The circumstance: Stella and I got these tickets to see Pierce the Veil with All Time Low back in, what, January? At first, she was aghast that I was going to go with. Who the hell wants to go to a real concert (not some teeny bopper crap) with their mom? (Who wants to go to some teeny bopper crap anyway, but that's beside the point). I went into "Mom" mode quickly: "You are NOT going to the Rave by yourself or any of your similarly-aged friends by yourselves," I made clear. "Shit, *I* don't like to go to the Rave by myself. As a matter of fact, I prefer to go to the Rave with your father -- and at least four other guys who are built like your father." That's the problem with having a punk rock mom. You can't bullshit her. She will know exactly what's going on, unlike my mother who had no clue just what went on in the Aragon Brawlroom back when I went to see bands there.
Still, Stella and her girlfriends packed into the back seat of the car and begged me to pay the $25 to park in that lot just South of the Rave, because, as the doors opened at 5:30, and we didn't even leave the house until 6ish, we were already late as it was and can't we just park.... For cryin' out loud, mom, you're not going to find a parking place better. "Here, we'll all chip in for this parking," they all agreed. No way. It's not the money. It's the principle of the thing. I'd rather park downtown and take the bus in rather than give this guy $25 to park in a glass-strewn lot that he's just going to walk away from onve he's filled it. To their surprise (and, admittedly, mine), I found a spot just a block north on24th Street. Leading three bottles of soda pop (otherwise known as teenage girls) ready to explode down the street , we approached the venue. Walked in, got frisked, and to my ears' horror, realized this show was NOT in "The President's Room" (or whatever the hell it's called now). No, this was in that acoustic nightmare called the Ballroom. Oh dear god, where the hell are my high end filters? Well, maybe it won't be so bad, I thought to myself. (Brian said later: "The only time I ever heard good sound in that ballroom was when King Crimson was there back in the 80s" and I'd replied, "Well, that was probably because Fripp got there at 7 in the morning and worked on acoustics all freakin' day.") I swear to God, we've gotten old and grizzled.
The girls were clearly pissed off that we'd gotten there so darn late. There was already a huge crowd around the stage, so just to prove a point, I told them to follow me and I made it about halfway into the soon-to-be mosh pit before they decided it was too hot in there to stand for awhile. "Don't worry, once the band starts, if you want to be next to the stage, you will be." We walked out to the perimeter, and my 52-year-old ass decided it was time to sit down on the steps.
The first band, You Me At Six, takes the stage, and a screaming roar greets them, reverberating against that circular plaster ceiling. Damn, this room is harsh, especially when up against thousands of young voices. The band was good. Straight up, somewhat edgy, pop rock band out of England. They got their half hour set with no special effects and I was impressed -- good melodic pop with an edge, catchy songs, crowd-pleasing stage antics without being obnoxious. They knew their place on the bill and they played it. They were followed by another straight up pop/punk band, Mayday Parade, who were more of the same, but they didn't grab me as much. Maybe You Me At Six was just trying harder because, let's face it, everybody just loves being the opening band.
I was actually surprised the next band up was Pierce the Veil, who I thought were the main attraction (if T-Shirts could cast votes, in addition to Stella's opinion). PTV is described as a "post hardcore" band. I'd actually call them a damn good alternative metal band, in the vein of Jane's Addiction but with much more Mexican/hispanic influences, probably due to the leadership of the Fuentes brothers on vocals and drums. Every now and then you hear a touch of flamenco-style flourishes, as well as a bit of Carlos Santana's legacy. Actually, in both live performance and their recordings, I could hear a dash of Die Kreuzen in there as well. Standard light show, and a fairly minimal stage design -- a backdrop with their current logo, and a couple of large representations of circular saw blades painted in ultraviolet paint. But these guys could have just as easily gotten by on musicianship alone. By the middle of their set, Stella and her friends had been absorbed into the crowd and at one point her friends reported to me, "Stella got near the stage and she got stepped on!" "Where is she now?" I asked. "She went back in there....." her friend answsered, "She's crazy!"
