Most of 8,500 fans crowded and pushed in front of stage

 

THE accident at the Point Theatre on Saturday night was the result of some obvious factors. But blame, if blame there be, is not easily laid at any door.

Crowd control is difficult, and when a young, steamed up audience is so eager for a concert, its management becomes a nightmare. With hindsight, the potential for trouble was clear long before the Smashing Pumpkins came onstage.

Most of the 8,500 strong crowd, in their early 20s and younger, was compressed into the area between the sound mixing desk and the stage, where the excitement is at its most intense. The closeness of bodies, the sight of the band and the raucous sound of the music combine to create a steaming atmosphere.

To the casual observer it looks frightening, but inside the crowd is a feeling akin to the excitement of battle. However, such is the heat that people can struggle for air and anybody who falls underfoot could be trampled.

Even during the opening set by the support band, Filter, people were "crowd surfing" and "moshing". "Crowd surfing" is where someone allows himself or herself to be tossed around over the heads of the audience. Clearly dangerous, it also has all the kudos of a modern rite of passage. "Moshing" is where people bash into each other as the intensity of the music rises.

After a 30 minute interval the Pumpkins came on to a rapturous reception and launched into a furious blast of hard nosed thumping rock music. The audience went wild, unleashing their built up enthusiasm.

Even though this area in front of the stage is sprinkled with crash barriers, the sway of the crowd as viewed from the balcony seats was frightening. Within a short time the security people in the pit below the stage were frantically pulling bodies from the heaving mass.

After about 10 minutes Billy Corgan, the Pumpkins' singer and songwriter, called the first of many halts when a security man signalled that there was a problem. He pleaded with the audience to move back and stop the "crowdsurfing" and "moshing". "People are getting hurt", he said.

When matters had quietened down they played a slower song, but as the band moved into a higher gear members of the audience returned to their former antics. Again the band stopped and Corgan made another plea for the audience to calm down. "We'll play all night for you ... Just calm ... People are getting hurt."

But it was too late. The audience was too deep into its own excitement. No sooner would the music start than the sway to the stage would begin and bodies would bob and weave up and down. At this stage the music was almost only a backdrop. The procession of people pulled from this melee continued with more pleas for calm.

The band was clearly very disturbed. Corgan warned that the band could not go on if the audience did not calm down. D'Arcy, their bass player, asked if they cared that someone was dying backstage. "Well, we do," she said.

Finally, the band gave up and walked off, then came back on to explain. "We're people ourselves and we're freaked by this," said Corgan. "We're not going to play any more songs. We're just going to stay here and watch you leave."