Rockstar Mayhem Tour & Violence at Shows

I sit here trying to type out words to catalog my experiences on Saturday at the Rockstar Mayhem Tour in Mountain View (not San Francisco), CA. I’m thinking about the lines I could use to start it off. I could make a few pointless comments about it being summer, fucking hot, and festival show season. Then I could get into the different bands sets and give you the highlights. There’s a problem though – writing these words is like pulling teeth, and without Cliff Burton around, dental work is just too painful.

In the midst of considering my metaphorical dental surgery, I did come across a thought or two invoked by Saturday’s experiences that I think are worth exploring. Before that though, a few short highlights of the show: Walls of Jericho amassed some huge circle pits, Machine Head played Hallowed be thy Name originally by Iron Maiden, Sid Wilson (#0) from Slipknot broke both his heels at the Seattle show so he’s playing in a wheelchair, and Slipknot played Prosthetics off of their self-titled album (my personal highlight of the show).

Now with the highlights out of the way, let’s move on to some real thinking which means we need to rewind back to the Machine Head set. My friends and I headed over to one of the second stages for their set a few minutes before it started so we could be there for the whole thing. Shortly after, the band came out on stage and things got going. Music was playing, the crowd was moving, and since this happened to be one of my friend’s first metal show ever, I wanted to make sure she got the full experience. I told her to follow me and not to worry; she’d be safe. We wormed our way through the crowd, pushing closer and closer to the center. Our destination was the edge of the circle pit; that way she could get a good view of all the chaos.

While weaseling our way into the center of the crowd, something unexpected happened. Two girls started clawing at each other’s faces and throwing punches, and then before I knew it, I was being shoved aside by one of the girls as I helped to pull them apart. Once or twice after the fight the girls tried to get back in each other’s faces, but someone would stop them.

The tranquility didn’t last long. Within about two minutes the fight erupted again, but now the brawl consisted of at least ten people. Within seconds one guy, probably around his early twenties, was being pinned down on the ground, while some fortyish tough guy biker started to kick his head – this all in midst of six or seven other people going at each other. My first reaction was to pull the long hair of the biker as hard as I possibly could. I was pretty sure he might kill the kid he was kicking since kicking someone in the head happens to be a good way to commit murder. It didn’t take long for me to reconsider my actions, as none of these people were my friends, this wasn’t my fight, and if I touched the biker there was no doubt in my mind I would leave the show with at least one broken bone. After two or three minutes a handful of those six-foot-god-knows-what, three-hundred-plus-pound guys broke it up.

What’s next? The fight just starts up again about ten feet to the left. Then it stops, moves left and starts again. This pattern happens over and over again. By the time the fighting ended, the fray had moved so far that even my friends across the pit had gotten a view.

Now, what is the point of all what I just wrote? Why am I recounting these scenes of violence? It’s simple. Because most people in the crowd and a lot of bands’ so-called fans just don’t get it. They have no idea what these bands stand for, what their politics are, or the fact that most of these bands wouldn’t appreciate idiotic jockish behavior like this at their shows. I was reading up on Machine Head earlier and noticed that much of the lyrical content on their new album The Blackening is political in nature. A Farwell to Arms attacks the war in Iraq and Halo attacks organized religion, as well as its excuses for violence. With lyrics like these, I doubt the band would condone violence at their shows. I would also bet good money that the people engaging in this violence might very well be pro-Iraq war (editors note: NOOOOOO! IT ISN’T A WAR. DON’T EVER CALL IT THAT. IT’S AN ILLEGAL OCCUPATION. THE WAR WAS ILLEGAL TOO, BUT THAT ENDED IN 2003. THERE IS NO WAR!!@&^!@), despite the fact that the band they are rocking out to has a hardline view in the opposite direction.

