-"Molly Grue," The Last Unicorn
And where were you twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Where were you when I was new? When I was one of those innocent young maidens you always come to? How dare you! How dare you come to me now, when I am this!
Too Far Away for Me to Hold
-"Molly Grue," The Last Unicorn
-"Molly Grue," The Last Unicorn
It had been nearly twenty years since I had gone to a concert The Chance. I remember it as cozy, but large warehouse. If one wanted to - and I sometimes did - it was no feat to find a dark corner for some surreptitious fooling around with someone whose name you had barely deciphered when shouted over the thump of a speaker twice your height. Every show broke out into moshing, stage diving, crowd surfing. The bouncers looked the other way until actual blood was shed.
This was the venue where one act was banned - as in, banned from the city of Poughkeepsie - because they urged a girl on stage to strip for them, not realizing she was fifteen. This is the place where I found a human tooth and, when I handed it to a security guard, he just looked at it with resignation, as though he were about to put it in the lost and found next to a dozen other teeth. A guy smoking pot openly next to the bathrooms once offered to let me finish his beer, though I declined. I don't recall often coming home without reeking of the sweat of a dozen people, spilled alcohol, and a carton worth of cigarette smoke.
For a teenager, it was heavenly.
"Maybe your parents shouldn't have taken you here on school nights," Amber suggests mildly before we enter.
"I had a great time. This was my childhood."
"Parents probably aren't supposed to let their kids do that as often as yours did." Her implication is that my parents were overly permissive, which is not a charge I can argue against. However, given that I was already riddled with insomnia, this wasn't doing too much additional harm to my scholastic standing (and I did put in a good enough showing in school that I had a full scholarship my first two years of college, no matter how many nascent rock stars tried to scream me deaf).
After I show Amber the surprisingly cramped bottom floor, we find a place in the balcony. Owing to an ankle injury that never healed right, I didn't assume she would enjoy much time in the pit should any moshing broke out, as it always did.
The opening band, Rubixx, is already well into their set, but I did not buy tickets to hear them. Years ago, I tended toward annoyance that opening bands even existed. I wanted to hear the headliners, then I wanted to go home so that I could get as much sleep as possible. Friday and Saturday concerts, at least those I wished to attend, were a comparative rarity. It seemed rude to put off the established bands until ten o'clock so that we could groan through two sets of someone's cousin's kid.
Now I accept that these bands are all a part of the experience. All bands started out as opening acts. That that they made it this far with some original songs should be applauded.
This does not mean that I intend to plan my evening around them, but I do not scorn their existence. I also would have to weigh if a concert was worth it the night before I was supposed to work. It is much easier being half-conscious through the day when one is in a desk rather than in front of the room.
If you return to anything after two decades, you can't ignore how many people are behind a screen. From our perch, I can see that a dozen play puzzle games, some check their social media feeds, and a scattering record videos they will never watch again or take blurry pictures, but they are all having the experience they want. I'm not casting aspersions. I bought a new phone hours earlier and it needed to good charge. Otherwise, I guarantee I would have snapped a few pictures to post to prove that this was my night (#blessed).
The Chance seems much too small to contain my memories. The shenanigans I sowed border on the impossible looking at it now, but there is no way the Chance altered their basic architecture. It exists in a liminal space shaped by the context and memories. I remember it packed with a thousand people. The fire inspector would be writing citations and ushering people out if it went much beyond three hundred. Though I acknowledge most of my time was spend in the pit, which I am sure exaggerated the magnitude of the rest of the club, I visited the rest of the building as needed. I cannot fully accept that more people have packed a room to hear me speak about little known monsters than would show up to a Friday night concert with two once big-name bands.
