Let me be clear about one thing. I have no illusions as to what people think of my passionate love for hardcore and metal. It's something that anyone who truly loves metal has to deal with at some point: realizing that no matter what, no matter where, you will never walk in to a random, non-explicitly "metal" bar and hear Slayer. You will never be at a random party where someone decides "Ya know what we need to listen to? Misery Signals." Yes, you can always listen to it on your iPod. Yes, you can sneak something in to the bar playlist that maybe won't go noticed, but you'll never find yourself sitting at a bar talking to a random barfly next to you about how you both absolutely love As I Lay Dying because "An Ocean Between" cropped up on the Happy Hour playlist.
So, that out of the way, let me explain a bit why I put up with that crap. Aside from a profound love of the music, that is.
After closing the bar on Friday, I went home, drank a whiskey, packed my bags and got absolutely zero sleep. The plan was to meet at the 195 park and ride and head from there. I supposed I could have had Brian pick me up, but the idea of taking a cab to a park and ride at 5:30 in the morning appealed to my sense of adventure.
I met up with Brian and his friend Josh, jumped into the backseat and was asleep in minutes. Somewhere in Virginia, I woke up and was alive for the rest of the journey down. We stopped in South Carolina to pick up another of Brian's friends, Dave, who we met at one South Carolina's 218,841 Waffle Houses. Proceeding down to Atlanta, blasting a variety of our favorite albums, we grew more and more excited, in a bittersweet sort of way, knowing that we were going to go see one of the best The Chariot shows ever, albeit their last.
We parked, shed our cellphones, wallets and other belongings and headed inside. The venue, The Masquerade, is a massive place (the downstairs holds another, separate venue where an American Idol pop singer was performing that night) and to get to our room, we had to walk up a narrow flight of solid wooden stairs. Something about walking up those stairs made it seem like we weren't just entering a concert hall. It was really very cool.
We headed towards the front and waited. The crowd, the entire time, was convivial, joking with us about the show, trading jokes with us about what was about to happen. "Oh, there's a show tonight? I just showed up because I like the bar!" and such. On a related note, after doing a shot with the bar tender, even though she said she wasn't allowed, I never saw her again that night. So, Maggie, if I got you fired, I'm really sorry.
There were four opening acts and by the end of the fourth, I was pressed like a sardine against the front railing, holding on with one hand, reaching out to the stage with the other. The guy next to me talked to me about the Ravens playing the Jets. The couple in front of me talked about other shows they'd been to. Brian and the others were somewhere behind me. I caught a glimpse of Brian and we nodded to each other. Shit was about to get real.
Not knowing The Chariot that well, I opted to shove my way out of the very front to save it for someone else and headed towards the middle of the crowd. I wasn't worried about missing out on the action. When The Chariot came on, it reminded me a bit like the first few moments of Saving Private Ryan, when the doors go down on the landing craft and the front few rows of guys are just goners.
There was no mosh pit. There was no simple, prescribed area where the show's energy manifested itself in violence. The entire crowd was a writhing mass of twisting aggression, the words shouted along to the band in between jostling kicks and elbow throws. "Remember," Dave had told Josh in the car on the way down, "nothing is personal in the pit." And he's right.
At some point I moved towards the center of the crowd, where the most people were boosting themselves up to crowd surf. I helped as best as I could, but when someone's foot came down directly onto the bridge of my nose, and then another right on my head, I had to head to the bathroom for a minute and splash water on my face. I spat blood into the sink and knew that it was one of the best shows I'd ever seen.
How to accurately describe a The Chariot show? By the end, there was no stage, there was no band and there was no crowd. There was just a mass of people, some on a platform higher than others. There was no single band, as members of all the opening acts were also out, stage diving, climbing the rafters or, and this is true, laying on top of the crowd beating a drum. Oh, your show had a circle in the middle where a few guys jumped around a bit? How quaint.
Towards the end of the show, about the time the crowd was invading the stage, the atmosphere stirred to something else. It is times like that (I was in the back observing with a much needed cup of water) that you realize that aggression, the trait that The Chariot is most musically known for, as well as hope, fear, anger and happiness are all simply matters of energy. Any strong emotion or passion is simply a matter of energy being released. The screaming stage diver and the hands reaching up to catch him are acting on the same impulse. At times like those, you begin to think that maybe there are only two states: tension and release.
Standing at the back, watching the show not so much end as taper off into a natural conclusion, I remembered something that Dave and I had told Josh about the mosh pit. "If someone falls, you pick them up." End of story. And that is where the energy collides. In those moments when someone falls and hands reach out to pull them up, even if they were the same hands that knocked them down, there is a strange sort of bond that you don't get simply by striking up a conversation with the person next to you at the bar when a shared favorite song comes on.
It begs the question: how many friends do you have who would pick you up, no matter what? An honest question to ask yourself at any time, it gains new meaning when you know that at that point, during that show, someone would always be there to pick you up to rejoin the pit, no matter what. Even if it means you're going to jump back in and fall again, there will always be someone to pick you up. Always. You'll never find that at a Black Keys' concert.
That is why I put up with the shit that comes with loving metal/(whatever)core music. Saturday's show just allowed me to put it into words more clearly than I ever had been able to before.
And so, much thanks, and farewell to The Chariot.