Every 25th post, darkadaptedeye takes a planned break from normal business to plumb the shallow depths of its author’s psyche and/or overtly explore the locked attic of memories it only ever really dabbles in otherwise. You might think of it as a pit stop, or maybe a soft reboot. In “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King termed his own such digression “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”, which I choose to think was kind of charming. Please know I take seriously the challenge of making patent self-indulgence interesting – actual results be damned – and I appreciate you being game. We’ll return to our irregularly scheduled programming shortly…
I traveled to my first ever concert, even if that only involved driving twenty minutes to a neighboring town. I was twelve at the time, eyes wide and overwhelmed, senses primed for meltdown, attention seemingly focused everywhere at once and dutifully lip-synching along to the “hits” even as I struggled to pick words out of the all-encompassing sonic wash. The act in question – whose identity, assuming you don’t already know it, you will only learn from my deathbed – hardly warranted such excitement, but I was content with what I had to work with. That wouldn’t always be the case. The only person in the building that night who might’ve been more at a loss than I was, though still a trooper, was my mother. We hadn’t forgotten to bring ear plugs, see. We hadn’t known to bring them in the first place, and the din was both piercing and punishing to the unprepared. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but still never warranted another parental shuttling and chaperone. Given the severely limited musical cache of my Tennessee home town, I rarely got the chance anyway.
I also traveled to my second ever concert, with my best friend soon after we moved into our freshman dorm at college. That was my first of many trips out of state to see a show. I discovered that night that I actually kinda loved to travel, at least when pretty sorority girls and awesome music enlivened the end of the line. That latter end has remained my preferred and frequent destination, even as I aged my way out of all reasonable consideration for the former. I traveled to my third ever concert as well, with two friends I’m happy to say still loom large in my life, albeit from the background. That matter of dear but absent friends has become another recurring theme in my concert-going life. This third concert was technically, miraculously, a hometown show, though by that time I was living at school twenty minutes away in the same neighboring town I attended my first, several years earlier…so I still had to hit the road. No matter where I went, no matter what I did, it seemed I always had to travel to concerts. And I immediately loved going to concerts – as much, it would turn out, as almost anything else in my life – so, to me, getting there was just part of the admission price.
Throughout the remaining 1990s, I drove deeper into Tennessee, up into Virginia, and down into Georgia and both Carolinas, usually road-tripping with one trusted partner in crime but occasionally winging it, never particularly lamenting the state of affairs. I was content with what I had to work with. Moreover, I had always been an indoor kid by nature, and, as such, these trips felt like adventures to me. I personally find a palpable sense of romance to being out on the road on the way to my latest concert destination. Miles tick by as a handpicked soundtrack plays at the perfect volume, setting the mood and stoking anticipation. My friends and I have always thought of the extended pre-show lead up in terms of cramming for an exam. I listen to a healthy variety of music, yet am obviously limited in the shows I can see by both logistics and fickle fate, so sometimes more prep-work is necessary than others. Sometimes I zone out. More often, my mind is on fire.* Either way, the miles tick by, the soundtrack is a steady hand, and the road opens up before me.
*For one thing, I almost always have a song, or two, or some ridiculous homemade mashup of them, rattling around or inexplicably stuck in my head. So I’m at least grateful to roadtrips for allowing me the ability to choose the songs I impose on my uncooperative brain during the long, lean stretches, instead of the other way around.
I moved from my sleepy hometown of 50,000 to the 15th largest city in America at the end of 1999, and that act precipitated a seismic shift in my concert-going possibilities while, surprisingly, having little effect on my established concert-going habits. Ohio’s state motto is “The Heart of it All”, and its capital city, Columbus, might as well be known as “The Heart of the Heart of it All”, given its central location. I ended up traveling just as much from this new base of operations as I ever had – south to Cincinnati and its plush, North Kentucky suburbs; north to Cleveland and its weird, time warp-stricken badlands; further north to Detroit, where I once received the highly specific advice to avoid parking at a KFC near the venue “or else your car will be stripped”; east to Pittsburgh; west to Dayton; further west to Indianapolis and its outliers. On occasion, I even returned to Tennessee, where my original running buddy lived and carried the torch for concert-going as fiercely as he had in our olden times together. I feverishly plotted next moves and deftly balanced or evaded scheduling difficulties, even as I saw a metric ton of varied and fairly terrific concerts – my share, your share and that guy over there’s share, combined. Por ejemplo…
I saw Testament (with the all-star The Gathering configuration in full effect) and surprise guest The Haunted at Cleveland’s Agora Theater in 1999, and met guitarist James Murphy and 3/5 of The Haunted while just strolling around. Still the best metal show I’ve ever seen.
