In 2016, I’ve finally seen a concert at the United Center, after decades of living near and in Chicago.
I wasn’t exactly in a rush to check this off my list though.
I don’t like arena shows. But who does?
They’re crowded and expensive, getting tickets is stressful, and the United Center is a very far CTA commute from my apartment. However… there is a very short list of bands (very short) that I’ll justify the expense and adventure.
Black Sabbath is one of them. I caught them on the Farewell Tour in January 2016.
Below is what I now know about doing the United Center like a real Chicagoan. Save time, money, get good seats. This is the end-all guide of Chicago arena shows when the band packs the house.
Here’s what I learned about buying the tickets
Like a cautious fool, I bought pre-sale tickets from Ticketmaster at 10 am on a Thursday, rapidly hitting refresh, trying to score the best seats. As suspected, the majority of the stadium seats were already up on 3rd party sites and the Ticketmaster options held the bottom of the barrel remainder. A loud Dammit! puts it very mildly. Unfair, I know. It’s why I don’t like stadium shows.
Each time I hit refresh with “best available” selected, I got wildly different results. Section 114 **refresh** section 220 **refresh** section 111. I wasn’t thrilled with the process, but I managed to land Section 110, Row 13. And I’m glad I had official tickets and no worries about getting in. Below is what the view from Section 110 looks like. Not bad, but not all that great for the price.
Waiting in a cold line outside, I struck up conversation with 2 rockers standing in front of us, and talked about where we were sitting. Turns out, they played their odds and bought 2 tickets from someone selling them on the street just hours before, a risky play for sure. And not a move I would do for one of my favorite bands. But in their case it paid off. As chance would have it, they had tickets directly in front of ours. And they even paid $20 less than what I got off Ticketmaster.
Now, in the weeks before the concert, curiosity got the best of me and I checked 3rd party sites to see what tickets were going for, and if I can do a swap for better seats at a deal. Turns out, the price fluctuated +/- $20 from what Ticketmaster had them at. Go figure. I’ll keep my Section 110.
But here’s what I would do next time:
I’d let everyone else sweat out the Ticketmaster/Livenation pre-sale and buy my tickets directly from a 3rd party site. No hitting refresh, no surprises. I’d pay up the extra $20 to pick out my seats on my own and know exactly what I’m getting. VividSeats is my go-to. It’s reliable as StubHub, and a bit cheaper at times.
Live and learn.
Here’s what I love about the United Center for concerts
Ok, before I expand on my rant on United Center concerts, this needs to be said: the sound is fantastic. It’s a world-class stadium and the sound system was well set up by true professionals in the industry. I don’t think I have a bad thing to say about the sound. It was loud, but didn’t require earplugs, and Black Sabbath was absolutely thunderous in riffage with no hiccups in ascetics or delivery.
Here’s what I hate about the United Center for concerts
Like any large stadium shows that draw a crowd, the event is heavily scalped (see above). Pre-presale tickets are snatched up and put on 3rd party sites days before tickets are made available to even the earliest of legitimate pre-sales available to fans. Not cool. But it’s the the way it is.
As noted, I’m no longer ever doing a pre-sale for shows at the United Center. The undisputed benefits of waiting, and spending $20 more, is that you get to hand pick your exact seats and you don’t have to rush through any timed check-out screens. Last thing I want to see when I’m dropping over $100 on tickets is a countdown clock.
Also, at the United Center, the beer and merchandise is outrageously overpriced (surprise!), but here’s what you can do and how you save money on your booze bill:
Get to the area early, and plan a heavy pre-game so you don’t have to foot $10 for $2 worth of beer in a plastic cup. A Google search will point you to Park Tavern or Cobra Lounge, they’re nearby bars and both those options are fine and somewhat more cost-effective than a drink at the UC, but not by much. There are 2 spots you should know about, both within a stone’s throw of the UC that fosters a quick and cheap pre-game. Billy Goat Tavern and La Largartija Taqueria. Billy Goat offers cheap food and $4 drinks. The taco place is BYOB and about $3 per taco.
United Center Camera Policy
Here’s another bummer. For sport events, you can bring a decent camera, for concerts you are limited to your cell phone or a point and shoot. Anything with a detachable lens will get rejected at the door. Thankfully, I did not learn this the hard way. But I’m sure there are many who have.
All in all, the United Center is a rare excursion for Chicago Rants, but when I do, I do it like a Chicagoan.
1. Pregame is at Billy Goat.
3. And no cameras.