I saw Sponge here twice, maybe three times. During at least two of those shows, the lead singer Vinnie Dombroski climbed up the speakers and clung to the guardrail of the balcony, touching our hands and singing all the way. I remember this vividly, because it was so dangerous and placed so much trust in the audience. Once, I was in the pit and my arm muscles twitched in preparation of catching him should someone in the balcony shove him back. The other time, I was in the balcony with a girl I had been kissing - no clear idea which, though possibly one I met only once, Amanda - and I touched his hand as he passed. I remember his face, inches from mine, sparkling with sweat, his face exultant as only happens when someone is so profoundly in their element, drinking in the adulation. I've told this story to many people. I look now and there is no foothold, no ledge that would allow him to move this way. He couldn't now, but I am certain that it happened despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe the ledge was removed during renovations. Maybe rock stars wore it out or The Chance's insurance agent attended a show where some rising star fell.
"Was it always this ugly green and red?" asks Amber.
"You aren't meant to be seeing it sober." I cannot be sure of much here, not even the colors of the walls. It is ludicrous that I once saw GWAR in a venue so humble.
As their own bathroom is under renovation, I go to the Loft, a section of the club that is technically separate. I am startled I was essentially in the same dorm common room with Paramore years ago - possibly the last time I was here - before deciding sneaking away to sleep with my girlfriend was more exciting. I could literally have bumped into Hailey Williams, I was so close to her on the only slightly raised stage. It all seemed so normal that I could and did take it for granted.
Rubixx succeeds in covering Creep by Radiohead and Hero by Foo Fighters, betting on nineties nostalgia to win the crowd. No one ever went poor giving the audience what they want.
To prepare for this concert, I listened to a mix of the headliners Marcy's Playground and Fuel. Aside from the songs that still get radio play, I was not impressed with what I heard and less so with what I saw of the bands decades ago. I hoped I would not regret choosing this as my first concert here in so long.
Rubixx then cedes the stage to roadies, who ready it for the band Visits. I am surprised there is a second opening band and chalk this up to the fact that the name Visits seamlessly blends into a ticket. My brain saw Rubixx, Visits, Marcy's Playground, Fuel and constructed a full sentence.
Waiting for the next set to begin, Amber crouches down and uses her phone to learn more calculus.
Visits is a competent opening band, though I cannot remember a single song they played the moment after it is over, except that I do not care for scream-singing directly into a microphone. (It is not that I am too old for it. It never appealed to me.) The lead singers voice is mellifluous. He didn't need the gimmick. The middle-aged women in the pit seemed captivated by this dark-haired man from Newburgh and he had the sense to kneel at the edge of the stage so he could sing directly to them, so he is not without his stage presence. However, a man barely in the wings distract me from the set, adjusting their sound with a mixing board app on a tablet. I do not know if he is an employee of The Chance, which has its own sound booth by the downstairs bar, or if it is just customary to bring this man with you to make you sound your best. I do know that my twenty-year younger iteration would have thought that was needlessly sci-fi.
I can see their set list on the stage. Though the font is too small to read clearly, I can differentiate that they will only be playing six songs and so can estimate how much longer I have until Marcy's Playground. Visits is, after all, an opening band and we only want to enjoy them so long. They are good enough not to milk their set, as I remember opening bands doing, usually when they were bombing and were certain they could win us over if they ate into another band's time. Drinks have been thrown at band who try this.
From above, it is plain that no one is moshing, though Visits music would have given an excellent excuse. People barely dance, aside from a few women swaying to the rhythm. I assume some of them are more concerned with breaking a phone than a hip, though I can't count out the latter group entirely. Still, the mean age in this place is a generous forty-five and I don't bring that down by much.
I would be dancing, if one can call what I do dancing, were I here alone. Amber does not much care for this, either because of the music, my ungainliness, or her own mood. Still, I try to rally undue excitement for the opening bands because who knows when they will earn it organically?
From my vantage point, I also notice that Rubixx is hanging out in the pit, eagerly watching Visits. I don't think they are friends or even competition, but rather that sticking around for the show probably doubles what they earned from playing.