"She's not crazy!" I answered, proudly, "That's my grrrrrlllll!" The two others disappeared back into the crowd, and I suddenly was no longer in the Eagles ballroom (as I'd posted on FB:). No, at that moment, I stepped into the Wayback Machine, and there I was, at the Aragon Brawlroom. It's August, 1982 and the Clash are on stage. I'm covered with sweat and mystery bruises and beer (the Aragon sold beer in a biergarden called the Casbah in -- get this -- popcorn buckets, oh, those lasted a long time in the mosh pit) and I've made my way toward the stage and managed to climb up to hang off the edge of it. There's Joe Strummer! The girl next to me hanging on the edge of the stage has a bouquet of socialist-red roses for Joe Strummer and she's handing them to him and in doing so, she's falling off the stage and Strummer thinks they're from me and he kisses my forehead and I fall off the edge of the stage and land next to the girl who is clearly pissed off that I got "credit" for her roses and the band jumps into "Rock the Casbah" and the biergarden goes absolutely apeshit and....
"Mom, could you hold my soda for me? I'm going back in...."
"Did you make it to the stage?"
"Yeah, I crowdsurfed!" And off she goes.... and this crowd knows every lyric to every song by this band. Lead singer Vic Fuentes asks the crowd, "If this is your first concert, lemme hear you!" and more than half the crowd complies. He tells them that he hopes to make it as special as possible, because he knows that for a lot of people here, music can save your life and they want this experience to be memorable. If I didn't already like this band, I love them now. They.Get.It. They get the difference between music being lifesaving and music being wallpaper and they are clearly NOT wallpaper and their fans don't want wallpaper either. Then they jump back into playing what is clearly their hit. I can't tell, because this isn't a band that gets played on the radio for whatever reason. They are too big (and noisy,. and screamo) for the "alternative" stations, too alternative for the metal stations (and also, too young. The HOG isn't going to play them anytime soon) and they're, well, just too damn musically challenging for whatever's being called top 40 these days. They're comfortably under most people's radar, and coupled with their obvious disciplined musicianship, they've totally won me over. Oh my god: which is it? Is it that actually I *like* my kid's music, or am I relieved that my kid is into a good band instead of some lame-o crap that will get covered on American Idol? I think it's both. Stella's having the time of her life, and I'm enjoying this too. I go to the bar and order myself a Goose Island IPA because I can (both age wise and financially - it was nine bucks!) and it goes right through me, so I head to the bathroom and have another flashback.
It's the disgusting bathroom at the Aragon. Disgusting, because while there are a bazillion stalls (as opposed to the four at the Rave), there is at least an inch of water on the floor all over, and as much as I would like to believe this is just water, I know that toilets don't overflow because there is just water in them. I'm making a mental resolution that I'm going to have to buy a new pair of Chuck Taylors, because I am NEVER wearing these again and .....
"Hey, you in the next stall? Is there any toilet paper in there?"
By the end of PTV's full hour set, my ears have actually adjusted to the godawful acoustics. The next band is All Time Low, who are a very good pop punk band, musically in the vein of Green Day, but character-wise, kind of a Goo Goo Dolls, maybe even Dead Milkmen kind of snottyness. I enjoyed them too. They were introduced by a Michael Buffer wannabe, complete with championship belt bellowing " Let's Get Ready To Rumble!" , and lead singer Alex Gaskarth takes the stage wearing boxing gloves. Their songs are well-constructed pop punk ditties, more sophisticated than, say, the Ramones, but they're not dark. PTV can get dark. These guys are all about the knowing smirk, except they do have a heart. The songs even seem to admit this: they are about the standard op topics: love, life, loss, frustration, fun -- but their stage MO has a rough edge, everything's ironic, you-won't-catch-us-off-guard kind of thing. Except that they admit it. At one point in the show, Gaskarth asked the crowd, "Can you all put down your cameras and smart phones for a minute? I understand that you want to capture this memory and remember it, but, can we all just live in the moment for once?" I smiled to myself as the crowd complied and sang along to the slower ballad. Every now and then, I hear crappy manufactured dreck on the radio and I probably sound like some grizzled old fart complaining that "this generation doesn't know how to make great music" but that's wrong. Like every other generation, this one can: you just have to know where to find it. And I'm damn happy Stella has learned that skill. Her generation is is good hands.
I'm just really pissed at myself that I don't have the Clash on my Ipod. I really needed to listen to the Clash on the way home.