A buddy and colleague invited me to attend a heavy metal show toward end of last September. I generally enjoy mainstream heavy metal but other than Metallica and Rage (which is actually more rock / rap), I’m not that familiar with the genre or any of the bands. But I love music and metal has a devoted following, so I wanted to learn more about the genre.
The concert was at the House of Blues in downtown Chicago. I work downtown but I left early to take the metra train home (~40 min trip door to door) so I could see my daughters (ages 2.5 years and 8 months) before bed. I soon realized that that was a mistake as I missed the only train that arrived back in city on time and it took me 2 hours to make it downtown in Friday traffic using Uber. I finally arrived at the main entrance of the House of Blues in Chicago just after the first band was about halfway through their 45 minute set. I was about an hour behind our original meet up time which was frustrating but my buddy understood family / traffic dynamics so it was not an issue.
Friday, September 28 was unusually cold and I naturally dressed in full winter gear. I knew I was out of my element when I connected with my buddy who was dressed in full “combat” gear. I wore jeans, beanie, thermals, and a parka. He wore athletic shorts, a form fitting t-shirt, and a fanny pack with a clear plastic sealable case for his phone. He was ready for a different kind of party.
We grabbed a few Budweisers at the bar and listened to a song for two as my buddy downed the beer. House of Blues is a small venue and the acoustics are excellent so you can really get a feel for the music standing in the very back by the bar (and away from what appeared to be chaotic mosh pits). Or at least I thought. Within five minutes, my buddy threw his beer in trash, looked at me and said, “you ready?”, then before I could respond, he tightened his fanny pack, tucked in his shirt, and disappeared into the haze of sweat, blood, and anger. Dear god what did i get myself into.
It took me the rest of the band’s set (~30-45 min) to muster up the motivation to step in the mosh pit (aka death haze). I realized from my reconnaissance during the previous set that there were two separate sections of the pit: the first 5-7 rows by the stage was just for crowd surfing and pushing whereas the space on the floor behind that front section was reserved for running and shoving and punching. I pushed my way up to about the third row just before the main act came on (i had finally arrived to the party but I wasn’t in the kill zone).
One reason for slight apprehension, other than it was my first metal show, was that my buddy told me the last time he attended a show like this, the friend he went with had his jaw broken by an angry fan. He never saw it coming. I mean, one minute you’re having a beer with a bud, the next you’re drinking out of a straw. All said, my head was on a swivel as the main act took the stage.
And then something unexpected happened. For the next 45 – 60 min, I had one of the most fulfilling concert experiences of my life. What from the bar looked chaotic and deadly, was actually rhythmic and beautiful. The band and the crowd were connected in a way that I’ve never witnessed before (no snapchat or instas, complete focus on the band). And people in the pit both in the front section and the “punching section” looked out for each other, protecting the crowdsurfers from falling and scooping up anyone who by accident falls immediately. There was a language in the pit and we were a tribe, all there in appreciation of the loud and frenetic power chords and thundering percussion.
And when the band said “thank you Chicago!” and the lights cut on, I found myself soaking wet but not wanting to leave, choosing instead to meander through the pit until they kicked me out, exchanging hugs and laughs with my new friends who shared the arena that night.