

Posted by I'm a Nuclear Bomb | May 20, 2008 10:10 PM

I think there are two separate issues here: is Neumo's being singled out unfairly (bad City!) and is Neumo's overselling their room beyond the point of reasonable safety (bad club!)?

On one hand, this is like speeding. One person gets pulled over and given a ticket while dozens more zip by Johnny Law. The highly visible enforcement of a law that many others are breaking is designed to give everyone pause. To an extent, it works, and it's unreasonable to expect that one should be able to wiggle out of a speeding ticket "Because EVERYONE'S doing it!!!" Why pick on one person? Because it's their unlucky day and they were breaking the law and endangering the safety of others. What are the cops/fire marshall supposed to do--ask Neumo's to point out some other club to bust for overfilling? Would that be better or worse?

What if in one night the city hit every club in town and shut down every one that was over capacity? Would that be better or worse than hitting one club as a warning sign to the others? Would the Stranger be complaining so loudly if say, the Central, or some other much less-fashionable joint was being leaned on?

Posted by Tiktok | May 20, 2008 11:24 PM


Eric you're actually wrong on #2.

Up to point, yes, more people = more drinks sold = more money/profits. But bartenders can only make a limited number of drinks / transactions per hour and once you hit that wall, no matter how many people you cram in you don't make a cent more on drink sales.

(You can even end up selling less, as people give up on getting up to the bar and leave to go get loaded at a business nearby between bands instead.)

Posted by Timrrr | May 21, 2008 1:35 AM

maybe they're just lazy? can someone graph it out, does anybody get dinged that's more than a mile from their station on Pine?

also, did someone get shot or something at War Room tonight?

Posted by Moch | May 21, 2008 1:36 AM

I refuse to believe that the crowd at the El-P/Dizzee show was any sort of fair "legal capacity." The place was EMP-TY.

Both of them did deliver, though. Hell, so did Busdriver.

Posted by bunnypuncher | May 21, 2008 5:04 AM

neumo's is, without a doubt, being singled out. how much more obvious can it be? what other club in seattle has a similar restriction on capacity divided by room that is currently being heavily enforced?

Posted by cosby | May 21, 2008 9:09 AM

@18: I suppose you're right, at a certain hypothetical point, the bar staff can only physically produce a certain amount of drinks in a night. But at last night's show, the bartenders had a lot of total downtime Even at sold-out shows at Neumo's, I've never had so much trouble getting a drink that I'd be forced to go elsewhere (at most, I'd be forced to go to Moe's adjoined bar). I'm not arguing that Neumo's should be packing in 800+ people, but the crowd there Monday night was obviously well below what the club/building is capable of serving.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 21, 2008 9:40 AM

I hate this fucking city. Easily the most crooked mayor in America. Can't the Stranger find some Spitzer dirt on this loser so that we can 86 him for good? Where's your civic pride?

Posted by left coast | May 21, 2008 12:58 PM

Fact: The Neumo's showroom (floor + mezzanine) has a large plaque that clearly states a 575 capacity.

Fact: Neumo's advertises its capacity as 800.

Have the owners really believed all this time that 225 people would pay for tickets and then skip the headliner to hang out in Moe Bar (which has no cover)?

(By the way, I was at the Dizzee Rascal show, and yes it seemed underfull. But this was a split bill: half of Dizzee's audience left after his set and didn't return; some of El-P's considerably smaller audience didn't show up until 11.)

Posted by The numbers | May 21, 2008 2:52 PM

Neumos has NEVER had 800 people or sold to that many. Don't believe everything you read unless it comes from the source.

Wish I had more time to respond to all of this, but I got shows to book.

Have fun,

Posted by Steven Severin | May 21, 2008 6:30 PM

at 15: are you retarded? i work at sodo, we have NEVER gone over our capacity, and there are plenty of exits in case of emergency, just not ones you get to use when there is not an emergency. Check your facts. "oversold by hundreds" thats either a flat out lie by you for some reason, OR you just have no idea.

Posted by wtf | May 21, 2008 6:40 PM

"Neumos has NEVER had 800 people or sold to that many. Don't believe everything you read unless it comes from the source."

Yeah, but what if the source is THE NEUMOS WEBSITE?:

"The most dramatic changes are the complete removal of one showroom wall and the building of an enormous new stage, shrewd moves that bump the room's capacity to approximately 800 and will iimmensely improve the live experience for both audience and artist."

Posted by Tiktok | May 21, 2008 7:39 PM

Oops, #27, that 800 number is from an article in the Stranger posted on the site (in 2003 before these owners took over), not Neumos official word:

Not that media is ever mistaken...Hey it happens. Ok, Neumos should probably take it off their website if it is wrong, but they might be too busy dealing with the city to update their site.

Posted by Belle | May 22, 2008 9:36 AM

there was way too much dancing room at the el-p show. it was really weird to see it that empty.

eric please post e-mails and phone numbers of people we should complain too. maybe we can actually do something to help neumo's out.

i already wrote to some people on the city council... any other suggestions?

Posted by tiffany | May 22, 2008 4:39 PM

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