Has Perth Turned The Corner As A Live Music Destination?

30 November 2023 | 9:00 am | Christie Eliezer

"This is a successful template for what will hopefully be something we’ll see more of in the future."

Coldplay @ Optus Stadium

Coldplay @ Optus Stadium (Credit: Sam Mead)

Over two nights on November 18 and 19, Perth lay claim to being a global live music destination. 

For a rumoured $10 million price tag, Coldplay came to P-City and generated between $75 million and $80 million, according to sources… more than the $68 million that was first expected. That’s one slam dunk of a return on an investment for the WA Government!

Around 134,000 fans flocked to Optus Stadium over the two nights. 40,000 came from interstate. About 8,000 flew in from abroad, including Sri Lanka, Mexico and Brazil.

“Perth just lifted off the back of it, not just its music industry but the whole of Perth,” said WA-based national promoter John Zaccaria

“From my view, everyone was excited about it. 

“For once, it was an event people from the East Coast had to come over for. From where I’m sitting, Perth is punching above its weight when you compare it to populations around the country.”

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Zaccaria Concerts and Touring, set up in 2009, was behind touring festivals as Summer Salt and and By The C. In September 2023, it merged with Regional Touring (Red Hot Summer) to become Face To Face Touring.

First Time

Coldplay was the first time the WA Government invested so heavily in a music concert, although it does so regularly for events and sports.  

It is hoping the Coldplay “extremely successful” figures will attract other mega-acts, and has apparently signalled wanting to get involved in runs by Beyonce, U2 and The Rolling Stones.

WA had also waved its chequebook at Taylor Swift, who is earning $5 million a show. But the Aussie dates were too jammed between Japan and Singapore shows. It would have been a good financial boost for Perth. Tay-Tay’s seven shows in Melbourne and Sydney are expected to generate between $320 million and $405 million for the Aussie economy.

After Paul McCartney The Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth and Sam Smith most recently bypassed WA, the Government’s strategy is to use its proximity to Asia for megastars to add Perth as part of their Asian tours, which is what Coldplay did. 

State Premier Roger Cook observed, “This is a successful template for what will hopefully be something we’ll see more of in the future, especially given Perth is closer to Jakarta than we are to Sydney.”

The government is playing up Coldplay’s awecome as kicking off a buoyant summer of music, sports and entertainment. Optus Stadium will draw 500,000 over those months and RAC Arena expecting 265,000.

Grassroots Flow

How this excitement over live events flows down to Perth’s grassroots scene, and turns the city into a booyah tour destination remains to be seen. 

In an April 2017 report in The West Australian, promoters from the East Coast groaned that the western city was a nightmare for small and medium-sized tours, with high transport costs across the Nullabor and unsold tickets a bad combination.

One promoter called sales “the most lacklustre I’ve seen in 15 years”, another thought it was more viable to spin a tour to New Zealand instead, and there was a suggestion that Perth could slip off the national touring circuit.

But insiders say that things have changed in the six years since. Promoters reveal club crowds are up, partly due to post-COVID enthusiasm and partly because of the attraction of rising new talent like Coterie, Scream Mountain, Ghost Care, Angie Coleman, Tied Down, Dice and South Summit.

Promoters are playing up to the city’s strengths. Zaccaria ticked off two: “The weather is great, and that’s good for outdoor shows which is what we do most of. There’s the proximity of gigs, everything is within 20 to 30 minutes. You’re not travelling three or four hours, or waiting an hour in traffic to get from one side of (Sydney) town to the Enmore Theatre.”

Chris O’Brien, Head of Touring at the hard rock Destroy All Lines commented, “Perth crowds are embracing more diverse sounds than before. A lot of the tours we’ve taken there, whether The Offspring or Evanescence, have all sold out. We only take over 30 per cent of our tours to Perth.  But when you choose the rights acts, they show there’s a following.”

There is a great variety of venues, bolstered by grants from the State Government to build up after COVID. But the theatres are blocked out to bands because of long running musicals. The city lacks a venue like Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall which has a capacity of 3,000 standing and 1,100 seated. But the multi-roomed Fremantle Prison is finding favour with promoters with its Main Parade Grounds capable of holding 2,354 punters.

According to Live Performance Australia’s May 2023-released attendance and revenue report, WA’s live sector is the fourth largest in the country with a 12.5 per cent market share, with across-the-board attendance up 26.6 per cent and revenue growing by 16.8 per cent.

Contemporary music had the highest attendance of all the art forms, with a 27.1 per cent share, and revenue of 24.2 per cent share which put it second to musical theatre.

High Freight

However, as a destination for national tours, Perth’s geographical location plays a significant role with high freight and accommodation costs. 

“Time is an issue, in terms of trucking and time zone – and it’s worse with daylight saying,” Zaccaria said. He is announcing a national tour this week but Perth has to be left out. “You can’t do Perth and then Adelaide the next day. By the time you’re at Perth Airport, it’s already lunchtime in Adelaide.”

Chris O’Brien agreed: “Perth is slowly coming back, but we’re still very cautious about what we put into there. We need to be very confident that those shows will sell out. There’s so much risk that if they fall a little short, that any money you make on the East Coast can quickly be swallowed up by losses in Perth. We need to treat Perth as an island.”

Destroy All Lines, along with TEG Live and Finely Tuned, is staging the Knotfest Festival. Last year it was a great success, unofficially drawing 200,000 around the country. But it’s not going way out west.

“It’s too costly for festivals of that magnitude,” O’Brien explained. “The freight costs alone don’t make it financially viable. We can take some medium tours there but anything getting into the arena level is super expensive.”

Perth venues are also affected by issues confronting those in the East. Last week, TheMusic.com.au reported that The Bird in Northbridge is launching a crowd-funding campaign Keep The Bird Flying to raise $95,000. 

Most of the 176-capacity space’s shows are sell-outs but, its owner Kabir Ramasary explained that with cash-hit patrons tightening their belts by coming just for the music, its bar revenue has been hit dramatically. “This is do or die for us,” he lamented.