A concert of confusion ending on a tragic note

 

At 10.40 p.m. on Saturday night, the female bass player glared at thousands of adoring fans and told them to go home. "Don't you understand there's somebody dying backstage? That could be you," D'Arcy Wretzky drawled into her microphone.

The bewildered crowd at the Point Theatre in Dublin tried to figure out if this was rock hype or the real thing. "I see people smiling out there," she said accusingly. "Do you think it's funny?"

Earlier Billy Corgan, lead singer with the American band the Smashing Pumpkins, stopped the music twice. Word had come that people had "gotten hurt" and he could see fans being dragged out of the crowd and over the barrier in front of the stage.

"I want you all to go home to your moms and dads, your wives and your cats and dogs," he said.

It was a crowd like any other at a rock concert, heaving and jumping as one mass, with a mind of its own. In the build up to the band's entrance, someone produced a beach ball and bounced it around.

Then the lighters and sparklers were held up as the instrumental played. Somebody held up a pumpkin lantern. When the band launched into its first big song the pumpkin was thrown somewhere into the crowd.

By the time the concert was called off, bodies had replaced the beach ball as people threw themselves on top of raised arms of their fellow fans to "crowd surf". Most of the surfers seemed to end up falling head first back into the crowd or dragged over the barriers at the front of the stage.

The people moved in waves and the push from the back forced pockets of people side ways. Anyone who fell would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to get up again, until the surge stopped. "There are people, on the ground down there," one woman said.

The organisers said they sold 8,500 tickets. Large areas of seating in the balconies were empty. Most of the fans seemed to want the thrill of the crush as well as the music. It was a young audience, mostly teenagers, dressed in jeans and T shirts, expecting the rough and tumble of a concert.

Outside the toilets before the concert started, one young woman lay slumped and white on the floor. Security people were around her. "What's your name?" they asked. She was just conscious enough to tell them.

As the band called the music to a halt for the third and final time, Billy Corgan sat with his microphone and told the crowd the fun was over. He would sit there and watch them leave, he said. But someone realised that as long as he sat there no one would leave.

So the band left the stage, the lights came up, and slowly the crowd started to move outside. At the front crash barrier the security staff, who spent the concert pulling bodies over the barriers, waved people out.

Outside people stood in the cold in T shirts or bare chested. There was confusion rather than panic. The unofficial T shirt and poster sellers hawked for business and the rush for taxis began.

Yesterday morning the cleaners at the Point swept up the debris of the night before. Outside the fast food and soft drink cartons mingled with beer cans and flyers advertising another rock concert - Radiohead.