I go to heavy metal concerts a lot, which to some people means I get depressed/angry, put on white face paint and a black shirt, then sacrifice some variety of livestock to Satan. As much as I hate to disappoint people, metal shows rarely involve any animal fatalities save for some overly ambitious insect life. Still, the problem remains that many don’t have any idea what sort of experience to expect at a metal show. So rather than my usual tactic of making grunting noises and shuffling off to brood, I’ll try to set the stage, as it were.
The first problem usually involves people’s lack of familiarity with the wide variety of metal bands. Occasionally, after I mention to everyone, including strangers, that I’m going to a concert, people will ask me what band I’m going to see, although the chances of them recognizing the band is about as likely as an octopus inventing a software company while belching the White album in its entirety. I end up naming the band, albeit with poorly disguised arrogance, which doesn’t do a whole lot for my social appeal, but I was never much good at that whole social thing anyway (according to all my non-friends, anyway). That’s the moment when people nod and make a curious variety of noises that I can only assume means “tell me everything you know about the band in excruciating detail.” Mostly because they’re so embarrassed that they didn’t know all this information beforehand, they start saying things like, “No, really, I don’t need to know anymore,” “I’m not really into that kind of music,” and “I’m calling the police.”
In the end, not many people listen to heavy metal, much less attend the concerts, so they don’t really know what goes on at these events. However, because I’m an enviable example of normalcy, I will dispel the baseless rumors and enlighten a world that’s clearly hungry for my accumulated knowledge.
For starters, the shows tend to be at smaller venues, like back alleys and morgues. As with other concerts, people tend to show up early, although at heavy metal shows passersby see lines of people donning heavy metal gear, i.e. a lot of black shirts and a variety of chain-based attire that does little to help me convince others that normal people listen to metal. The aforementioned passersby, out of a combination of disgust and unease, attempt to strike up conversations that they hope will last until they’re out of eyeshot and earshot. They’ll mumble things to their friends like “that’s that headbanging music” or “I haven’t been to church in five years” before attempting to communicate with the people in line. The non-metal people often lead with the ever popular “Who are you going to see?” probably because they feel that breaking eye contact to look at the marquee may result in an act of ritual sacrifice, and also because they don’t how to use “whom” properly (if only I was in a position to correct such errors).
After several rounds of such intellect-expanding conversation, the doors open, and we shuffle in like cattle at feeding time. Merchandise stands tend to be right inside the lobby, selling CDs, various apparels, and the souls of everyone who asked questions on the sidewalk.
Once you’ve purchased the appropriate apparel (black shirts depicting some angry creature looking angrily at no one in particular), you go to the standing area.
Now, metal concerts can get a bit on the rowdy side—though not as much as Italian operas. To help contain the pent up energy of the incoming metalheads, the venues hire security guards, all of whom look like they’ve just been ordered to translate War and Peace into Egyptian hieroglyphics before the evening ends. They stand at the front of the stage, facing the crowd, with looks of abject misery and despair as they rethink every life choice that brought them to this point. They know that a few songs in they’ll have to deal with the crowd surfers.
I’ve never actually taken part in crowd surfing (except at a few prom dances that got a bit out of hand). I’ll perhaps never understand how one’s enjoyment of a concert is elevated by having strangers lift you up and “surf” you to the front of the stage on the arms of extremely sweaty men, who, by lifting you up, allow the glorious aroma of their collective underarms to waft upwards into one’s unsuspecting nostrils.
Regardless, security’s job is to make sure that once these crowd surfers get to the front of the stage they do not plummet to the concrete floor, thus ending the crowd surfer’s enjoyment of the show and the career of the security guard.
A lot of these crowd surfers tend to be what I’d term “super fans.” While the definition of such a concertgoer is perhaps not needed, I’ll do it anyway because this nugget of information will benefit you at a job interview one day. Super fans are not inherently dangerous, although some of them do have the glint of insanity creeping into their eyes that you’ll see with taxi drivers on occasion. All in all, the super fan is a guy who has gotten an inordinately large tattoo of the band’s logo on his inordinately hairy back—a tattoo he’ll show you with minimal provocation, i.e. you’re standing within ten feet of him and are somewhat human-shaped. Given the esoteric nature of his existence, he doesn’t so much engage in conversation as unload his life story and how the band stopped him from going on a rampage. Then, after mistaking your uncomfortable laughter as a sign of camaraderie, he’ll energetically inform you that he cannot wait to mosh.
For the uninitiated, “moshing” is when all the sweaty guys run into each other repeatedly, pushing anyone in their way into someone else even sweatier. A lot of metal bands tend to think the crowd is indifferent to their existence unless the crowd puts itself in physical danger at repeated intervals. To break the monotony of “regular” mosh pits, bands will liven things up by inviting the audience to create offshoots of mosh pits, such as the “circle pit” or the “wall of death.” Circle pits are a really hard core version of ring around the rosy, except no one holds hands and no one is supposed to fall down. The “wall of death” is a bit less complex. If you’ve ever seen a drunk person run into a wall, it’s kind of like that, except with a lot less precision. The crowd splits in two, then each side runs into the other with the intention of simulating a typical political discussion.
So in the end, if you’re not convinced that heavy metal concerts are worth it, I’d suggest perfecting your ring around the rosy technique.
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