Co-op Live finally hosts first gig after spate of cancellations

<span>People arriving at Co-op Live in Manchester on Tuesday to see Elbow in concert at the 23,500-capacity arena.</span><span>Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA</span>
People arriving at Co-op Live in Manchester on Tuesday to see Elbow in concert at the 23,500-capacity arena.Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

It has been billed by its American owners as the greatest music venue ever built: a state-of-the art arena to put Manchester back on the musical map.

But after a series of humiliating setbacks, the £450m Co-op Live – now referred to by some as Co-flop Live – opened its doors with a stagger rather than a swagger with a long-delayed concert by the local band Elbow on Tuesday night.

The gig came nearly two weeks after the 23,500-capacity arena cancelled a show by the US star A Boogie Wit da Hoodie when part of a ventilation system crashed from the ceiling shortly after the doors had opened.

It was the latest problem to affect the UK’s biggest indoor arena, whose backers include Harry Styles and the Abu Dhabi-based owners of Manchester City, after power supply problems caused the cancellation of shows by the comedian Peter Kay and US rockers the Black Keys.

The Elbow frontman, Guy Garvey, said he wanted to open the venue “properly” as he referenced the teething problems at the start of his band’s two-hour set.

To cheers, he said: “Everybody that’s been working on this building has been so excited today, so nervous but so excited. There was already electricity in the air before you lot got in today and now it’s thoroughly amped up. I hope you can feel it.”

Before Elbow’s concert, the venue’s bullish boss, Tim Leiweke, said he was confident Co-op Live was now the “safest building in the world”.

As he toured the arena’s VIP section – which looks similar to an airport departure lounge, with the same boozy vibe – Leiweke appeared emotional as he described the toll of the last few weeks.

“It’s been tough. I’m emotional because this is a big deal and we want to do right by Manchester,” the Missouri-born executive said.

“It’s never easy getting these things built with Brexit and Covid but at the end of the day we’ve built the greatest arena ever built – for Manchester. It’s been tough. I’ve apologised to those [fans] we disrupted … now the building is open and will be for another 30 years.”

Leiweke, the chief executive of the venue’s manager, the US-based Oak View Group, said some parts of the arena would not be completed for another six months, adding that it was normal for buildings to have an extensive “punch list” to tackle after opening.

He added: “I’ve never opened a building without thousands of things that need to be done. These buildings have a life of their own. We will be back here a few more times [in the coming months].”

Earlier, Leiweke told the BBC that A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s show was cancelled after one of 96 pre-manufactured parts crashed to the auditorium floor from the ceiling after the soundcheck, and as fans had begun making their way inside. It could have been “catastrophic” if it had happened 15 minutes later, he added.

The incident meant bosses had to cancel gigs by the American mega-star Olivia Rodrigo and Take That. In perhaps the ultimate humiliation, its fierce rival – Manchester’s AO Arena – had to step in to host Take That.

Fans who arrived for Elbow expecting a fully finished state-of-the-art venue may have been left surprised that parts of it still resembled a building site. Workers in hi-vis jackets and hard hats were toiling away until shortly before the concert on Tuesday night.

Neil Forkin, 54, said he had been excited for the gig for weeks but that at some points feared it might never go ahead.

“Some people feel it’s a national embarrassment but I don’t,” he said, queueing to get in with his wife, Melanie, 47. “I see it as an exciting new venue. There will be naysayers but there’s a lot of positives.”

Forkin, who works in commercial real estate finance, said he felt the arena had fallen victim to hubris: its opening date was too ambitious with the building not yet complete.

But he would not let any safety concerns spoil his night: “Should we have brought hard hats in case a bolt falls from the ceiling?”

Kelda Ross, a teacher, said she hoped the venue would be “safer than ever” after the extra checks.

The 36-year-old said she hoped Co-op Live would bring Manchester’s musical legacy into the modern day and attract the world’s best new performers. “The current [AO] Arena is in need of an update so to have this brand new venue will raise the profile of Manchester,” she said. “I think it’ll recover from a rocky start.”

The venue’s opening plans began to unravel when thousands of tickets were cancelled to a test event headlined by Rick Astley on 20 April with only a few hours notice due to safety concerns. Gary Roden resigned as Co-op Live’s general manager the following week after a PR own goal when he said grassroots venues were often “poorly run” – shortly after he had cancelled opening shows by the Lancashire-born comedian Kay.

Garvey closed the Elbow concert on Tuesday by telling fans that “no night had been happier than this night” on the band’s UK tour, adding that they had “housewarmed this beautiful new venue”.

Co-op Live is scheduled to host shows by Kay, Eric Clapton, Nicki Minaj and Barry Manilow in the next fortnight.