Season ticket on a one way ride
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do
My friends are gonna be there too
I’m on the highway to hell”
AC/DC….. & GayC/DC
Once upon a time, long long ago, I used to go to many, many concerts. About 3-4 a week, for about 10 years. I would consider myself an expert back then. How to score tickets, the best venues, where to stand, what bands aren’t worth seeing… I kinda knew it all.
But those were the “Before Times”.
We will always have a marker in life before and after Covid. It’s one of the bigger ones. It affected, and is and will continue to affect, things for a long time. Just like I marked life with graduating high school, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, graduating grad school, the 2008 Financial Crisis, and getting married… these are the DNA-scrambling, life-changing, brain-fogging events that make and break us as people and as a society.
Alongside the basic socio-economic factors thought coaster this latest ‘life event’ sent me on, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we may never experience concerts the same as we did in the Before Times. Even if we do restore all of the physical aspects, there may always be something parked in a space in the back of our minds when someone coughs, or grazes our arm, or flings sweat our way. Even if the show doesn’t change, we sure did.
So I spent a lot of time thinking about being at concerts in the Before Times. Getting physical tickets in the mail… having a stack stashed somewhere of all the fun things coming up. Waiting in line to get in and checking out what everyone was wearing. Maybe catching a little bit of soundcheck while waiting and getting that excitement in the pit of my stomach. Do I even remember that pure excitement feeling? It seems so child-like, so naive now. Waiting in lines for expensive, shitty drinks. Dirty bathrooms. Bumping into people. Getting other people’s sweat on me. Perusing merch. Getting other people’s spit on me. Watching the curtain drop or rise. Bright lights. Getting other people’s drinks on me. Sound so loud it vibrates me to the core. Sore legs and back from standing so long. Dried sweat. That feeling when the sun goes down and it suddenly gets a little too cold and the heat source becomes the show lights and the crowd around me. Balloons and confetti falling from the sky. Getting kicked in the head by crowd surfers. Yelling at someone to put away their fucking phone. Trying to remember where I parked. Sitting down in my car after hours of standing at a show and being in that bubble of silence with rock ear. Putting on a song for the drive home that I just heard inside the building.
There was a lot of talk of things becoming Mad Max level during the beginning of Covid, when people were fighting for toilet paper in the grocery aisle. As a gun owner with 2 stocked fridges and all the costumes, I was ready for that. And it often feels a little Mad Max out here in the desert, but especially when driving on the dirt roads in the back desert to Landers. The Joshua Trees gnarled fingers jutted up towards the baying sun, tearing it down to the underworld once again, so the dubious derelicts could gather at this dilapidated dive bar for a night at play.
Landers Brewery is in the middle of nowhere and is where many of us desert occupants are forced to go to now that Pappy and Harriet’s is an overrun tourist destination. It feels like Burning Man meets Twin Peaks meets Road House and for all of these reasons I will forgive them that they only sell beer there. We entered the outdoor stage area, passed a bonfire, and went inside past the pool table to the horseshoe bar. A cast of characters would keep us entertained until it was time for the show.
First up was Motördead. We were deep into a chat with a local when the familiar bass lines wafted around the door and lured those inside to venture out. It was a chilly night under a clear star of sparkly stars, so I nestled up to the bonfire, hoping it didn’t pop and burn my clothes. A woman in a fuzzy coat with a fluffy Pomeranian came near, and the tiny dog eyed the couch near the fire as a great spot to curl up, but she had other ideas. The tribute band takes on a different depth when it’s leader has actually moved on to a different plane; I stared down at my cowboy boots and thought about the time I asked Lemmy what the secret to life was on the Golden Gods black carpet on the day Jeff Hanneman died. And then the time I saw Motörhead when I was very first starting to live-tweet shows and my iPhone 3? 4? autocorrected to ‘Lenny’ and the keyboard warriors came for me. It was one of my first experiences with that; and from that experience a seed was planted that I knew we were doomed. Cue “Killed by Death”. Anyway, Motördead do a real fine job keeping the spirit of Motörhead alive. I’ve always felt that Motörhead are kind of like the Switzerland of the rock and metal world; everyone likes them. Lemmy and Willie Nelson are in the same boat in the way; persona grata to even those not super familiar with the tunes. For Motörhead, it’s immortal now, the songs now passed on like lore under the dark desert sky. It’s on us to keep that spirit alive. I’d have a Jack and Coke but at least they had regular Coors here. Light beer is for wimps and posers!
Through banter, conversation, and whispers, I pieced together that this was the first night of live music for most here, bands and fans. Did people act awkwardly? No. Were they skirting about like the Lone Ranger living in 6 foot bubbles? No. Was it top of mind? Certainly. Did people seem to appreciate their presence out more? Absolutely. From old rockers to young’uns, desert children just out for the night, local musicians and LA players, perhaps a few adventurous airbnbers, and local barflies… it felt like a scene from a movie. What year is it? What day is it? Where are we?!
I could not think of a better band to celebrate the return of live music for me than what occurred before me on this evening. GayC/DC put on such a fun, freeing show- but it wasn’t your average simple, local thing. No, honey. There were costume changes, makeup, stage effects, moves… there were looks. It was comedy, theater, music, politics, all rolled into one. They change the lyrics when they need to to make them gay-er and it is really quite incredible. There were many highlights of the night, but “What Do You Do For Money Honey” was a favorite. Everyone was dancing- even moshing a bit- and just having fun. Does anybody remember laughter? It was honestly like working a muscle that hadn’t been exercised in a long time. Standing with a group of people having a collective experience which is not painful is something many of us have taken over a year off of. I got so excited I decided not to put in my earplugs and I certainly regretted that. GayC/DC are as loud as AC/DC.
And then, towards the end of the show, out came a bible, where pages were ripped out and thrown into the crowd. I think about all of this anti-American sentiment happening, and how this openly gay band can perform rock music and tear pages from the bible freely here. No consequences. Ask Nergal from Behemoth what can happen to you in Poland if you do that. I often think back to when I interviewed Acrassicauda, and all of my conversations with them in the years of being friends with them. Having to flee your country as a refugee because of your job… the music you play… we have it pretty good here.
But rock & roll is as dirty, angry, and aggressive as it is celebratory, sexy, and cool. AC/DC, and GayC/DC, epitomize this. And this is the world we live in, we have always lived in, but especially right now, as we try to break free of this dark period to find some sort of relief. So get yourself out to that local, independent venue to see a show. Dust off those going out clothes. Buy some booze. Stay up too late. Stand too close to the stage. Make some good memories again.