I went to the new Co-op Live arena dogged by delays and this is what I thought

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I’m a reporter for the Lancashire Post and Blackpool Gazette and this is my honest review of whether Co-op Live was worth the wait..

Manchester’s Co-op Live is the UK’s newest large concert venue but its earliest days have proven rather controversial thanks to a series of delays which led to numerous events being called off.

The Co-op Live arena was originally due to open on April 23 with the first of two Peter Kay stand-up shows in a row, but these dates were pushed back when problems emerged at a test event headlined by Ricky Astley.

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Finally, three weeks later, the venue officially opened its doors to the public on Tuesday night, at the fourth attempt, with an Elbow gig going ahead with no problems.

On Co-op live’s second night of opening, I headed to the venue to see the American rock band Black Keys, who were originally due to play on April 27 but thanks to the venues well known teething issues, had been moved to May 15.

Read on to see my full assessement of what Co-op live was like as a venue...

Getting to the venue

We were driving from Liverpool to Co-op Live and finding the venue was easy enough, you just follow signs to the Etihad, and we only got caught in the usual rush hour city centre traffic.

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However I would recommend getting the tram to the Co-op Arena instead, the walking routes are well thought out and car parking is a bit of an issue - spaces at the official off street parking are £25 a car or £100 for a mini bus/coach!

Me pictured outside Co-op Live ahead of The Black Keys' gig.Me pictured outside Co-op Live ahead of The Black Keys' gig.
Me pictured outside Co-op Live ahead of The Black Keys' gig. | National World

Getting into the venue 

We arrived twenty minutes before the support act, Circa Waves, were due to take to the stage and it wasn’t chaotically busy at all.

There were a lot of staff on hand to tell you which way your specific entrance was and then when we got to our entrance, the queue for security and ticket checks took no time at all as again there were plenty of staff on.

The security checks were however more comprehensive than I remember at most concert venues - they did the usual bag checks but also had airport body scanners which beeped at me so I had to remove the items in my pockets and go through the system again - the same happened to another of our four person party too.

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I didn’t mind the extra time spent at security though as it gives attendee’s more peace of mind, being well needed after the tragic Manchester Arena Bombing.

The first thing you see when you enter Co-Op Live, a Bristol Street Motors car on display.The first thing you see when you enter Co-Op Live, a Bristol Street Motors car on display.
The first thing you see when you enter Co-Op Live, a Bristol Street Motors car on display. | National World

Inside the venue

The first thing you see once you get past the ticket barriers is a full size car, covered in the Bristol Street Motor’s logo (one of the venue’s sponsors) and this encapsulated the vibe the venue gave off - pumped through with money and ready to show off all they can.

We were all surprised by tokens on entry which entitled us to a free snack or drink from a freebies stall - I went for a share bag of Co-op crisps whilst the rest of my party chose a Grolsch beer can. The free tokens were a gesture of good will following the show’s postponement and I think it was a nice and generous thing to do.

After the display car, stairs lead down to the ‘The Street’, which Co-op Live describes as the heartbeat of the venue, boasting a 22 meter long bar, a second bar, a food market, a popcorn stand and a mini Co-op shop. It was a huge and bright space which felt more like a venue in itself, rather than a coridoor merely lurking outside the arena space.

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'The Street' on the ground floor, to the right is a 22 metre bar, to the right is a Co-op store with hot food and at the back out of sight) there is another bar and a smaller Co-op store.'The Street' on the ground floor, to the right is a 22 metre bar, to the right is a Co-op store with hot food and at the back out of sight) there is another bar and a smaller Co-op store.
'The Street' on the ground floor, to the right is a 22 metre bar, to the right is a Co-op store with hot food and at the back out of sight) there is another bar and a smaller Co-op store. | National World

There was then a second floor, accessed by a swanky escalator, which had another bar and a merchandise stall in one section, and then more bars and food stalls down a corridoor. We couldn’t access the third floor though as it was closed for this show.

The performance space then makes Co-Op Live the largest indoor arena in Europe, holding 23,500 at full capacity (that’s two and a half thousand more people than it’s closest competitor, the MEN Arena) but it didn’t feel it once you were inside.

We were in the standing section which felt more like you were in a warehouse than a concert arena - it was nothing fancy, just a clean empty hall with towering seats behind you. I was pretty pleased with the amount of space we felt like we had however and you could find a great view of the stage wherever you were.

It was also pretty easy for you to make your way out of the performance space during the show if you wanted to go to the toilet or grab another drink.

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L: Me in the arena with my £13.30 drink and free crisps (that would've cost £4.50). Top right: the hot dog I scoffed before going in. Bottom right: the same space filled with audience members later on.L: Me in the arena with my £13.30 drink and free crisps (that would've cost £4.50). Top right: the hot dog I scoffed before going in. Bottom right: the same space filled with audience members later on.
L: Me in the arena with my £13.30 drink and free crisps (that would've cost £4.50). Top right: the hot dog I scoffed before going in. Bottom right: the same space filled with audience members later on. | National World

Food and drink

There were various well-staffed bars across each floor of the venue, and inside the peformance space as well, so I never had to wait long to be served.

The bars offered a good selection of drinks - more so than other venues-  including five types of beer, six wines, two fizzy wines, two cocktails, two non-alocoholic beers and various spirits. However I was personally a bit miffed off that they served only dark fruit cider at the bar, rather than original.

The prices were also pretty staggering, at the main bar I paid £13.30 for a double vodka and coke so I quickly switched to the 330ml cans of cider for £6.95. Pints of beer were then £7.95 (apart from Grolsch which was £7.35), miniature wines were £8.95 (apart from sparkling which were £9.25) and a 440ml can of alcohol free Guinness was £6.25.

There were then mini Co-op stores dotted around the place - these sold various alcoholic and soft drink cans (including original cider cans!)  as well as sweets and co-op crisps.

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Some of the Co-op stores also had hot food sections where you could pick up freshly cooked burgers, hotdogs, pastys and chicken tenders. These came with steep prices too: my hotdog with sauce and crispy onions cost £11.00, my partner’s cheese and jalepeno pasty was £7.50 and our friends’ vegan burger was £11.50 - the dishes were tasty but they were not that tasty!

The sound system and visuals

I’m not the most tech-savvy person but as a regular concert attendee, the sound did feel more immersive than I remember, as if the Black Keys were serenading me from every corner of the hall.

The visuals though weren’t anything to particularly write home about, there was just a lot of light work and mini screens showing the Black Keys in various artistic filters, but it didn’t feel like anything was new.

My view of The Black Keys on stage.My view of The Black Keys on stage.
My view of The Black Keys on stage. | National World

Overall judgement 

I did have a great concert exprience at Co-op Live but I wouldn’t say it was much different to those at other concert venues like the AO Arena or M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool.

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As I said above, the sound did feel more immersive, and overall the facilities were really nice and modern. but I just wasn’t blown away.

The performance space felt just like any other arena hall and although there was a decent selection of food and drink on offer, this was definitely outweighed by the prices.

If I was to go back to Co-op Live, it would just be because of the artist performing there- but then again, isn’t that the only reason we go to concert venues in the first place?

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