I saw Iron Maiden for the first time ever in my first ever visit to Pittsburgh, or at least its outskirts. Don’t know if I’ve spent any two-hour stretch in my life feeling higher than I did that night. I saw them again later that summer, and then every third year for a lovely ten-year stretch.
I saw The Dave Matthews Band twenty times if I saw them once, once in a baseball stadium, once in a soccer stadium, and four times playing two-night residencies in my hometown. Each night was something special, whether I saw them alone or with a friend.
I saw Bruce Springsteen level what was then Cleveland’s Gund Arena at a 2004 political fundraiser, validating almost every piece of hyperbole I’d ever heard about him in the process. The Boss played for nearly three hours. R.E.M. was the opener.
I saw nine inch nails five times, all marvelous, on three tours, in three cities. Each time, I harkened back instinctively to 1994, when I saw them in what I still think of as the single greatest show I’ve ever witnessed. That one was true sensory overload, and hurtled me irrevocably forward along my concert-going path – the perfect cap to a year that saw me fall in love with my college sweetheart and with playing the drums in one of the 1000 greatest garage metal bands you never heard. Earlier that year, of course, I’d seen Rush for the first time. My vantage point was a hundred yards away, across an NBA arena in Charlotte, NC, and I don’t think my feet touched the ground all night.
After twenty years of fandom, I finally saw Rush for a second time, and three more times thereafter. I remember the very air tasting sweet from anticipation. A decade+ later I saw them play Moving Pictures front to back, and that wasn’t even the highlight of the night.
NOTE: 800 words of addt’l detail ahoy. Consider skipping ahead, or else take a deep breath…
I also saw “Weird Al” Yankovic play an amphitheater, several, um, indoor theaters, and one rock club. I saw 311 and Slipknot each play sold out, elaborately constructed shows in parking lots, plus numerous traditional shows since. I saw a defiant, reformed Alice in Chains headline a radio festival in Dayton. I saw Bad Religion FINALLY rock a tiny club show after over decade of impatient fandom. I saw Behemoth six or more times – on all manner of metal package tours, including a 10-band extravaganza that sprung to life as the serendipitous (and exhausting) intersection of two competing tours – before I ever saw them headline, and then I saw them headline. I saw Black Dahlia Murder open their own half dozen shows before I finally saw them headline. I saw Cannibal Corpse headline tour after tour, the first and most recent times of which with Lamb of God as direct support, in incarnations a dozen years apart. I finally saw Carcass on their cash grab reunion tour and then, five years later, as conquering heroes supporting a terrific new album. I saw Clutch a dozen times if I saw them once, and every time was something special. I saw The Decemberists headline an indoor pavilion show so sold out I had to stand behind a steel girder for some of it and watch on the big screen. I saw Dream Theater do Scenes from a Memory in total in Cincinnati. I saw Dying Fetus in Bowling Green and was utterly blown away, then shot pool with the drummer when I saw them the next year in Cincinnati. I saw Flogging Molly play a cornucopia of concert venues over the course of a dozen different shows, from dingy club to daylight festival tent to twilight soccer stadium. I saw Foo Fighters hold the Nationwide Arena in the palm of their hands. I saw Frightened Rabbit shimmer from ten yards away. I saw Gorguts play three times and came away with three separate sprained wrists, sore from shaking the hand of gregarious frontman Luc Lemay. I saw The Hold Steady thrice, Immolation five times, plus Japandroids and J.Roddy Walston. I saw Kiss on their 2000 “Farewell Tour” (15 years later, I’m keen to see them again). I saw Katatonia and Kvelertak rock the hell out of two of the tiniest venues I’ve ever entered. I saw Machine Head open entirely too many shows. I saw Manson and Megadeth thrice each, including one glorious evening where they played Rust in Peace from front to back. I saw Misery Index twice as a fly on the speaker wall, and got to say hello afterward each time. I saw Motorhead in the aftermath of a crippling