21 and over
A few weeks before S’s departure for Manila, D spent a weekend in New York to see friends and bid farewell to the city he’s always called home. D had planned the trip months in advance to coincide with his favorite band’s three-night stand at a small venue in the far-flung reaches of Brooklyn. When he had conceived of the visit, we had thought we’d be traveling to the Philippines together. Even with the benefit of hindsight and our imminent separation looming, however, it is unlikely that D would have missed seeing the Slackers take a leisurely stroll through their extensive career catalogue.
The third night of the Slackfest – when the band played their deep cuts – marked the 19th time D had seen them play. It was also the 462nd show D had attended in nearly 21 years of concert-going. The number, though not round, is significant. Averaged over 21 years, D has been to 22 shows each year, and this includes long stretches (three years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and our tours in Kenya, Rwanda, and Moldova) when there was no easily accessible live music of the kind D lives for. Since that show in mid-May, D has now been to 22 more concerts this summer, ensuring that for the next year, at least, that average will be maintained even if D does not see a single show in Manila, which seems likely.
The milestone is also a cruel reminder of the passage of time. D’s first concert was the Revenge of the Dysfunctional Family Picnic – a star-studded all-day festival organized by New York’s alternative rock radio station. This was at the end of May 1998, which means that D’s earliest concert memories are now old enough to order drinks of their own.
At the Warped Tour this summer, D was chatting with a 17-year-old kid who was excited to see Blink-182 play for the sixth or seventh time. “Yeah, I’ve seen them as many times,” D mused, “But the last time was probably about 17 years ago.” Sobering thought!
A lot has changed over those 21 years, some things for the better and others for the worse. It’s great to see more bands call people in the crowd out for harassment, for example. Mosh pits feel more inclusive as a result.
The proliferation of smart phones, on the other hand, has made some concerts – especially at larger venues – unbearable, as too many people seem more focused on taking selfies and live-streaming their presence at the show than on the bands performing on stage. It kills the vibe and brings back nostalgia for the days when bouncers used to pat people down to ensure that even single-use cameras did not make it into the venue.
The nostalgia runs particularly deep every time D goes to a show in New York. Of the larger venues that defined D’s adolescence, only Irving Plaza remains standing, rebranded long ago as “The Fillmore at Irving Plaza.” Gone are Roseland and Hammerstein ballrooms. Gone too are most of the smaller venues, like the Wetlands and CBGB’s, that for decades were meccas of the New York music scene. And though new venues have opened up in Manhattan, much of the scene has migrated to the outer boroughs, Brooklyn in particular.
Many of the hallmarks of those early days have likewise been confined to the dustbin of history. No more waiting in line at the venue box office for particularly sought after tickets to go on sale – now one has to battle with online bots to snag a ticket before a show sells out. No more merch teams crowding the exits to distribute promo tapes, flyers, and band stickers. And an increasing number of venues seem to be cracking down on moshing, crowdsurfing, and stagediving in a bid to protect the audience and avoid lawsuits – which, effective though it may be, definitely dampens the spirit at a good punk show.
The other big change for D has been the blurring of the line between fandom and friendship. Even during the Wetlands heyday when D would see the same band over and over at the tiny club – where the stage was knee-high, there was no pit crew, and dancing on the stage with the band and diving off the stage into the crowd was a cherished part of each show – D hardly ever interacted with the bands, other than to thank them for a particularly energetic set. Nowadays, with DC and its much smaller scene serving as D’s home base, he has fallen into personal acquaintance with many of his favorite musicians.
With just a few more weeks left stateside, D has about a dozen more shows on his radar – not enough to crack 500, but enough to push the number of bands he has seen above 800 (the counter currently stands at 797 artists, of which D has seen 229 more than once). When life gives you lemons, squeeze them into your cocktail and enjoy the show.
Photos, top to bottom: The Slackers @ Kingsland Ballroom, NYC (1&2); Flogging Molly @ The Fillmore, Silver Spring (3); H2O (4) and Doped-Up Dollies (5) @ The Warped Tour, Atlantic City; Gogol Bordello @ Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore (6); The Specials 40th Anniversary Tour @ The Fillmore, Silver Spring (7); Bumpin’ Uglies @ The Fillmore, Silver Spring (8); The Forwards @ Ottobar, Baltimore (9); The Movielife @ The Rock-n-Roll Hotel, DC (10); Desorden Publico @ Tropicalia, DC (11); The Fuss @ Songbyrd, DC (12); Panteon Rococo @ Howard Theater, DC (13).