As a teen, I met three girlfriends of some significance here and a few other people who gave me their numbers or the use of their tongues for the evening. Were I that age again, I wouldn't consider this the appropriate place. I don't know that meeting people in this wild is appropriate any longer, though it could be that I have spent long enough in my relationship that the hunting portions have atrophied. Then, my greatest concern was if the girl was interested in me and single. Now, women have fiancés (or fiancées), marriages, kids, divorces; it is a different minefield to navigate. Plus, thanks to social media, there are far opportunities for encounters that only occur through the duration of two bands.
I don't miss it. Instead of making out with my future ex-girlfriend of two weeks, I kiss my wife of three years who tries to slip ice into my mouth with her tongue. Amber is simultaneously the oldest (chronologically) and youngest (relative to my age) woman I've kissed here, though she argues that I wasn't in the habit of carding my conquests and conquerors. Still, I doubt anyone flirting with me seriously was twenty-nine or thirteen.
When Marcy's Playground appears, I am startled. I didn't really watch their music videos, just listened to other songs on their albums. In dress, physicality, and manner, I would think they were a Marcy's Playground cover band comprised entirely of dads who met one another at their kids' soccer game, one that is playing a family reunion for a case of beer, one whose name is absolutely Sex and Candy. Where once they cleaved closer to the rock star archetype, they now wore Buddy Holly glasses and their guitars over beer bellies.
But they have an impressive set. Only knowing one of their songs, I discover that Marcy's Playground is almost a jam band and reminds me of They Might Be Giants. They are in their element on stage, even with a crowd far humbler than what they once pulled. Still, they look like they likely have 401Ks and diversified investment portfolios. Like many musicians of some years, I am sure it is grating to know that the audience wants to hear only one song out of you, but their selection keeps us entertained before provoking our cheers, breaking into "Sex and Candy."
When Marcy's Playground leaves, I contemplate following suit. Their set was great, the night has been fun, I have shown my wife my adolescent stomping ground. I looked at pictures of Fuel circa their heyday. If their set is not amazing, that is all I am going to end up remembering.
I do not get so far as to rousing Amber from her calculus to suggest this before our headliners appear on stage. I am immediately reassured. The press photos from the nineties, the lead singer Brett Scallions looks bleach blonde and emo. The man on stage, wiry and leanly muscled with a groomed beard, looking like the sort of guy whom I would want to buy a beer, even though I don't drink. He gives the audience a practiced grin, licks his lips, and they burst into their first song. Scallions, with two decades of practice (though he was out of the band for four years), is absolutely a rock star in his own mind and there is not a person at The Chance tonight that could give testimony that he didn't make us believe.
"How many of you have been here before?" he asks to some whooping. "So have we, long before some of you were born. We are old motherfuckers."
This is not the last time he visits this thesis, informing us later that we are all "old as fuck." He makes an exception for a girl pressed against the stage barrier, singing along to every song. "How old are you, sweetheart?"
"Eleven." She could have been conceived to one of Fuel's hits.
"Eleven! Wow." He runs his hands through short brown hair. "You are going to meet a lot of assholes, but you stay sweet, you hear me? And don't become one of the asshole." He smiles down at her. "Look at that face. I know you aren't going to be one of the assholes."
He slams out another song, dancing around the stage. "I'm forty-five, I feel twenty-five, and I still have the libido of a nineteen-year-old! Just ask my wife."
He looks backstage, where I imagine his wife is rolling her eyes and telling him to stop saying that.
He gets to the end of his set and says. "Here's the deal: We're going to play three more songs. That's the encore. So we aren't going to do this bullshit of going off stage and coming back. Got it?" Still, he walks seven feet, we cheer, and he returns to the mic.
I was wrong to doubt Fuel, though he is wrong to say we are old as fuck. Who doesn't want to recapture elements of their youth to chide away advancing age? My peers, instead of having pink hair and eyebrow piercings, now have thinning hair and stretchmarks. Underneath these conditions and the issues that caused them beats the same hearts who just want to be lost for a little while in the fantasy that they are seventeen and perfect again, that songs about rebellion applies to them and not their children or grandchildren.
Soon in Xenology: The nature of happiness. The sound of silence. Underutilization. Infinite consequences. Abuse.