I got my first look inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night, for the Neil Young/Patti Smith show. And while the show was mostly good (Patti was excellent and endearingly goofy in a too-short set; Neil and Crazy Horse were absolutely devastating on several songs, but much of the new material fell flat and the feedback solos could have been cut back by about 20 minutes), my first impression of the building was that it’s as underwhelming inside as it is jarring outside.
All modern stadiums and arenas have a fundamental problem to solve, which is how to jam in the maximum number of high-priced lower-deck seats and luxury suites without making the hoi polloi upstairs feel isolated from the event. The Barclays Center handles this extremely poorly, combining a sprawling lower section with a large wedge of suites that makes viewing from the front row of the upper deck (where we were seated) like watching from the opposite rim of the Grand Canyon. I don’t have schematics available to tell me whether I was actually more distant than I would have been at, say, Madison Square Garden, but I can say that last night the overwhelming impression I got was of just a massive sea of air in front of me, punctuated by the desk lamps lighting the suites in the ring below. (We could also glimpse passing traffic on Flatbush Avenue through a break in the curtain behind the stage, which felt less like a feature than a bug.)
There were other problems as well: The restrooms have been wedged into a section of the seating bowl where the concourses are exceptionally narrow, meaning when everyone lined up for them between sets, there were major traffic jams. The famed Jay-Z-inspired black/grey color scheme came off less urban chic than corporate blah. And while the Disney-trained staff were certainly friendly, I can’t say they were especially helpful — the defining image of the night for me was when the Nathan’s food stand guy sold me two bottles of Dasani water (a mere $4.50 each!) and then insisted on pouring them into plastic cups, apologizing the whole way that this was the way they had to do it.
I guess the same could be said about the arena as a whole. But I’m still waiting for my apology, Mr. Ratner.