windstorm, not to mention all the other times. I saw Muse demolish the same indoor pavilion twice, back when they were unquestionably instead of passingly amazing. I saw Napalm Death take over a billiard hall, had pre-show cocktails with Barney Greenway and stood approximately an inch apart from and below Mitch Harris all night. I saw The New Pornographers play in multiple college towns with multiple lineups. I saw Overkill once in Florida and a half dozen times in Ohio, including one show where I learned so much about the physics of crowdsurfing. I saw Pantera on their final tour, with Morbid Angel opening. I saw Pearl Jam a couple times, once indoor and once out, and caught the reconstituted cash grab Pixies during what turned out to be the waning days of the Kim Deal Administration. I saw Primus on five separate tours, and every time but one Les almost stopped the show because someone threw a shoe onstage. I saw Portugal The Man in Tennessee. I saw Queensryche and Queens of the Stone Age, Rancid and The Rapture. I saw Sepultura headline two of the most potentially hazardous club shows of my lifetime, once with Biohazard (natch.) and once with Hatebreed. I saw Slayer during a crippling windstorm, not to mention all the other times. I saw Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots both reunite spectacularly, then saw the Pumpkins again for good measure. I saw Tool and Meshuggah on the Thursday after 9/11. I saw Southern Culture on the Skids a dozen times if I saw them once, in four cities in three states, and every time was something special. I saw a dozen shows in the month of August 2000 alone, perhaps as some unannounced joint “welcome” festival and statewide celebration of my birthday. I saw all the above and many more. I suppose some were more memorable than others. I’ll be kicking myself later, no doubt. [thinks] No, I never did see No Doubt.
NOTE: …and exhale.
Some folks become married fathers young. I can’t fault them. This is merely how I’ve chosen to spend my life.
It’s been a good run so far.
The difference, after arriving in Ohio just in time for Y2K, was that I was finally able to augment all my periodic road trips with shows held in town. I began to covet the nights I could hope to see something amazing and still get a full night’s sleep, under my own roof, starting and ending, magically, within my own city limits. Maybe this change, after so many years of hard-charging through the darkness in pursuit of the next show, was a little too stark. Maybe the downtime became a little too sweet. As my friends have started becoming fathers, and duties for us have encroached on all sides, for all concerned, I’ve noticed myself shrinking back just a little. One of my most trusted comrades has lived in Knoxville, TN for years. The other moved his family to Tampa, FL in late 2013. That was a rough transition that I did not handle particularly well. I miss them both, though I still see them on rare occasions. I also miss it, this passion that has done so much to help enrich and define me. I feel I’ve paid it annoyingly short shrift in their absence. Then again, I’ve also been to my share of shows alone…my share and your share and his share over in the corner. It’s only ever so fun. Just because you’re present doesn’t mean there’s not also something missing, and in 2014, what was missing most often was me. That’s reflected in the paucity of concert reviews posted to this blog over the course of the year. More times than I care to recall in 2014, I had a chance to go to a show, invariably alone, and simply chose not to. If a friend was going, so was I. If not, it was a struggle. I was always conflicted in the moment, and felt my head and heart at cross purposes on the question for the first real times in my life…but my friends had moved away, or were busy, or uninterested, or I was, or the trip was possible without being all that logistically feasible. When it was both, believe me, I stormed my way right across or out of town, with a surprising lack of second-guessing for someone who had suddenly begun feeling tightness in his chest on those opportunities when the equation was altogether simpler. Too many times, I stayed at home regretfully instead of venturing out alone. I never intended for that to be my final stance on the matter. Happily, it already seems unlikely to be.
