Is the SSE Hydro any good?

The Hydro 2

May 2014: Want to know which seats to book or where to stand for the best acoustics, then click here for our opinion. Read on for our initial impressions of the venue.

October 2013: On Monday of this week Glasgow’s newest concert venue opened with ‘Scottish’ son, Rod Stewart.

As much as I really wanted to see the venue, I only like Rod when The Faces are behind him. So that was a no go. It did only take three days more for me to get my first visit to the SSE Hydro to watch Fleetwood Mac.

Having spent the past few years watching The Hydro rise out of the earth, wondering how it would be, hoping it would sound good, I have to admit it was extremely exciting getting to go through the doors (once I worked out where they are) for that first time.

From the outside The Hydro (or The SSE Hydro to give it its official name) looks like we’ve just been visited by aliens. A huge flying saucer landed on a mound of grass in the middle of the concrete Finneston area of Glasgow. (The building even has coloured glass sections on the side of the saucer which reminds me of “Close Encounters” further creating the flying saucer feeling). The entrance is under a “lip” of grass that saucer appears to have landed upon.

Once inside the building is modern polished concrete-style which immediately put me in mind of Ethiad Stadium which we visited in June to see Muse. Around the outer and inner rims are shops, eateries, bars and merchandise stalls. For this visit we were not in the floor area, rather the raised seating. Therefore we had to climb to get to our entrance door. There were many escalators and also staircases (with toilets cleverly secreted in the mezzanine levels between floors) around the outer edge making it easy, spacious, and quick to ascend to the correct doorways for entry.


Inside the Mothership

The Hydro themselves refer to the performance arena part of the building as “the bowl”, and as soon as I walked in to find my seat it became clear why. What an overwhelming and stunning creation this is. From the outside it seems smaller – not quite TARDIS smaller – but when inside the “bowl” seems huge, imposing, and rather beautiful in its own way. Of course, I was looking from up high at the back; it’ll be a few weeks before I see it from the floor level.

All the seats sit almost completely in a circle around the floor, at a perfectly steep angle meaning the audience view isn’t restricted by those in front, and all can look down – almost judicially – on the performance taking place on the stage. The audience envelop the performers on the stage and not stand in front and sit at the back.

Here’s the thing; I hate sitting at a gig. I feel disconnected, not part of the action, not involved with the crowd. Not here. Considering its size, capacity (~13,000) and height, I felt very much part of the show and would happily sit pretty much anywhere in here and know I’d get a great view.

Now here’s the most important part. We have all been to big shows in arenas, and stadiums and know that it often ends up being more about the spectacle than the sound. As much as I have affection for the dear old Hall 4 of the SECC, nobody will talk for hours about its supreme acoustics. Up and down the country the arenas in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, and pretty much everywhere else suffer the same fate; they don’t always sound that good.


Staring at the ceiling

I put my hand on my heart and say that from my seat, in Block 228, Row S, very high up, and pretty far back the acoustics were nothing short of immaculate. Really immaculate. Not a single thing to complain about. As we walked to the bathroom mid-show and came back to our seats the sound didn’t change in terms of quality.

Again, I would like to hear it from the floor, but I am pretty convinced by the shape that in any of the seats the sounds will be the same as where I sat last night. Thank you builders and designers of this venue! Seriously it is the most important thing for a concert venue, and often gets overlooked or corners cut. That does not yet seem to be the case here.

My last thoughts on the venue are this: I love The O2 in London, it is even more of an enormo-dome, but I love it. Not just because of the show itself, but the experience of going there always makes a concert feel like an event. In a similar way going to The Hydro felt the same. Sure it was a first time, and that may dissipate somewhat, but in all honestly watching the show from my perch, with such crystal clear acoustics and perfect view I got excited thinking about all the bands I’d love to see in there. Not just ones announced, you know, thinking through a list of bands who need to come to The Hydro and play in that bowl.

Well done The Hydro, a venue to further cement Glasgow as the go-to concert city for artists.

Gareth Fraser
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47 thoughts on “Is the SSE Hydro any good?

  1. The Prince concert on 22 May was ruined by the excessive slapback echo from the back of the hall, muddy bass and individual bass note resonance, all as described by others. Seated in the accessible zone H, it is obvious that there will be little or no echo if you are near the front or right at the back. You will hear the echo clearly if you are somewhere in the middle. Absolutely shocking sound.

    • Gareth May 24, 2014 at 17:42 - Author

      Thanks Paul. As I stated in this article the sound at Prince was definitely marred depending on where you were stood / sat.

      I don’t disagree with much of what you’ve said on this one other than when stood at the back (the crescent moon around the sound desk) I had no issue with echo, though had bass-issues dependant on the particular track.

  2. Gareth, Having never been to the Hydro venue my opinion of the sound acoustics is based purely on the comments. I know exactly the sound that can be expected from concrete and glass reflection.. Think your ears must have lost their sensitivity as have some of the others who believe the sound is good.. I can see no way an aircraft hanger built of concrete and glass can produce a beautiful rich deep sound with clean highs and lack of echo, Wear ear protection !

    • Gareth June 3, 2014 at 18:23 - Author

      You’re entitled to your opinion as am I. Having never been to the venue I’ll wait until you have before I give a lot of time to considering yours.

      Saw the Eagles from an elevated seating position on Saturday and rich deep sound, clean highs and lack of echo is exactly what we had. And whilst I don’t need to share the video proof I have, just watching a clip back confirms what I – someone who has been there – know to be right.

  3. I am about to book tickets for a concert at the hydro and there is a debate on whether to stand or sit. I am looking for the cheapest tickets, is it cheaper to stand or sit? thanks

    • Gareth Fraser June 30, 2014 at 19:11 - Author

      Hi Abby, it depends entirely on the show and pricing structure set up by the promoter.

      Sometimes all tickets are the same price. Oftentimes the seats furthest away “up in the Gods” are cheapest, with standing more expensive, and the near circle seats the most expensive. Other times it is different again.

      If you go on Ticketmaster for the event you are booking (even before the event goes on sale) you can choose Pricing. It will explain the different costs for location.