The Not-A-Groupie Story

Those who know me and my husband well will know that there’s only one band which will make us both run around he neighbourhood giggling like idiots. That band is Lamb of God.

We learned today that Lamb of God is making its way back to these windy shores. They’re opening for Slipknot at Vector Arena in October. Personally I think that bill is the wrong way around, but Lamb of God seem to trundle around the world as a fairly low-ego band so I suspect they’re generally less concerned about top billing and more concerned about mortgages and food and shoes for the kids.

In any case, the news has brought back a flood of memories of the last time we saw Lamb of God at Vector Arena, when they opened for Metallica (also during October). Those were the concerts that introduced me to one of my very good show friends. Coincidentally, Rob and I scheduled our wedding almost 5 years to the day from those concerts, and so this coming concert will fall just after our 1-year anniversary. Rob has already decided that the Paper Wedding Anniversary should come in the form of tickets.

The news has also made me dig out an old entry in which I told the story of those original shows – how we had tickets for one show, but saw both, and didn’t end up using our tickets at all. How I learned all about Metallica’s load-in schedule. How we smoked weed with the crew guys but then Rob had a bit of a moment and needed to go home…

So here’s that (long) story, from back in 2010:

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Dear Santa, please give me a legitimate place where I can get a licensed embeddable player for these songs, so that I can advertise my favorite bands’ work without having to resort to the horrible sound quality of YouTube, and the musicians can still make money through my advertising how awesome they sound. That would be super-cool!
Love and cookies, K

Rob and I were standing in the front row, kind of bemused, as we watched a chick hitting on one of the guys from Lamb of God. I won’t say which band member it was, but he looked like he was handling it politely enough as the girl tried to twist an arm around him and make her way through a mountain of long hair to whisper in his ear – probably simply to be heard over the Metallica set, which we were all meant to be watching instead. Three thoughts ran through my mind as I observed all this: 1) “Honey, he’s married”; 2) “Your boyfriend is about five feet away, and has a bit of a sulk on”; and 3) “Sweetheart, you just ain’t THAT hot!” In the end, the musician wandered off. Perhaps he’d seen enough of Metallica, or perhaps he was just finding a way to extract himself from the situation with a minimum of fuss. The girl went back to her boyfriend, who seemed to be taking it all with a hint of resignation. I’ve been amused to see the gradual emergence of proper rock groupies in New Zealand, even if they’re often a bit low-rent. Darlin’, you put it out on a platter and you still got shot down. Groupie fail.

See, I get to be judgmental as fuck, because I’ve never actually tried to pick up a musician… And because people get all judgmental about me. But mostly it’s the first one. 😛

Metallica were scheduled for two dates at Auckland’s Vector Arena: Wed 13th and Thurs 14th Oct. We bought tickets to the Thursday show about twenty seconds after they went on sale. Rob has loved Metallica since he was eighteen, and I’ve loved them a little longer. I still consider him a bit of a late bloomer in the world of heavy metal – although he has made up for it with much enthusiasm. I started listening to Metallica shortly before I stopped trying to kill myself (so I was… *gulp*… thirteen). But Rob introduced me to Lamb of God – who beat out Iron Maiden to be hands down my best concert experience last year. That was December ’09. We only found out a few months back that Lamb of God were rejoining the Metallica tour to open for them in New Zealand and Australia – which just made our new tickets that much more precious to us. Rob loves Lamb of God enough to have their big, beardy babies. Then, about a week before the concerts were scheduled, Rob won guest list tickets for the Wednesday show… so we were suddenly going twice! My life has definitely sucked more. 🙂

Rob reckoned he’d been told that the guest list tickets were general admission only, which in Vector meant only one thing: pit. At most heavy metal gigs, the pit tickets are actually often more sought-after than the seated tickets, because you get closer to the band (and sometimes you get to beat the shit out of somebody, if that’s your preference), however Rob has never been keen on mosh pits. I think the idea of getting that up-close and personal with a bunch of sweaty, 18-year-old guys just doesn’t do much for him. From my perspective, it meant something different: jeans; flat shoes; no clothing that’s easy for groping hands to remove. I’ve been in my share of mosh pits too. “… Yes, yes, obnoxious drunken asshole, I know that you think I’m only there to fuck you… No, I won’t ACTUALLY fuck you, but you can think whatever the hell you like. However, if you try to touch me, I will try to cave your head in. Learn some manners… ” It also meant that Rob voted to leave the camera behind, in case it got smashed or taken off us.

