The Harvest Is Plentiful: Live Venue Valuation

Lantis Festival NYC 2019

As someone who goes to concerts once a blue moon, I have some criterias as to the quality of the venue. Here is how I ultimately judge it: if I had a good time at the venue, and if I will likely have a good time at the venue, then that venue is good. This is similar to the “tears” criteria.

That being said, every venue has god-tier seats and you can have a personal encounter with Jesus anywhere. I don’t think that ought to make every venue good; or rather, it’s for any given person at the venue, how good will their seats be.

In Japan I have a bias towards taller venues, just because stacking people vertically gives them a better sense of intimacy. That, plus short people aren’t always shafted this way. It also means more seats have acceptable views, even if in the end there are not too much of a difference of god-tier seats from venue to venue.

As I get older and are less min-maxing my experience based on cost, I also come to value amenities like ease of transportation, the amount and diversity of restaurants around the venue, and how good the seats are. This is particularly a thing I dislike about the Javitz con center in Manhattan, because it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, and not very well-serviced by subway stops. In Japan I sat in some uncomfortable seats, as a fat guy in a country of skinny small people, so you really appreciate venues with nice seats.

After proximity and amenities is fidelity of the performance. To explain, every live show should come off as exactly what you think it should. For a band in a live house, it’s literally that musical performance in which you engage with the group on stage. For a typical band (in anisong terms, say, fhana), it means you have to engage with the act on stage through its performance, and that means via the sound and what the band is doing on stage (largely, making said sound). For a “karaoke-style show” which is most idol-character content, it’s the way the CVs on stage dancing and bringing their characters to life (which is also largely about the sound, but not as much). For a flashy light-and-sound show, it could be also about (what I call) the production value: lights, on-stage displays, fireworks, whatever. I mean if Mizuki Nana wants to do her song on top of a whale, more power to her.

These things are not really related to the venue, but the venue can add or subtract from the fidelity of the experience. If you are all the way in the back of a flat arena (or outdoor field), and you are living up the show through the screen near you, that is taking away from the experience. You might still experience the full thing, but it won’t be as good as if you were close enough to not have to use the screen. This is just one example. Generally, this is often related to intimacy, but some venues that are small can still have really irritating aspects that knocks your experience back via poor sound stage, blind spots (usually due to support pillars), weird acoustics or what not. At the same time, some venues can boost this if they sound really good, or have unique features (like using the roof of a dome as a laser show display).

So my calculation goes as such: what are the odds of me, entering this pre-sale lottery, will be able to buy tickets that give me an assigned seat that doesn’t suck? To use my last concert for example, which was in Tokyo Dome, you can bet that far majority of seats are not going to be great, just because it has a large capacity. But how many seats are still acceptable-to-good? If this is a large value, that means this venue is on the way to being a good venue.

(And as an aside, what is a good seat in a huge venue? The performance and performers move all around. If you are in A block Arena, you might get a close view often, but it becomes no better than, say, F block Arena if the performers go to the center stage. Maybe worse because they’re not even facing you. Well, that is the kind of thing that factors into the calculation. And yes, it vary from the type of show as well, if I haven’t made that clue obvious yet.)

What makes Tokyo Dome, in my opinion, a decent dome venue, is that it has fairly modern seats, especially towards the home plate area. It is also a very vertically-structured ballpark (like a lot of modern ballparks), so even up in tier 2 or 3 you get the feeling of proximity to the action. This, on top of its prime-time location and amenities nearby, makes it a good venue. It also helps a lot that it is temperature-controlled! I had G block Arena seat for a day and I was able to see okay from the venue, and that is the back-most Arena block. I need to use the screen, sure, but it was not terrible.

  • Proximity: 6/10 – It’s a bigass baseball stadium, but fairly close even on upper levels
  • Amenity: 8/10 – Convenient, centrally located, modern
  • Fidelity: 7/10 – Better sound than average venue of this size. Flexible production.
  • Odds of getting an OK seat (OOGAOS, or OogaOs, or Oog@Os) – Fair

Let me rank the other venues from my eventing trips this year as a sample.

Javitz Center Special Events Hall

On the lower level of the main building, this is a 3000+ venue with more for presentations in mind than live concert, but it can. The lower ceiling does gimp it for certain things, but the size is right and it is carpeted.

  • Proximity: 4 – Below average for this sort of a con venue. It feels pretty big. Even up front there’s too much of a gap I think, but the upside is the taller stage makes seeing easier from the back.
  • Amenity: 5 – I hate the Javitz as a venue but the venue itself has a lot of stuff, even if it’s not great.
  • Fidelity: 5 – Pretty average all and all.
  • OogaOs – Decent. The back seats are pretty okay.

