Last night I went to see Rise Against and Alkaline Trio in concert and I'm still buzzing from the experience. Especially the Rise Against part because I'd never managed to see them live. Both are Chicago punk bands who are relatively successful (um, I hear them on the radio a lot at least and that's my gauge), and seeing hometown band play always makes for the best concert IMHO because the crowd is extra pumped. Actually part of the crowd was kinda lame, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Concerts have always been a huge part of my life. They were pretty much the highlight of my teenage years. Back then I went to one a week, sometimes more. Seriously. I managed to do this because there was a great punk venue in Chicago called the Fireside Bowl, that had shows almost every day of the week and they were like 5$ or so, affordable even though I only made 4.75/hr bagging groceries at the time. You've probably heard me talk about the Fireside before because my author photo is taken in front of it (an outtake from that photo session is to the left, now it is just a regular bowling alley, but back in the 90s band names would have been on that marquee). It was part of my inspiration for River's Edge in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and my characters from my next book Ballads of Suburbia (which is available for pre-order on Amazon now, woo hoo!) go to shows there a lot too. In fact, instead of telling you about it, I will let Kara, my main character from Ballads, tell you about it:
We could usually find parking a block or so from the Fireside. That first night, we parked just around the corner, across from the scraggly grass of a small park. The show was already going on, so we wouldn't have to wait in line outside amongst a bunch of other dirty punks with Mohawks and liberty spikes and every color of hair. You didn't get advance tickets to Fireside shows, you just showed up, and if the band was one you knew everyone was going to be excited about, you showed up really early, claiming your spot on the grubby concrete, which you would trade in for your place right in front of the band. If you got there early enough, you would probably see the band loading their equipment in. There was no stage entrance, no backstage, not even a real stage, absolutely no border between audience and band and no implication that they were somehow better than you, just louder and sometimes more talented. Just people. It was totally the way a show should be.
We saw all kinds of bands there over the next year. Punk bands and hardcore bands and ska bands and grindcore bands and grrrl bands. The first show was a bunch of local bands, some who would go on to be in bands that would be something in the punk sense at least and some who probably grew up and got real jobs, but that was how it went. And honestly, I was so overwhelmed by the experience itself that the music that night was just background noise.
The Fireside itself is rather surreal, especially when you approach it for the first time while stoned. The side of building looks like it’s covered in giant, red and white tiles from someone’s scuffed, tacky kitchen floor. A large, red bowling pin looms above the doorway, stating redundantly, “Bowling,” and, though I’m sure the sign is secured well, due to the worn state of the establishment, the threat of it crashing down seems eminent.
We passed beneath it, paid our five bucks, got our hands marked so that supposedly we couldn’t drink—Adrian had a beer in his mitts within minutes—and emerged into the bowling alley. It seriously was still a bowling alley. The bands played right by the first two lanes and sometimes people bowled at the other end while the show went on.
So that was the Fireside (and a sneak preview of my book, I guess). I saw Slapstick, a band that would go on to spawn Alkaline Trio and a bunch of other bands (the Chicago punk scene is prolific and kind of incestuous, all the bands seem to be related somehow as you can see here in the Slapstick family tree) at the Fireside on a few occasions (and whenever I hear Alkaline Trio on Q101, I laugh a little bit remembering Slapstick's song "Alternative Radio," which has some pretty choice words for that station) and I've seen Alkaline Trio a few times over the past couple years. I never saw Rise Against in their early years which makes me sad because I imagine their live shows were probably much more intense and fun than the one I saw last night.
The reason I put concerts at such a high priority is because back in 1993 when I was 14 years old, I asked my parents if I could see my favorite band Nirvana. They said I'd already spent too much money on concert tickets that season (I think I was going to see Smashing Pumpkins and Urge Overkill as well), so I could see Nirvana when they toured in the summer. Well, Kurt Cobain killed himself six months later so I never got to see my favorite band. I never let my parents say no to a concert again. Bands are volatile. They break up. Tragedies happen. I don't want to miss out on another experience of a lifetime.
Since then I've managed to see every band I wanted to except the Distillers (I missed one show because I had tickets to see REM that night and then the Distillers canceled the show I had tickets to) and up until this point I kept missing Rise Against for one reason or another. So I was hyped for this show. Unbelievably hyped. I complained that the opening bands were taking too long and so were the set changes (if you've read my book, you know I have no patience for those) and when lights went down and the banner dropped that said Rise, I rose, screaming and cheering..... And I was one of three people on the balcony in the Congress Theatre who did so.
Uh yeah. I'm 29 and I spent my teenage years getting crushed in the front row and bruising myself up in the pit and crowd-surfing and all that jazz, so now I go in the balcony where I can see and breathe and sit until the main band comes up. I saw Social Distortion (who is a band I see religiously every time they come to town) at the Congress with my fellow old-and-lame balcony-sitting friends and when Social D came on, everyone including us stood up and we danced in the aisles and it was all good. And let me tell you, the Social D audience was much older than the Rise Against audience, but this time I watched in horror as some dude a few rows behind one of the other girls who stood up actually walked down and yelled at her for standing up and blocking his view. What???!!!! It's a concert! Get off your lazy butt and dance! Sickened by this I took my phone out of my pocket and shoved it in my purse along with the necklace I would die if I lost. I told my confused boyfriend, "I'm going down on the floor because these people are freakin' lame. You coming?"
He shook his head so I left my coat and purse with him, went downstairs and started weaving my way through the audience up toward the front where people were moving and dancing and sweating and pumping their fists and shouting their hearts out along with Tim, the singer of Rise Against. I found a spot and jumped up and down and screamed and sweated and danced in the middle of the chaos like I used too. It wasn't nearly as chaotic as it was back at the tiny Fireside Bowl and while I seriously considered crowd-surfing and/or moshing I decided against it since I haven't done either thing in nearly 10 years. Eventually I went back upstairs and retrieved my boyfriend and insisted he come have a real concert experience too.
It was beautiful though I definitely wished I was at a smaller club to intensify the experience, but I get to see my new favorite band, Civet, at a tiny club in two weeks. I'm looking forward to it like I did as a teen. I mean now it is rare for me to see a concert once a month, so to go again so soon is going to be a treat.
What about you? Do you go to a lot of concerts? Any favorites? (Mine was Hole, Veruca Salt and the Geraldine Fibbers at the Metro in October 1994.) Any bands you are dying to see live?