By the middle of August, Ryan and I had our list of songs up to the twenty-five mark, including some half-finished numbers and the covers. The styles of music were all over the place. There were several simple punk and hardcore songs, some half-assed radio rock tunes, and even a few slower ones based around blues riffs or bass progressions. It didn't bother us that we hadn't really tightened up to one style. We figured that would come with time.
We were jamming three or four days a week, working around our alternating work schedules. Along with work and the jam sessions, I was trying to infuse my daily life with a semblance of structure. I was doing my best to get out of bed ever morning by ten and do fifty push-ups and a hundred sit-ups (I didn't want to get fat and lazy again), and I was pushing myself to read more.
Whenever I wasn't working or jamming I would ride my bike, either to The Bean Machine or the little bakery by the convenience store and read for a few hours. I was borrowing books from friends, from the public library, and cruising the used book stores for cheap classics. I was reading all sorts of different stuff: history, philosophy, old stuff like Dickens and Tolstoy, biographies of Van Gogh, Darwin and Beethoven, and anything else that crossed my path. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, and I hoped to find inspiration between the covers of a random book.
Nick, the so-called manager of Riot Band, had been keeping up with Jed during his work term in Calgary. Things were apparently going well for our drummer out there and he was definitely coming back for the fall semester at Garrison Valley University. He wasn't sure about our plan of the band all living together, but he didn't write the idea off, either. We would have to wait and see when he arrived.
With summer coming to an end, Ryan and I decided we needed to have some big event, a big final party before the start of classes. He found out about a metal concert in Saskatoon and we paid twenty bucks each for tickets at the local record store. Ryan tracked down some other guys from Garrison Valley that were making the trip, and he wrangled seats for us in exchange for gas money. On Thursday at noon, two carloads of us started the five hour drive to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Ryan and I ended up in opposite cars, so I was cramped into a Toyota Camry with a bunch of dudes I'd never met. They were all nineteen, and they seemed like good guys. The driver, Nate, was a pudgy little dude with a shaved head and huge dark eyebrows. He had a weird little grin on his face the all the time. Holy crap, he said when he saw me. I guess you want front seat, huh?
Doesn't matter, I said. I can sit in the back.
The other guys didn't want me in the back; I would take up too much room. So I ended up in the front, constantly following their directions about what discs they wanted to hear next. They had all brought CDs with them, and I had to keep the music coming.
You're a metal-head? Nate asked as I queued up a Morbid Angel track.
Not really, I said. I don't know. I don't know much metal. Just Metallica, I guess. I've got a friend who is a fiend for Metallica.
Man, said one of the guys in the back seat, Metallica started to suck before we were even born. Their Eighties shit is good, but they've got twenty solid years of suck behind them.
I laughed. I know a girl that would stab your eyes for saying that.
Tell her to bring it.
The guys spent the trip talking about metal bands. I didn't recognize anything they were talking about, but it was fun listening to them. The only depressing thing was that one of them had seen the Riot Band gig at Jake's Restaurant in April, so every time anybody mentioned a band, this guy would slap me on the shoulder and say, for example, What about Opeth? You've heard of Opeth, right?
I would shake my head and smile. No, I don't know Opeth.
They would all laugh and shake their heads and say How the hell can you be in a band and not know Opeth?
I didn't know anything about the bands we were going to see either. The headliners were a big prog metal band (so the guys in the car explained to me) called With The Dead.
They suck, said one of the muppets in the back seat. They're like, prog metal for kiddies. What are they like? They're like the Linkin Park of prog metal.
The others nodded solemnly. Opeth would own the fuck out of these guys, Nate said.
So why are we going to this? I said, grinning at their dialogue. We could have stayed home and listened to Opeth records. We could have spent the ticket money on beer.
We're going to see Psionico, said Nate, referring to one of the opening bands. They're pretty amazing.
They're like, what prog is all about, said one of the back seat dudes. You're in for a treat.
After what seemed like forever, we finally got to S'toon. We crossed the river and went into the Broadway strip where the theatre was and parked the cars. The gang of us had a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant, had a few beers, and then went to the venue.
The place was a basement bar. There was a lineup at the door, and after being patted down for weapons and outside liquor, we had our hands stamped and were allowed to go down the long narrow staircase into the venue.
We got beers and waited. It was a cramped space with a small stage, but the red and black walls gave it great atmosphere. The place packed up tight, with people jostling for position to stand against the barrier in front of the stage.
This is cool, I said to Ryan. Man, everyone here is wearing black.
He grinned at me. Eric, it's almost cute how nave you are. Of course everyone is wearing black. It's a metal show. DO you think you'll go in the pit?