Saitama Super Arena

Been here many times personally, lots of memory attached. A large, multi-functional venue with walls that move around, and looks cool from the Shinkansen on your way north. Can be as small as 4000 and up to 30000 in capacity. Most of the time I deal with it in Arena 2 config.

  • Proximity: 5 – Truly the most average of large indoor venues of this type.
  • Amenity: 5 – Quite average but there are a lot of stuff around to make do. I mean it is a 30k people venue after all. Seats are just OK.
  • Fidelity: 4 – Flexible venue is a plus, but soundstage is just okay. If it is a bigger config than Arena 2, it is a shit show at the back.
  • OogaOs – Not good. It’s just too big and long.

Palais des congrès de Montréal – Ballroom (200 level)

Notes: This is a typical con hall without any special trapping. I guess the seats are comfy? They sound okay, but proximity to stage matters. Otakuthon is here.

  • Proximity: 5 – Nothing special about this expo hall-style venue. The con building aside anyways.
  • Amenity: 5 – Nothing special about this, other than being downtown Montreal and near Chinatown. Nothing that elevates the venue.
  • Fidelity: 5 – It sounds fine if you are up front.
  • OogaOs – Fair, maybe a bit higher. Wide stage in effect.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center – Main Events Hall

Notes: This is the top floor concert hall for the convention center. It has better acoustics than your average hall, and it is kind of large. When people jump, the floor shakes. Otakon moved here a couple years ago.

  • Proximity: 5 – Nothing special versus other venues of this type.
  • Amenity: 6 – Nice con seats, downtown DC has a lot of stuff. Ingress/egress is not great though.
  • Fidelity: 6 – Sounds pretty good for what it is.
  • OogaOs – Fair

The Novo (concert hall)

Also a multi-functional space. The VIP lounge upstairs can be combined with the concert space to provide 2nd floor seating. Having done both, reviewing both. The Novo used to be called Club Nokia, then Club Microsoft. LOL. Anime Expo uses this venue along with one inside LACC as well as Microsoft Theater sometimes.

  • Proximity: 9 – For a space that can go from 500 to up to 2400 it is really intimate. It is possibly even more intimate than some hole-in-walls in Manhattan. Part of it is the vertical design, again. Part of it is the semi-spherical layout.
  • Amenity: 7 – It’s DTLA, it’s nice and plush (unless you have to park). Venue is world-class lounge at times and it can show that. But it is getting its age on too.
  • Fidelity: 9 – It sounds really good, and even the side seats upstairs are not that bad in terms of audio and visuals. But it is still more club/hole-in-wall than a full-blown venue in terms of flexibility.
  • OogaOs – Very good

Marine Messe Fukuoka

A lot of semi-large venues in Japan are like this–basically glorified gym spaces. If you watched some sports-y anime with regional high school qualifier rounds, might have seen it depicted. This venue in Fukuoka is actually nicer than most of this type.

  • Proximity: 6 – I’d say it’s kind of far no matter where, but it’s not a huge space so even at the extremes it’s manageable.
  • Amenity: 6 – Inside city proper, a fair walk from Hakata JR. There are cheap buses you could take. But no other stops. A tad more plush than other Japanese gym-y spaces, because Fukuoka is still a major city I guess.
  • Fidelity: 6 – Not great, but better than other gym-type spaces. Probably due to the roof design.
  • OogaOs – It’s okay, mostly because flatness is abound, and despite addon bleacher style buckets, you’ll likely land in the Arena. At least you aren’t too far regardless where you are.

Atlantic City Convention Center – Hall A/Special Events Hall

This is the quintessential con hall venue. Worse because it is more wide than it is long?

  • Proximity: 5 – It’s a tad far for a con hall, but pretty average. The hall being wider than deep, the access is there I guess.
  • Amenity: 7 – It has some, but there are a fair number of place a short walk away. Lots of parking, attached to a train station. If you can get to AC, this is the least of your concerns.
  • Fidelity: 3 – It sucks lol. I guess the good thing is even so, you can be close to the speaker and stage given the wide layout. And no dead spots.
  • OogaOs – Good. Fairly easy queue, but due to wideness of the config you might end up on the side more often than not.

Toronto Congress Centre – ??

In years past Anime North utilized both the North Hall and the South Hall side hall? I don’t know the name, but you can access it from the Radisson side of the con. It’s another just con all but the smaller space in the South Hall is more intimate than most con halls. The North Hall main events space is pretty good, but for this post I’m talking about mostly the South Hall one.

  • Proximity: 4 – You’re close enough even half way in the hall. Pretty average I guess in that respect. But it’s a pretty deep venue.
  • Amenity: 5 – Free parking and being near the airport is good. Really trash outside of it though. Can’t imagine doing this con on foot much. Not too far are some nicer places to hang or eat, but then again, you might want to drive…
  • Fidelity: 3 – It sucks lol. I guess the good thing is even so, you can be close to the speaker and stage given the wide layout. And no dead spots.
  • OogaOs – Good. You can camp it, and it’s not too bad for the draws this con has.

Hyatt Regency O’Hare – Grand Ballroom

This is a big ballroom on the ground floor of a 4-star hotel. Honestly it just feels like I’m at a work convention when I’m there LOL. This is also a room that is wider than it is deeper, but the sound is a lot more tolerable due to carpets and what have you.

  • Proximity: 6 – It’s pretty good, above average, versus your average big ballrooms. But still more big ballroom than anything.
  • Amenity: 5 – Walk/drive sort of a con. Hotel provides some stuff but uh. While venue is near O’Hare airport just outside Chi-town proper, it’s kind of a pain to go anywhere.
  • Fidelity: 5 – It’s just okay. The bigness kind of hurt it but they rack proper speakers in this sort of setup, so things still works.
  • OogaOs – Above average. You can camp it, and it’s not too bad for the draws this con has.

Metro Toronto Convention Centre – Constitution Hall

I went to IFF Toronto this year and they used this con center. At the basement level there was a nicer event space used for concert, with expanded seating rolling towards the back of the room. Parts of the carpet had hard material on top for wota stuff.

  • Proximity: 5 – You’re in a con center room with carpet and laminate flooring.
  • Amenity: 7 – Not much inside but all of downtown Toronto outside. Very good location in a way.
  • Fidelity: 5 – Nothing special.
  • OogaOs – Average. You can camp it, and it’s not too bad for the draws this con has.

Maihama Amphitheater

Near Disney Tokyo, this venue is basically a semi-circle as the stage juts out way in, with seats surrounding it. It’s also really small. The giant stage relative to venue size also makes for some interesting configurations. This venue is also available in the PSVR game THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Viewing Revolution, so you can get what I mean on your own.

  • Proximity: 8 – You are up close. If the performers set up shop at the back of the stage, there is a large space. But they could come right up to the edge of the stage, and that is right by the first row literally.
  • Amenity: 6 – The seats are big enough for my American ass, plus, it’s next to a mall thing.
  • Fidelity: 7 – It sounds kind of okay, but does vary a lot on where you sit. Proximity helps a lot with this, but there’s a low-fi vibe to this place that I can’t shake.
  • OogaOs – Very good. Depends on the show, there may be no bad seats in this venue. Worst is when you are all the way to the side.

Shimokitazawa Garden

A veritable hole-in-wall in Shimokitazawa. As a bird flies it’s like a minute from the metro stop, but it takes like 5 minutes to walk there. But yeah, tiny venue good for crowding.

  • Proximity: 8 – It’s a tiny live house that fits maybe 500 people max. Actually how do you even fit 500 people in there? I’d have guessed 300.
  • Amenity: 8 – Venue is pretty clean for what it is, in a well-stocked urban area.
  • Fidelity: 8 – It’s tiny.
  • OogaOs – Decent for a live house. Obviously if you are in the back you are kinda missing out, the stage is fairly short. But no obstructions is a plus.

Sendai Sunplaza

A multi-purpose theater. Not far from the Rakuten Eagles stadium. It’s attached to the same hotel by name. Across the street is the park where they filmed WUG’s Tachiagare music video.

  • Proximity: 7 – Being a proper theater, you are never out of the action or view, even if you might be a bit far.
  • Amenity: 6 – It’s in Sendai and walkable to the JR. Other than the conbini next to it, I don’t even know. Seats are comfy enough.
  • Fidelity: 7 – It sounded pretty good.
  • OogaOs – Very good, I had some bad seats there and it was still pretty good.

Ichinomiya Hall

A municipal theater space for a small Nagoya suburb. It’s way out there.

  • Proximity: 7 – Pretty average theater view and spacing. Being in the burbs in Kansai it’s definitely more homely.
  • Amenity: 5 – Got nothing here other than the minimum. There’s a drugstore couple blocks away and a couple conbini even further away.
  • Fidelity: 6 – Actually sounds okay but below average for this kind of venue.
  • OogaOs – Decent. It’s not that big, but it flairs out to the side so some angles are not great.

How about you? Want to share your thoughts on any venues you visited?

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