This same problem occurs with a lot of bands. Pennywise is a prime example of a band whose fans just don’t get it. All those drunk frat bros who show up to Pennywise shows and push me around, those are the exact people Jim is attacking when Pennywise performs Perfect People. Or what about Lamb of God? I know Lamb of God has a lot of ignorant conservative redneck fans. I remember telling a friend of mine that I was going to go see them play at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. He warned me to watch out for all the racist klan-type folks who would descend upon the show from Felton. And to me, the fact that I will have to watch out for a bunch of white supremacists at a Lamb of God show is very odd – I’m pretty sure Randy Blythe would personally throw most of those people out of his show if he knew they were coming into his pit with a racist, hateful agenda. Lamb of God’s release Ashes of the Wake is a hyper political album (check out Hourglass, Now You’ve Got Something to Die For, or Ashes of the Wake) that clearly oppose the current state of politics and war. During their time touring for this album, Randy often wore a shirt with the image of George Bush’s face crossed out. Despite the bands outspoken views though, people still show up at their shows waving around confederate flags.

Regardless of all the hypocrisy contained within the fact that people attend shows where they would most likely not be welcomed by the bands, it is not very hard to see why it happens. Music similar to Lamb of God and Machine Head is loud and extremely aggressive. These musical qualities attract a lot of different people, from all different backgrounds, with a huge degree of varying political and personal ideologies. On top of the aggressive music, a lot of these bands are screaming their heads off making many of the lyrics nearly indecipherable without a lyric sheet, at least the first time around. People don’t pay attention to the lyrics – they are satisfied with the fact that they relate to all the aggression presented aurally with the music and probably really excited about shredding guitar solos. An old roommate of mine, who was into a lot of metal, said he never really paid attention to the lyrics; that just wasn’t his thing. On one hand I respect that. Music is often meant to be fun, and you should take from it what you want, and enjoy the parts you want to enjoy. However, I also don’t understand not wanting to know what a band is singing about. Yes, it takes time to read through lyric sheets and then digest what those words mean, but doing so gives you such a deeper understanding of the music. It also gives you insight into the band. I feel like this insight is important. I can’t speak for others, but even if I liked the music, if I found out a band had an extreme rightwing agenda housed within their lyrics, I would probably stop listening. I wouldn’t want to rock out to a song about how someone thinks we should be out slaughtering innocent people in Iraq, even if the lyrics were generally so inaudible that I couldn’t understand them.

With all of this said, what is there really to be done? Personally, I wouldn’t mind if bands stepped up their personal agendas a little bit more. If you are outspoken about something in your lyrics, then be outspoken about it when you are talking to the crowd. If you don’t want to discuss politics, that’s fine, but if they come up in your lyrics, bring them up to the crowd. Let people know what you think, and let that racist fuck in the crowd know that you, as the singer of the band, don’t appreciate his views, nor do you appreciate him being at your shows. If you listen to old Pennywise bootlegs, you’ll hear the band stop the show on occasion to break up fights in the crowd because they didn’t want that shit at their shows. I know, this is a lot of work, and it can’t always be done, especially with big crowds, but I always love and respect bands so much more when they get involved.

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One Response to “Rockstar Mayhem Tour & Violence at Shows”

  1. This is probably one of your best entries to date. I have to admit that I am guilty of not understanding the vast majority of the lyrics of the metal-ish music that I listen to, but since most of it is given to me from you, I rest assured that what I take in isn’t racist intolerant crap.
    I also agree that bands that take matters into their own hands when it comes to violence at their shows is admirable and nothing has more impact than the band themselves throwing someone out of their own show for being a completely disrespectful ignorant fuck.
    Music is about expression, and expressing your opinions and emotions through your artform is what its all about. When people comment about how a band is “too political” or should “just stick to making music”, I often find myself wondering why. What else are they supposed to convey? I would rather know that a band is passionate about a certain cause than assume they’re just selling out to what’s popular in mainstream society. That is absolutely pointless and empty.
    Bravo once again on this entry. It is something everyone should take into consideration before acting violently

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