What, the mosh pit?
Yes, Eric. The mosh pit.
I shrugged. I'll watch first. We'll play it by ear.
The first band, a local group called Lion Eats Boy, got up on stage and got things going. They had some fans in the audience, and there was some good cheering when they started to play. The drummer started banging away, and the bass player, whose instrument was hiked up so high that it was across his chest, started playing a groove line. Both guitarists, who also had their guitars hung real high, kicked in as well and began going on and on with intricately repeated lines.
They had no singer, and they played song after song that was based upon these looping grooves.
What do you think? Ryan shouted in my ear.
Boring, I shouted back. When are they going to start to rock?
The bass player kept swinging his head, but the songs simply weren't inspiring me to do the same. The players were clearly very talented, but the songs were just so meticulously controlled. Too many notes, not enough snarling.
All the same, they got big cheers, and to be fair, their finale had a lot of punch to it. The crowd chanted their name when they stepped off stage. I didn't get it, but I clapped. They did their thing. They were good at it.
Psionico got up next, and they were clearly in a different league. Definite pros. They were a big crew, and the small stage limited their mobility, but it didn't interfere with their musicianship. Like the first band, they were definitely focused on technical play, although their songs were much more complex. I watched their bass player working away on his giant black six-string, and it was remarkable how fast he was playing, pattering along while the two guitarists sped along, playing intricate lines. It was a virtuosic display.
All the same, I don't think I was getting as much out of it as a lot of the metal-heads were. The band was fully committed to their songs, and they were terrific players, but I didn't feel much connection. They stood still and played. I watched. It might sound cheesy, but it just didn't speak to my heart.
They left the stage and I got myself another beer. Ryan and I stood there, waiting for the big finish. What did you think? I asked him.
They were good, he said. Better than that first band. Man, those guys sounded like Nintendo music.
A few of the guys we drove up with passed by, sweaty from being in the crush of bodies near the front of the stage. Awesome, huh? Nate said. Too bad this last band is gonna suck.
I smiled and they passed by. I don't get it, I said to Ryan. With The Dead are the head-liners, but everyone thinks they suck. What's the deal? Why are these people here?
Ryan shrugged. I don't know man. Those last guys, Psionico, have been around for a long time. They've got cred, you know? With The Dead are pretty new, so they're probably trying to get some old school fans to come and check them out. That's the whole point of touring together, right? Expand your fan base.
I nodded. With The Dead were taking the stage, getting ready to play. Unlike the first two bands, they actually had roadies and techs helping them. There was cheering. I looked carefully around. Despite being in a bar, this was an all ages show, and the people cheering for With The Dead seemed young.
With The Dead started playing, and the sheer shock and power was remarkable. The singer, a tall, skinny dude, stood up at the front of that stage and started screaming into the microphone, while the rest of the band started smashing away, violently banging and dancing to the tremendous noise they were making.
I couldn't care less if the guys from the car said With The Dead sucked; they were blowing the roof off the place. They were just as technically proficient as the previous bands, but they had rhythm and power. By the second song I knew they were the real thing, and I went forward into the pit to dance.
Because the venue was so small there wasn't much space for a pit, but nobody cared. There was a line of people five or six deep at the very front of the stage, and then there was a gap of dangerous space were dancers were flinging themselves into each other, pushing and banging shoulder against shoulder. I leapt in and started jumping, bouncing back and forth as other bodies hit me.
I would like to say some thing deep and philosophical about the meaning of moshing, like maybe how it's an expression of the subconscious gone wild, or that it's Nietzsche's ideal of Dionysian frenzy, but you can't think about shit like that when you're in the pit. Only one thing matters, and that is staying on your damn feet. I bounced around until three guys went down at once, with me in the middle. I got to my feet without being stepped on, but I had a lot of help. As soon as I was down, people were grabbing to get me back up.
The band was whipping everyone up, blasting away, and I staying in the pit until I got elbowed in the dick and had to take a break. Ryan saw me and came over to where I was standing with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath.
Have fun? he asked.
I got elbowed in the dick.
He laughed and slapped me on the back.
After that I stood back and just watched the band. They had everything: crazy skill, the balls to go full out song after song, and a singer who kicked all kinds of ass. It got me to thinking about having a front man. Definitely, these guys were benefiting from having a singer at the front of the stage. I looked at Ryan, who was one half of Riot Band's singing duo. He sucked. I was the other half, and I sucked too. All I could do was yell.
Up on stage, With The Dead's vocalist was waving his arms and barking distorted vocals into the microphone. Maybe, I thought, we ought to get one of those.
2010, Nolan Whyte