There is no truth to the rumor that I haven’t been to a rock concert since they invented the first rock. True, I did see The Beatles live, onstage, at Dodger Stadium, in 1966, back when I was a besotted little tweenie; not even in high school yet. While it turned out to be the next-to-last concert The Beatles ever gave, my concert-going career was just beginning. But after I moved north and (allegedly) grew up, I lost touch with the live music culture.
But our pal Lia Matera is on a mission: to convince people of our age that great music didn’t end with Creedence Clearwater. And since she can’t be discouraged from burning us copies of every song she loves, she’s infected us too.
Thanks to Lia, Art Boy and I are crazy for the band Muse. Our favorite thing is to putter around the house at the end of the workday with the Absolution CD cranked up to 11. So when Lia emailed one morning that she’d just bought us all online tickets to see Muse live in San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic (and that she would drive!) even notorious homebodies like Art Boy and me were jazzed. Still, she almost talked Art Boy out of going, with visions of a giant mosh pit of sweating, drunken 20-year-olds flailing away while monster speakers splintered our eardrums. (Earplugs required, she told us.)
Since I hadn’t been to a rock concert in longer than anyone in Muse has been alive, I asked if they’d rope us off in the geriatric section, so as not to frighten The Youth.
“We will be completely invisible to them!” Lia told me. “People our age are blank spaces between pheromones. Maybe one concert in twenty a girl on ecstasy will find it cute that a person our age would even pretend to understand the concept of fun. But basically we might as well put on invisibility cloaks.”
The week before the show, Art Boy was working on a school mural with an authentic teenager named Nathan who had seen Muse in SF last year. Nathan is not a fan of moshing; he said, his glasses got knocked off and he had to grovel around on the floor getting stepped & pogo-ed on to retrieve them. Still, he said the show was so worth it!
Days before the event, Lia advised us: “Dress in layers. Comfy shoes. No bottles, cameras, weapon, or pepper spray allowed.”
When I asked about a plastic water bottle, she emailed back: “At some places they make you take the cap off and throw it away, so no one can hurl a full bottle. (It’s a fad in the U.K. to pelt certain new rave and emo bands with bottles filled with urine.)”
Things have changed since I used to go see Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, Buffalo Springfield, and Donovan, I noted.
“I think Donovan might have dissolved into fairy dust if a bottle of urine hit him,” Lia agreed.
The morning of the concert, Art Boy got his hair cut so short, it stood straight up; the Woodstock Effect, we call it. (As in Snoopy’s crested avian pal, not the ‘60s love fest.) His hair does this naturally (unlike mine, which, even short, has to be clipped and gooped and pummeled into submission.) I put on my “youthy” disguise: jeans, hooded sweatshirt, beat-up white Reeboks. I felt like a spy infiltrating the ranks, but, hey, even us old girls just wanna have fun!
At the venue, a cheerful little security girl patted me down on the way in, asked me to unzip the tiny bag around my neck, laughed indulgently and waved me in. Guess I don’t look like the urine bottle-throwing type. Inside, I realized my Reeboks had been a tragic mistake. Girls wear high-heels or canvas flats. The only white running shoes I saw were on guys, not counting white rubber toes on black Converse All-Stars, the look du jour for both sexes.
The opening act was onstage by the time we descended into the pulsing darkness. Imagine the doorway from the corridor into the auditorium like an R. Crumb cartoon, a black, gaping maw with juicy exclamation points exploding out of it. Plunging inside, you don’t discern what you hear as music; in fact, hearing is not the sense involved in the wall of noise that wallops you in the chest, a pounding vibrato in the breast bone that hammers you to the floor. This can be scary at first, if, like Art Boy, the words “heart attack” cross your mind. But to connoisseurs, this is the part that hurts so good.
I didn’t want to drag Art Boy too far out of his comfort zone, so we first trolled the balcony for vacant seats. We found some (strangely close to a large pillar), but Lia soon mimed us adios and moved down to the floor—where serious thronging was already under way—to position herself for Muse. During the half hour between sets, Art Boy and I debated location. We hated to risk losing our seats and their fine prospect of the stage. On the other hand, it would be like watching the show from Pluto. We didn’t want to get battered by moshers in the dreaded pit, but we wanted to feel more involved. I wanted to dance! I never sit down when I play Muse at home. Was Art Boy sitting down when he saw The Who live in Chicago back in the Stone Age? He was not. So we abandoned our genteel seats to wend our way down the rabbit hole to the floor. We weren’t sorry.
Our plan was to stay on the periphery of the mob, so we could always duck out into the corridor for water or a breather. Hah! As soon as Muse took the stage, we realized we were not at the kind of show that encourages breathers. You’d have to be crazy to miss a nanosecond of their blistering performance, at once ferociously in the moment, and yet meticulously rendered from the layers of vocal harmonies, synthesizer, keyboard and guitars that make their CDs so textured. Resistance was futile. In fact, after the first three songs, Art Boy took out his earplugs. They were interfering with the music, he complained. I popped out mine for a few songs too, and basked (although wimp that I am, some scathing guitar feedback finally forced me to plug them back in. Lifelong hearing or pure, undiluted Muse? It’s a tough call.)
Sightlines were pretty decent from mid-mob with only a little craning and bouncing, although there’s always somebody trying to sneak behind you with two full tumblers of beer during some intense musical crescendo. We got up close and personal with typical concert-goers, like the would-be conductor flinging his outstretched hands into the air, various digits extended, on every single drum beat and guitar chord. Or the flailing girl singing along with every word, sweating in all directions. (Oh, wait, that was me.) The great thing about a live concert is that you can sing along; it’s not like anybody else is going to hear you.
The hall was also equipped with giant monitors on either side of the stage beaming close-ups. Close enough to see the levels of ecstatic concentration in frontman Matt Bellamy’s face laboring over one of his four guitars or his piano. Close enough to make out the black-on-white goth pirate skull pattern on his T shirt. Close enough to notice the plugs in the ears of all three musicians (these guys aren’t dumb), and the little sound packs strapped to their backs enabling them to sing and play on key.
Muse was onstage for two solid hours, including two encores of three songs each. Remarkably, Bellamy’s acrobatic vocals (including all those high notes) remained powerful throughout. This is not a band that wastes a lot of time chatting with the audience. This was two hours of rock ‘n’ roll.
After a drive back to Santa Cruz full of bedazzled chatter, Art Boy and I toddled into bed by 2 a.m.—only to be wakened at 5:40 by the beeping, blaring and rumbling of the Tuesday morning garbage trucks. Hearing evidently unimpaired.
A couple of hours later, we were working the morning crossword puzzle over breakfast, congratulating ourselves that we were still hardy enough to rock all night with no ill effects.
“Vandalize,” I read out a crossword clue.
“Dandelion?” Art Boy repeated brightly.Send moshing etiquette to [email protected]