Back in the day — say, two years ago — you went to your local multiplex to see movies. These days, however, a trip to the multiplex might find you rocking out to concerts by Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne, Coldplay, Usher or Tenacious D.
Meet the new movie house, where cinema owners are hoping to make pro wrestling, Broadway plays, college football, church services, major league soccer and live concert events as big a draw as Hollywood blockbusters like "Kill Bill" and "The Matrix."
Just ask Avril Lavigne. Her new live DVD, "My World," debuted on Monday night during free screenings at 24 AMC movie theaters across the United States. The singer introduced the DVD before a red carpet audience that included her family and 500 fans and label representatives at the Empire 25 Theatre on 42nd Street in New York. The floors may have been sticky and no one was drinking beer or crowd-surfing, but as far as Lavigne could tell, people were rocking just the same.
"[People] were acting like they were at a concert," Lavigne said the morning after the screening. "Actually ... they kept clapping after each song."
With movie houses typically less than 10 percent full from Monday to Thursday, that kind of reaction is exactly why theater owners are happy to invite rock audiences in to check out one-night-only virtual concerts. That also explains the logjam of music-related screenings that took place across the country Monday night. Coldplay debuted their "Coldplay Live 2003" DVD/CD at Regal Entertainment Group theaters in 31 cities, and free screenings of selections from Tenacious D's "The Complete Master Works" hit theaters in San Francisco, San Diego, Houston and Austin, Texas.
"This screening was perfect for Avril because she had never played in Manhattan and it gave her audience a chance to be with her in person," said Kirk Bonin, a sales exec at BMG, Lavigne's label. "It was the perfect way to bridge over until her next album comes out in March." Bonin said he's working on similar events to launch albums from Usher and Santana due early next year.
"We're looking to expand it and make it more than just sitting and watching footage," Bonin said. "When it's not based on a concert DVD, how do we make it exciting for fans of Usher? We're talking about finding compelling behind-the-scenes footage, special guests and maybe giving fans some music early so they and their friends will have a heads up on it."
Linkin Park will be the next band to rock the multiplex when their "Live in Texas" unspools in 40 U.S. cities November 17 (see "Linkin Park, P.O.D. Hitting The Road Together In '04"). Shot during the band's stint on the Summer Sanitarium tour, the footage begs to be seen on the silver screen, according to bassist Dave "Phoenix" Farrell.
"It's cool for us that people who are excited about the DVD can see it on the big screen and get that experience that's larger than life," said Phoenix, who has fond memories of watching U2's 1988 movie "Rattle and Hum." "And for us, it will be hilarious to see ourselves on a movie screen That's not something everybody gets to experience. For a DVD of a live performance, it will be great to get that energy of a live show on the movie screen."
Music screenings have benefited from the recent installation of digital distribution networks at leading theater chains, which can send crystal-clear signals to dozens of theaters for live and taped events. Over the past year, Korn, Kiss, Beyoncé, Tom Petty and David Bowie have all participated in live or taped concert broadcasts to movie theaters that allowed fans to watch concerts for a fraction of the price of a typical rock show. As a bonus to labels like Coldplay's Capitol Records, it's also a fresh way to keep a band in the public eye as work begins on a new album.
"We thought this took it to the next level based on the fact that Coldplay are so big and they put on one of the best live shows of any band around now," said Capitol marketing exec Ricky Riker. "Fans who missed out on the live Coldplay experience get to see them now in the best atmosphere possible, with comfortable seats and great sound."
Though he was unable to give specifics, Ray Nutt of Regal Cinemedia, the world's largest theater chain, said the success of their events means you can expect to see many more rock events in his company's 560 theaters next year.
"People are used to going into a theater and sitting quietly in the dark watching movies," said Nutt, who noted that attendance for the music events typically improves Monday or Tuesday night numbers by up to 90 percent. "When you have kids and adults rocking in these auditoriums and applauding and interfacing with the screen you have a great experience on your hands."