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Friday, November 21, 2008

Going to the Punk Rock Show

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?


Sarah Quigley said...

How funny that you mentioned not getting to see Nirvana back in 1993 because that was my very first concert. I was seventeen and was not yet allowed to travel to the Twin Cities by myself (I grew up in a tiny town 70 miles away), so my mom took me and my boyfriend. I'm not sure what my mom was planning to do during the concert, but we had a meeting spot designated for after the show. My boyfriend and I found our nosebleed seats at Shonen Knife played their opening set, and I could hardly see the band because we were so high up and far off to the side. The Breeders played next, and they were fantastic. During the intermission, I went to the bathroom and ran into my mom! She told me that one of the security guys had let her in without a ticket. I complained about our lousy seats, and she said, "Let's go find better ones. It's not like everyone stays in their assigned seats." Being a concert virgin, I didn't know that, but I took her word for it. I went back and got my boyfriend and we were able to score some kick-ass seats right in the center balcony. The show was brilliant, but I think I was even more in awe of my mom that night.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

OMG I am so unbelievably jealous I cannot even begin to tell you. Thanks for sharing your experience though because then I get to live vicariously. And dude, how cool is your mom!!! Awesome!

Liviania said...

I haven't gone to that many shows despite living part time in a city (or two) with a wonderful music scene.

My favorite so far was seeing the Dropkick Murphys (w/Everybody Out and Big D and the Kids Table) at Stubbs BBQ. My dad took a friend and me for my birthday present. We stood at the line dividing the mosh pit from the rest of the crowd because my friend definitely wasn't the mosh type and I'm only so-so at it. Of course, when the Dropkick Murphys took the stage the mosh pit expanded and we spent several songs in it. (I accidentally shoved a man to the ground. He was probably off-balance because I wasn't that forceful.) The best moment in the crowd was when a guy kept bumping into my friend so I shoved him for her. He turned around ready to fight . . . but patted her on the head and apologized upon noticing we were two fairly small girls.

The music was, of course, fabulous. It was great to be right there while they played so many songs I loved. Plus, it was a fun crowd! Everyone was pumped - if they didn't dance they at least bounced in time. I love that energy.

Second on my list is probably the CAKE concert I attended. My roommate nearly won a tree. I both got us lost and nearly wrecked driving us there. (There was a TREE in the middle of the FREEWAY. Not the tree she almost won though. I never realized how many trees were involved in this story before.)

Trish Doller said...

When I lived in Ohio, I was almost exactly an hour from downtown Cleveland, so it was easy to hop in the car and hit a show the Agora, or the Grog Shop, or Peabody's. Now I'm living in Florida in a place that's at least two hours from anywhere that has a venue where the bands I like to see play, so I don't get to concert as often as I did "back home".

As far as a favorite goes, there are some that stand out in my head. GBH. The Business. And, yeah, Social Distortion is always a good one. My favorite show, though, is probably The Slackers.

Trish Doller said...

I was one of those teenagers whose parents wouldn't let her go to concerts. So I didn't start seeing shows until the mid-to-late 80s. Hair bands. It was awful. My best concert years have actually been since I've had kids. Before we moved to Florida, we were almost exactly an hour from downtown Cleveland, so we'd hop in the car and drive over to the Agora, or the Grog Shop, or Peabody's to catch a show. I miss that, because down here we have to drive at least two hours to see good bands.

As far as favorites go... GBH, The Business, Agnostic Front, Madball all rank pretty high. But my favorite show would have to be my favorite band, no matter where they play: The Slackers.

Danielle Joseph said...

Steph, I love the question! One of my favorite concerts was when I was sixteen and saw The Cure. At the time Robert Smith claimed that it was going to be his last tour, so I was excited to be part of it. And the best part was that we went in full makeup and sprayed our hair different colors. I am really looking forward to Ballads, it sounds like my type of book!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for sharing all these concert memories with me guys! I love them all!

Vivi Anna said...

Oh, yup, that's all I did when I was teen. I went to gigs. Every week just about as well.

In Calgary in the 80's there was a pretty good punk scene, we have a few clubs that had gigs, but most of the bands played community centres. And every single one of the rocked.

I saw a lot of great bands, did lots of moshing, jumped off a speaker and a stage or two, got a bloody nose a few times, I always had a lot of fun.

I saw GnR when they were nobodies. I had a smoke with Axel Rose, I still remember the little shorts, white tank top and brown cowboy boots he wore, and his link dirty blond hair hanging in his face.

Good times!