Concert-going has not just been a passion for me. For twenty+ years, it has, for all intents and purposes, been the passion. I’ve loved rock concerts from the time I was twelve, from the time I first saw Van Halen’s Live without a Net and Maiden’s Live After Death on MTV. I love walking into a venue and running reconnaissance. I love checking out the band merch and people watching. I love the murmur of the crowd, and pre-show conversation with a friend. I love poring over the stage setup, running the drum configuration through the computer in my mind, watching roadies flitting about like worker bees. I love the smell of smoke machine smoke. I love the sharp anticipatory chill in that bottomless interval in between the moment when the house lights snuff out and the show finally begins. I love banging my head and air drumming and yelling my fool head off. I love the viscosity of live music, the grubby, electric feel of it as it unfurls from the stage in wave after wave. I love the push/pull attraction between artist and audience. I love the act of playing rock music, which I know from imbalanced experience as both musician and witness, is one part religious offering and one part high wire act. What, I ask you, could ideally be more thrilling, no matter on which side of the stage you’re situated? I love discussing the show on the way home, or occasionally over a midnight snack or late night beer. I love the artist I saw even more the next day. And I still love the open road, or at least I unequivocally did before I moved so far away from home that the only way to see my family and far-flung friends was to hit it hard. I conservatively estimate that I’ve logged well over 65,000 miles just in the service of traveling to see friends and family in Tennessee since I moved away from them. It was never them I was moving away from in the first place, so I feel the gift of my intermittent, in-person presence in their lives is not simply mandatory, but also sorta the least I can do. Still, it wears you out to a certain extent. The romance of the road, once so intoxicating, inexorably fades.
2014 was a challenging year for me, filled to the brim with shit and mystery, if you’ll pardon the phrase. I’ve done a lot of ruminating in recent months. I hate the realization that, by my standards, I became something of a shut-in. The bands I loved simply weren’t touring, or else they weren’t touring near me. I did make a throwback effort on several occasions, but 2014 still counts as my least active concert-going year since very near the beginning, back during a time when I had neither the financial resources nor geographic advantages I currently do. I shudder to think how I might’ve been, or felt, or passed the time, if I hadn’t made this new writing platform available. It was always my intention to fill its pages with a bevy of happy new tales from the gallery or the pit, or the balcony, or the railing right up front. It was a year of missed opportunities. Lately I’ve allowed myself an occasional moment’s pause to reflect, albeit with some interloping song always jammed into my head, and, little by little, have conditioned myself to stop endlessly fretting over the shows I didn’t see. Instead, I wanted to profess thankfulness for what I did see in 2014, the majority of which is documented on this site in one way or other, because I am grateful. I’ve never enjoyed making New Year’s resolutions, mostly because all you really have to do to break one is nothing, and I’m kind of a master at that. (To wit, it only took me three years to actually start a blog, after first resolving to in 2011.) This year, however, I made it as official as possible, though no notary was present. I resolved, with my whole heart, to attend more shows, and better shows, by hook, by crook, by plane, train or automobile, hopefully in more far-flung places with more amazing people, but also alone whenever need be. Because this time I’ve been treating like the ultimate luxury item is still nothing I get back. I’d so much rather fill it with good memories and great music than weak sauce and mumbled regrets.
There is, surprisingly, ample open road ahead of me as I grudgingly enter my fourth decade on Earth, and am I ever happy about it. I sing a song here in praise of unlimited mileage, both physical and metaphorical. If fortune favors the foolish, I’ll be seeing a show each of the next three weekends – beginning this one – two with friends and one with family. In the process, I’ll get to revisit a beloved old haunt (Cleveland’s Agora), visit an exotic-sounding (for the Midwest) new club in a previous destination (the Egyptian Room in Indy), and even explore an entirely new city (Richmond, VA, maybe fitting in a brunch trip to Gwar-Bar!). The bands I want to see have all apparently picked 2015 to return the favor in kind. I have trips already planned or formulating to Detroit, back to Indianapolis, and down to Knoxville. I patently refuse to not visit Tampa at least once, and am thrilled that ten or so hometown shows are either firmly on my radar or already written in ink on my calendar, including a couple that I’m hopeful might inspire far-flung friends to travel north to actually see me. Bands are forever updating their plans, and some of them might even include me. Frankly, some of them I’ll be a party to whether that was the original plan or not. 2014 was my mulligan year. In 2015, I’m going to shoot par, if not bust it altogether…and, remember, par for me, on this one matter, is pretty damned good. It’s unrealistic to think that the artists I love most, in spite of their heretofore heroic work ethics and iron constitutions, are going to be able to continue to tour as they have for years to come. I know I should treasure them and their efforts, along with this indispensable aspect of myself that encourages me to celebrate and commune with them, immediately, completely, and gratefully. Suddenly I want nothing more than to get in my car right now and speed off toward the horizon, with music as both my destination and steady hand. Soon enough, I know, I will.
Friends, let me hear you…and let me hear from you. Many thanks, always, on both counts.
Previously on ABC Family: