Canberra can be a peculiar place. A few months ago I scrambled a couple of tickets to see Elvis Costello in Sydney. I just snuck in on the credit card line for the last tickets to the second show. Eventually three concerts at the Enmore Theatre would sell out.
The tickets arrived in the mail at the same time promoters announced the peerless Irish songsmith was adding a Canberra date to his Australian tour. As something of a tragic, I planned to drive to Sydney on the Saturday, then front up again on Monday. (In the end, a friend took the Enmore tickets.)
This being my first rock concert experience since moving to the capital, I wasn't aware of the phone pay drill. A newspaper ad was vague, so I went to the box office on the day tickets opened.
I was dubious about this. It's bloody freezing here and the prospect of queuing in the frost held minimal appeal. Nonetheless, about 9am that Monday I found the ticket office.
There wasn't a soul around or any advertising. I must have come to the wrong place. On entering, I asked the obvious question. "Yes," said the woman. "Take your pick, we haven't sold any yet." Now call me sad or slow on the uptake, but I'd never before sat in the front row for a concert (previous closest was row D for Barry Manilow.) "I'll take those five," I said pointing to the computer screen. "Seats 18 to 22 in row AA."
"Are you sure?" she replied. "People don't normally want seats right up the front." Now this almost threw me. But having established there was no restricted viewing, nor any ACT by-laws or other unobvious hindrance, I took my chances.
Elvis played Canberra on Monday. The seats were perfect, the concert magnificent. But, my, he had to work to get the crowd roused. "You're the strong, silent, academic types," Elvis quipped. Unfazed, he and the band soldiered on, egging people on their feet and playing for almost three hours.
Earlier, we'd popped into the local deli to buy a couple of cheap disposable cameras to sneak into the theatre. We assumed this was prohibited, but there'd be no harm firing off a few souvenir snaps during the encore. Eventually Elvis played four encores. By the time he left the building, flashes – ours and many others – had been partially illuminating the middle-aged moshpit for nearly an hour. We'd all but emptied our tinpot cameras under the nose of our hero. Elvis cared not a jot.
Nonetheless, during what turned out to be the penultimate song, I received a tap on the shoulder. "Have you been taking photos?" asked an official-looking woman. Since the camera was jammed to my eyeball at the time, it was impossible to deny. "I may have to confiscate that," she warned. "Put it away."
We all fell about laughing (to paraphrase Elvis, what shall we do with All This Useless Duty?) and feigned contrition. Naturally, the camera was quickly retrieved and we fired off the last of the film.
There being two morals to this column. Canberra ain't no Woodstock. And don't trust cheap disposables. The snaps are crap.