When a concert venue shuts down, it’s usually a bleak day for New Zealand’s entertainment industry. But in the case of the Logan Campbell Centre, Chris Schulz couldn’t be happier.
First published on Chris Schulz’s newsletter Boiler Room.
At the beginning of 2018, in the middle of an absolutely legendary run of summer shows, an emerging American R&B star called SZA played her first New Zealand concert. It was delightful, a show full of superfans singing every single word of songs like ‘Supermodel’ and ‘Love Galore’ back to her at full volume. They’re songs that would soon win her a Grammy. It was a true had-to-be-there moment.
I snapped. The trigger wasn’t SZA’s performance – it was the venue. Logan Campbell Centre has been Auckland’s worst live music space for quite some time. By then, I was sick of going to gigs there. Parking was a consistent nightmare. The venue was cold. It lacked any kind of charisma. The sound was often woeful. And it was dangerous.
Inside, under the bleachers, there were blind spots and dimly lit areas that made it a dodgy place to be. I’ve seen incredibly bad behaviour there: fights, king-hits, punch-ups and all-in brawls. I don’t like it, and I’ve left several shows early because I didn’t feel safe.
Despite all of this, promoters kept using it. Maybe it was cheap, perhaps there weren’t any other options, I don’t know. What I do know is that on January 9, I’d had enough. In my review, I took aim at the venue, told the world I was over it, and called the Logan Campbell Centre a “rundown tin shed next to a Greenlane car park”.
I was in a scathing mood. I wrote: “Last night only added to the argument that Auckland desperately needs a new mid-sized inner-city venue – with a capacity somewhere between the Powerstation and Spark Arena – to accommodate the screaming hordes an artist like SZA demands.”
That review has a headline so good it still makes me chuckle…
A few months later, I did it again.
This time, it was for rabble-rousing British rock duo Royal Blood, who ripped through an incredible and equally impressive set of songs, a wall of noise that sounded far too huge to be made by just two of them. That night, the air guitars came out in full force. It was glorious.
For that review, I went even further. I called the Logan Campbell Centre a “giant Greenlane chilly bin”. I called out the venue’s PA system, which almost always sounds underpowered. And I ended it like this: “Next time, let’s hope Royal Blood turns the volume up and burns the Logan Campbell Centre to the ground.”
Here’s the headline for that one…
Clearly, I don’t like the Logan Campbell Centre very much. I haven’t been there since that otherwise excellent Royal Blood show. I would never choose to go there – even for my favourite artists. But when you’re a music reviewer for a major newspaper, you do what you have to do. Sometimes, that means seeing bands or going to venues you don’t like.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated plenty of reasons why the Logan Campbell Centre is the absolute worst.
During a scary Schoolboy Q show there in 2016, an all-in brawl broke out right next to me. As I backed away, someone grabbed my shoulders and screamed “YOU SCARED?!” right in my face. I watched on, horrified, as he ran right into the middle of a rowdy circle moshpit and king hit someone in the back of the head.
Later on in the show, another punter had a high-wire wrestling match with a daredevil security guard on top of a hanging platform at the back of the venue that stopped the entire gig. Even Schoolboy Q cut the music to watch it play out.
I wasn’t at the YG concert in 2017 that saw gang fights spill out of the venue and onto surrounding streets, sparking news headlines at the time, and I’m very glad about that.
Clearly, something about the Logan Campbell Centre’s location, or layout, or overall gloomy vibe, incites this kind of stuff. Sure, violence can and does happen at plenty other venues. But not on that scale. Not with that kind of force. And not as often – at least in my experience.
My singular positive memory of a Logan Campbell Centre concert was a joint show by the rapper Nas and reggae artist Jr Gong Marley around the time of their underrated 2010 collaborative album, Distant Relatives. “Absolutely spectacular” is how I called it at the time. But even that show comes with a warning: management later told me the gig had been completely overstuffed, with hundreds of people swarming in with free tickets, overpacking the venue to the point it became a fire hazard.
The point is, for years, I’ve been saying the Logan Campbell Centre should have been closed down, overhauled, replaced or completely refurbished.
Yesterday, I got my wish.
Radio NZ reports ASB Showgrounds has gone into liquidation. That means all forthcoming events, including the Home Show and Baby Show, as well as anything scheduled inside the Logan Campbell Centre, which is just one part of the Showgrounds, are postponed or cancelled. Made in the ‘90s, a nostalgia festival scheduled for next March, should probably start looking for another venue to host Coolio and Blackstreet.
It’s usually bad news when a live music venue shuts down. The Logan Campbell Centre has an incredibly rich musical history that, if it never reopens, will die with it. Setlist FM confirms it was massively popular with 80s artists: Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, The Clash, UB40, Split Enz, Cold Chisel, U2, Twisted Sister, Crowded House, Run DMC and INXS all played shows there across that decade.
In the 90s, it became the venue of choice for grunge and rock acts. The Cranberries, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Faith No More, Beck, Bush and Weezer all played gigs there. Nirvana played their one and only New Zealand show there in 1992, ending their set with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Many remember Oasis playing a typically shambolic and drunken mid-90s gig there too, but it isn’t listed on Setlist FM.
The Logan Campbell Centre has a legacy dating back decades. That means something. Its liquidation means something else too: lost jobs for venue staff and less choice for promoters. For artists whose live popularity sits somewhere between The Powerstation (capacity 1,100) and Spark Arena (12,000), that leaves them in a sticky spot. The Logan Campbell Centre holds around 3,000 people, and with the similarly sized St James still mothballed, that means mid-tier acts only have sit-down venues like Aotea Centre or The Civic to choose from.
That’s a problem, one Auckland needs to do something about. What I said in 2018 still stands: Auckland desperately needs a venue bigger than the Powerstation, but smaller than Spark Arena. As the borders open up and international acts return to our shores, that fact will only become more apparent. The loss of Logan Campbell Centre, if it is for good, will hurt, even if it is a super-shit tin shed.
But, please, now that it’s in liquidation, let’s leave it alone. Don’t resurrect it. Sell it off, flatten it, and use that space to put up apartments like the rest of that stretch of road in Greenlane. Use this as a reason to get behind and speed up the St James renovations. It’s the same size, it’s central, and it’s got a similar kind of history dating back decades too. The St James deserves to be reopened.
Despite its history, Logan Campbell Centre does not. The days of going to a joyless grey chilly bin in the middle of nowhere to watch a show and risk getting punched in the head have surely come to an end. Sorry SZA, even for Grammy winners, it’s just not worth it.