I enjoy live music, so much so that before my son was born, it wasn’t unusual for me to see maybe as many as 2 or 3 shows in certain months. Many of the shows I attended were small, relatively underground metal bands in small venues. As a man in my mid twenties, the shows were ideally suited for the sort of intellectual pleasure one can take in supporting a hobby that feels like it’s well-south of mainstream media and well-north of the line between commercialism and art.
In other words, seeing what I called then (and I suppose, what I still call) serious, underground metal, noise and post-hardcore bands gave me a feeling of inclusion in a small yet important art scene. The audience was primarily made up of a mixture of mature metal fans, hipsters, and even some older people with seriously broad musical taste.
As the years rolled on, I found the gap between my age and the audience attending the shows widen to a point where the twenty-four year old version of me who first saw Isis play Panopticon at the now-defunct Avalon back in 2004 would call me The Old Guy standing in the back, still wearing work clothes, sipping a cocktail and talking to his friend instead of standing pressed against the front of the stage soaking up every note of music. I would wonder why he was even there, if he wasn’t really interested in the music. Maybe he was trying to relive his youth or something. A mild irritation would flood me at the moment, as if his presence was diluting the sanctity of the scene.
But time changes perspective, and my transition from the front of the venue toward the back has been a subtle one – I remember the first time I saw a band and thought – well, maybe I’d better just stand to one side tonight, because it’s going to get pretty rough. When the prospect of injury caused me to stay further back or to the side and miss out on the frontal-assault of bass-drum-thump that pummels the chest. I also remember when I went from being excited that a band was continuing to play past 2am to irritably checking my watch as the hour ticked closer to midnight, wondering when the show will finish as I do have to be up at 6:30am with my son, and I do have a meeting at 9:30am that I still need to prep in the morning. Now, the best shows are when the band finishes up by eleven.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the time in spend inside the venue – most shows have at least a couple of openers and a decade ago, I showed up to see every band, I didn’t relinquish my position and I certainly didn’t drink at the venue – for one, I was too poor to afford Manhattan prices at the time, but for another, drinking would require a biological function and that meant you would give up the choice spot earned through early attendance. Also, the four, five, and on some occasions even six or seven hours of standing through all the bands required a stamina I no longer have. I once stood for 7 straight hours in the Brooklyn Masonic Temple to see Iron Eagle, Pelican, Earth, and Sunn O))) play from 8pm till 3am. One of the best nights of my life but I doubt I could ever duplicate that feat again. My feet begin to ache after three or four hours, and I begin to wonder if a taxi might be a better option than the walk to the subway and then the walk home from there. And really, I’d rather miss the first opener (unless it’s someone really good, like, say, Decapitated who opened for Meshuggah), just hang out at a bar and get a late dinner before getting to the show just in time for the main act or the second opener.
Now, when I see the twenty-three year old with a four days of scruff, bleary eyes from sleepless nights spent chasing other shows this week, wearing clothes that are wrinkled, scowling at the stage as the band wraps up early, I think, yes, that was me eleven years ago. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, my kids will come with me to a show like this, standing embarrassed by my presence, just a few feet away to put some distance so my age won’t reflect badly on them.
Last night, as we left a sweaty and body-odor filled space of packed bodies and crossed a urine-soaked hallway from overflowing toilets after a Mastodon show, I looked at my friend and said, “What was the last time we saw someone quiet?” He couldn’t remember, and we thought, well, maybe Mazzy Star was touring again. Slowdive is on tour across Europe, and didn’t Mogwai just play the city a few weeks ago? We must have missed it. Will have to keep our eyes open.
For now, I’m still there, once every couple of months, watching bands new and old, tear up the stage with immense riffs and pummeling the audience with massive beats. Except I’m just the guy standing further back, out of the crowds, checking my phone and hoping for an early night.
And that’s okay.