Personal Column: It’s about tempo

My+friend+Vhlor+and+I+waiting+for+a+Mitski+concert+to+begin.

My friend Vhlor and I waiting for a Mitski concert to begin.

I was five years old at my first concert. Stone Sour, a five-person heavy metal band was the main act, but just getting to them took sitting through five opening bands- an excessive amount of openers is practically decorum at mainstream metal concerts. I ended up enjoying the third opener, Stolen Babies, more than I had ever enjoyed the anything-but-dulcet tones of Corey Taylor- the band was headed by a woman, something my little second-grader brain didn’t realize could happen in a genre as hyper-masculine as metal. Listening to a woman scream-sing about drowning under the pressure of some metaphorical emotion while banging on a metal drum and squeezing an accordion probably awoke something in little me, but whether it was an element of attraction or an allowance to be angry, I don’t remember. Maybe it was both- could’ve been neither.

My mom’s then-boyfriend brought me- John. Hardcore metal-head, hardcore republican, redneck through and through. He used to play music for my sister and I in the car, and I had always liked Stone Sour the most- so when he saw they were coming to town, he tricked my mom into allowing him to take us to the concert by playing her their one cuss word-free song. That night was probably the most colorful of my life, if colorful meant dropping an f-bomb every two seconds. It ended with my mother’s boyfriend taking my sister to the merch booth, her meeting Stolen Babies, and him buying us two tour shirts, both depicting an almost entirely naked angel with bleeding eyes. Not exactly a common shirt for a five-year-old to wear, but at least I matched with my newly eight-year-old sister! 

My next concert was much less comical, but notable nonetheless, as it was my first normal concert. Selena Gomez, at the rodeo! Nothing says “yee-haw” like Selena Gomez and the Scene’s A Year Without Rain. Selena Gomez was one of nine-year-old me’s favorite artists, right next to Katy Perry and dark electro-pop sensation Melanie Martinez. I used the skills Stolen Babies’ Dominique Lenore Persi accidentally taught me a year prior to scream-sing It Comes Naturally, but without the baby carrots I would often stick up my nose when I sang the song at home. My father brought me to that one.

Despite his own non-American upbringing, or maybe because of it, my father was very dedicated to giving me an all-American childhood. We found out together that baseball was boring, that fishing wasn’t our thing- but one of the most American things he introduced both me and himself to was the Houston Rodeo. The Houston Rodeo, where cowboy hats and boots are encouraged, where meeting livestock is one of the main attractions. Fried food at every stall, barbecue at every corner- to me and my dad, the Rodeo was as American as it could get, and we loved it. And, as an accountant, my dad loved to milk any event for every penny it’s worth, which meant going to the concert of the day any time we went. It was at the rodeo that I saw Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony- Panic! at the Disco, but we’ll return to that one later. My father may have not known a single lyric to Round and Round, but he did know how to be a loving cheapskate. My next few concerts would be at the Rodeo, until my sister was finally able to act on her long-standing deep infatuation with her favorite band.

Paramore. My sister had every single one of the alternative emo band’s songs memorized, despite her preppy look, and the bullying it prompted from her friends. Despite not being the target demographic of the female-fronted rock band, she was (and still is) certainly one of their biggest fans- and, considering my sister always got the aux in the car, I was too. The concert was one of the most memorable nights of my life, being the first real, non-rodeo concert that I went to without my parents, just with my sister and her best friend in tow. The three of us screamed everything from bubbly pop songs, such as Hard Times, to emo staples, such as Misery Business. 

Speaking of emo staple bands, I was a “weird kid” in middle school. I’m probably still a  “weird kid” now, but I especially was one in middle school. That wasn’t because of any conscious choices I had made- I tried my hardest to be sociable and likable, but my talkative attitude and bubbly demeanor often made me come off as annoying, making it hard for me to make friends. Despite having two or three close friends in other schools, I didn’t really have any constant friendly presence within my life throughout the sixth grade. Because of this, I made a choice many children in my generation do; I went onto the internet in order to fulfill a need for social interaction. I was successful in making a couple of close friends on apps and games such as Discord and Minecraft (which isn’t something I would particularly advise to do, but it’s also not something I would particularly advise against), and it was by the friends I made on there that I was introduced to a certain emo band that was popular at the time: Panic! at the Disco. The name makes me cringe now, and I’m certainly not an avid listener of them anymore, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they were a formative part of my middle school experience. Listening to them, and being open about listening to them, even helped me make friends in my school life- counting my best friend at the time, Adrian.

