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“Come see Rule 5 and Wayward Guns headline The Phoenix Theatre! Located in Petaluma. February 13th. Doors open at 7:00, $8 at the door.”
I stood there shivering in the chilly night, illuminated by downtown street lights, staring at the crumpled neon green flyer tightly clenched in my clammy hands. My eyes skimmed over the advertisement, absorbing, for the hundredth time, the bold, heavy font scattered among black and white pictures of scruffy guitarists and frenzied crowd members. I frantically searched the flyer for any last hidden secrets, any crucial information that I could use to my advantage—but again, the search was futile. Reluctantly, I pried my eyes away from the flyer and tilted my head up to gaze at the imposing, battered building that stood before me, with its filthy brick walls covered in graffiti and grime. This was the infamous Phoenix Theatre, and I was about to cross its threshold for my very first concert.
Though I had heard fervent testimonials from friends about the supposedly “wicked awesome” concerts that took place at the Phoenix, I still felt apprehension churning in my gut. I could hear my mother’s solicitous voice secretly nagging at my conscience: What dangers were lurking in the concert hall? Would I be assaulted, trampled, or possibly even mugged? Would I suffocate in the oxygen-vacuum of a hundred bodies crushing against my frail frame?
Despite these fears, I was compelled to enter because I had obligations: my close friend Jeremy Lessnau, a member of the band Rule 5, had requested my attendance and support. I also harbored a deep passion for ska, a genre of music characterized by heavy bass lines and blasting horns that blend rock and reggae into infectious rhythmic tunes. I would often blast ska music on my iPod or in the car when I felt the need to boogie—but never before had I boogied to ska in a concert hall.
As I tentatively approached the concert entrance, I assessed my condition. I was well-equipped for battle: extra deodorant, extra hair bands, skinny jeans, tightly tied shoes with dollar bills stuffed inside, my loose-fitting white T-shirt, cell phone, and ChapStick. I was prime and ready for the onslaught of madness.
I stepped away from the chilly night, into the stifling warmth of the lobby. Pounding music interspersed with boisterous chatter hit me first. Surged with newfound confidence, I handed eight dollars to the lackluster entrance-boy and strode through the clumps of people loitering in cramped spaces. In the dim lighting, wisps of smoke and haze drifted up in spirals toward the ceiling, and teenagers lounged on threadbare couches along the walls, texting on their phones and sucking Peppermint Altoids. Spurts of laughter and shouts of excitement and anger burst out—there was an ever-shifting undercurrent of murmurs and giggles. As I meandered my way towards the main hall, I glanced at the furtive shadow scenes. A couple cuddling on the couch. A girl checking her make-up in her mirror. A gang of guys joking and slapping each other on the back. A boy strumming his guitar.
The stereo music amplified as I approached the main stage. The spacious concert hall opened up before me: the walls were covered with garish neon graffiti drawings against a giant swirl of bold graphics; the peeling floor was sloppily painted black; the pungent odor of various substances wafted across the room; and the illumination from the main stage shined into the musky recesses. A jolt of jittery excitement surged through me.
I spotted Jeremy high up on the stage oiling his trumpet. I waved for his attention and he quickly saw me and stooped down from the stage to embrace me.
“The show’s about to start soon, I’ll catch up with you afterwards. Have fun.” He disappeared backstage.
Immediately the lights dimmed and the music from the stereos cut off, creating an eerie quiet. A large group of expectant faces began gathering in front of the stage. The impatient, rowdy boys in the back started shouting in deep voices: “RULE 5! RULE 5! RULE 5!”
It quickly spread like wildfire, until it evolved into a primal chant of a hundred voices, mixed with clapping, stamping, and howls of ravenous laughter: “RULE 5! RULE 5! RULE 5!” It continued to swell and swell into a deafening, rumbling earthquake.
Finally, all seven members of the band came bounding out with their instruments in hand, inciting a rupture of wild cheers and hoots.
The two Lessnau brothers on their horns each inhaled a big breath, and with them, the crowd inhaled as well, full of expectation.
After a long, tense second, the breath was exhaled and the first blaring, melodious brass notes rang out into the hall, igniting the flame in all the dancing souls. The drums soon kicked in, with the bass and lead guitar following. The crowd instantly jolted into motion.
It was a frenzy of jumbled bodies, a flurry of flailing arms, legs, and elbows in all directions. The rhythmic surge grew increasingly more intoxicating, the crowd contracted together, enveloping me within the midst of the pulsating, convulsing mass, forcing me to breathe in the stench of the sweaty, slimy bodies, wrenching me in tangled body contortions, flinging me to the brink of collapse, and filling me with insurmountable joy.
The fierce female vocal line burst through and the infectious fever erupted into further chaos. People broke away from the structured rhythms and let their limbs fly freely in a violent, thrashing outbreak. The crowd transformed into a circling whirlwind, a whipping force that knocked the breath right out of my lungs. As the crescendo in the music reached blaring limits, the crowd compressed into a vicious mob, faces submerged and bobbing back up to reemerge for a gasp of dank air, arms madly outreached to the shrill of the guitar solo.
In that sea of nameless faces, I became invincible. The concerns and worries of the past were discarded and my body and soul crawled into the depths and rhythms of the sweet sound. The piercing horns blew thoughts right out of my head—out of all of our heads, until we were just a herd of mindless, frenzied dancers.
The concert lasted for an entire hour and a half. When the lights came back on, hundreds of hot, red faces streamed out the doors into the chilly night. With the cool breeze soothing our fiery, passionate souls, we felt invincible, superior, and youthful. The concert had reawakened the wild beasts within.
The next morning, my mother placed a plate of French toast on the table and inquisitively inquired: “So how was the concert?”
“Oh, just fine.” I replied.
There was no way to thoroughly explain the intricacies of what I had experienced. With the morning light shining through, the night’s intensity and dramatic effect were washed away, and only slight residues of the wild thrill were left within me. I struggled to locate the feelings of daring power and delight, but the emotions would not reemerge. But I knew they were there, residing somewhere in the depths.
The concert was also a private affair, a secret I wanted to hide in myself but also share with my fellow concert-attendees. At school, I was wary of the students I had seen at the concert, trying timidly to catch a glance, to spark some underlying connection. Whether or not that connection was ever forged, or if it was all part of my fancy, is subject to speculation.
A few weeks later after the concert, as I was closing my locker door, a blue-gold paper caught my eye. I ripped it off the wall.
“The Phoenix Theatre proudly presents the Pre-Summer Bash, featuring Stone Cold Culture, Rex Per Diem, Rule 5, and Firegills. March 5, 8:00-11:00pm. $10 at the door.”
I could hardly wait.