If I was weird, Adrian was an alien from outer space. He was proud of that, though. He transferred into my school during seventh grade, and I clicked with him immediately, despite him becoming an even bigger target of bullying for the kids who already bullied me. We hung out every day, so when we heard Panic! at the Disco was coming to the rodeo, one of our biggest shared interests, I immediately shouted a happy “yes!” when he asked if I wanted him to buy us tickets. 

The concert was loud and colorful. The stadium was filled with queer, emo middle schoolers, both Adrian and I included in that demographic. Screams filled the space as lead singer Brendon Urie stepped on stage, the man immediately breaking into a glass-shattering high note, the satanic imagery on the screens immediately scaring away any well-meaning Southern family who just wanted to bring their kid to the Rodeo’s concert of the day. Adrian and I squeezed each other’s hands as we scream-sung every lyric- a practice customary at any of the concerts I went to by now. A concert simply isn’t good if you aren’t scream-singing every lyric. Our voices were hoarse the next morning, and despite both of our hatred for the middle school, we were still smiling when we walked into it the next day, ready for the torment to come after seeing so many children just like us at the concert the night prior, finally understanding that we weren’t all that different. Kids are just mean.

  My first real high school concert was Conan Gray. I went to two of his concerts freshman year, both with my best friend since elementary, Chloe. The concerts were only months apart, and he still wasn’t a big enough artist to need a room that fit more than 500, the way he is now. Back then, he was just a teen doing fairly well on YouTube- he wouldn’t become a TikTok sensation until quarantine, which was yet to happen. Nothing will ever compare to hugging Chloe while Conan sang Comfort Crowd before the song ever released, or screaming Maniac with him, squeezed into a general admission crowd of hundreds. I think I got out a lot of the anger left over in me from being bullied in middle school by singing Greek God as loud as I could. Overall, the concert was fun, rowdy, and in good company.

A couple more concerts passed; Dodie with my friend Nicki, where I got my comfort crewneck, another Rodeo concert or two, but then COVID hit.  No more concerts for anyone, anywhere- save for any crappy country artists proud enough to sing at a Trump rally. Despite this, many new artists found a foothold during quarantine, and many old artists grew from niche stars to global sensations. This was almost entirely due to an app called TikTok, which invited users to make short videos with music playing in the background. Mitski, a Japanese-American indie rock singer who had been somewhat popular for almost a decade, especially boomed in popularity thanks to the app. Despite having already been somewhat of a fan of her before, due to my afore-mentioned best friend Chloe’s long-standing obsession with her,  I’m not ashamed to say that the app certainly helped me get into more of her songs and listen to her more often. By the end of 2020, Chloe and I’s shared Spotify account had gotten into the top .005% of listeners for the artist. So when Mitski came off a two-year hiatus with a new single, Working for the Knife, and announced that she would begin to tour again, Chloe and I immediately knew we had to go. I sat in English class, reloading her official site again and again, waiting for her ticket pre-sales to open so that I could buy two at the lowest possible price (which I succeeded at). The concert would happen months later, in February 2022, with COVID still swinging in full force, but quarantine having lifted.

Chloe, me, and the majority of the concertgoers wore masks, as was heavily advised by both the outdoor venue, and by two pre-recorded messages by Mitski herself. However fun and exciting it was to be back at a concert after two years, It was cold as hell. My toes and fingers lost feeling before the opening band even left the stage, a fun Japanese girl group of four called CHAI. Almost getting frostbite, though, was entirely worth it to see Mitski sing Drunk Walk Home live. Who needs toes when you can have Mitski. I once again embraced Chloe for an entire song, in order to sway with them throughout Two Slow Dancers. The song would usually be performed as the artist’s fake encore (it is often customary at shows for the artist to leave the stage, and then only perform the final song of the setlist after their fans begin yelling for an encore), but as Mitski stated eloquently while wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, it was “too cold”  to leave stage just to come back, so she began to perform it immediately, no theatrics in between. I almost preferred it that way, though- hearing Mitski’s high-pitched giggle when she announced that she would not be leaving the stage before singing her encore was one of the highlights of the night, right next to scringing every lyric of Goodbye, my Danish Sweetheart. (I’ve decided to popularize the term scringing, if you didn’t notice. It means scream-singing. I think it sounds funny).

I think I would proudly say that concerts, without a doubt, are usually some of the most fun and memorable events of any person’s life. There’s nothing quite like yelling the lyrics to your favorite song with your favorite artist less than twenty feet away from you, in a room of hundreds doing the same. Even when they get overwhelming, they still feel special, notable. Not even COVID can ruin one of the essentials of the human experience- joining together with tons of other humans in order to make music, in order to join together in an unrehearsed, loud display of uniform love and unity.