However, when we got to the venue, there was a little surprise waiting for us at the guest list window… numbered seats. I also pointed out that the tickets listed “Door 1”, which put us right at the back of the arena. However, we already knew that Metallica were touring with a 360 degree stage, so every seat should have a more or less decent view. Rob actually looked a bit relieved. Sometime around 7pm (when the first opener, Baroness, took the stage) we grabbed a drink and meandered casually around the concourse to find the right door. It’s a bit painful for me to remember that the last time I was in Vector, I was touring the gantries and backstage, taking notes for my old venue (and suggesting that they needed to put in a toilet somewhere on the upper floors, so the follow-spot guys didn’t have to run for miles just to take a piss). If any crew guys are reading this, and know if Vector ever installed a toilet up there, you can thank me.

Even the usher lady didn’t really know where to direct us. She squinted at our tickets with a confused expression, and suggested that we just go down the stairs until we found our row. As it turned out, it was the bottom row – closest to the barriers. We followed the seat numbers until we found ourselves smack in the middle of the row – center back of the arena, right behind the sound desk. I couldn’t believe it. Other show people know this: these were the best seats in the house.

But, of course, putting me directly behind the sound desk is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, the view is great, and the sound is great. Yes, we were just meters away from the bands as they ran through the barriers and out onto the stage. We could have spat on them. I encouraged Rob to get over his shyness and at least go say “yay!” at them as they ran past. Most performers appreciate encouragement, and it wasn’t going to hurt Rob either. However… I was behind the sound console. I could have reached out and started messing with the effects rack if I wanted to. I was suddenly a whole lot LESS interested in the bands and a whole lot MORE interested in the gear.

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I need to show this picture to every stupid sound engineer I’ve ever met who tries to fix his mistakes by creating a mountain range on the EQ

 

It’s something that other show people often talk about. We all usually get into the business because we love live performance, and we love being able to give an audience a great experience. It’s an art in itself. We generally all fell in love with the business when we were also just young kids in a crowd. But we all also reach a point where, if we attend a show as just another audience member, we struggle to turn off the “work head” and just appreciate the show for what it is. We start taking the whole experience apart, and muttering to ourselves “Oh, I wouldn’t have done THAT” or “Hey, that’s cool, I’m going to try that myself”. It takes a lot for a show to make me forget my analytical brain and just experience it as anyone else would.

Last year, Lamb of God gave me that. That’s why I rate them as my best concert of ’09. I am FAR from a typical Lamb of God fan (more about that later). Firstly: I’m female. In my downtime, I dress like an aging hooker or some kind of peculiar, hair-metal transvestite – one red dye job away from becoming Peggy Bundy. I own several flamboyant hats (which I wear in public). I’m generally optimistic, and gentle, and I don’t yell. I don’t drink beer. I’m a pacifist and a Buddhist. I actually like those little fluffy lap dogs. I give to Salvation Army collectors, and happily receive copies of Watchtower off any door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness. I have never, ever, worried about looking “gay”. I bought Bret Michaels’ new solo album, and genuinely loved it. I have a stupid, glam alter-ego on the Internet… But I’m also an event manager in a small town in New Zealand. I often work 20-hour days, and I still have to fight to make my rent. I have a Master’s Degree, and yet little girls in suits talk to me like I’m an idiot. At midnight last Saturday night I was humping subs up a hill like a pack mule – something I’m not well built for, and not getting paid to do, but which still needed to be done. Thanks to treating my body like that, I’ve had three spinal MRIs in the past year. I live in varying degrees of pain. I’ve had terrifying relationships and got fired from jobs I was good at. I know that it’s my own stupid fault for wasting my credentials, but I’ve found that I care too much about blue collar workers to ever blend in well with any type of executive or academic world. I’ve spent my working life watching good men being slowly dissolved by bad, inexperienced management. I am wasting my time, my health and my skills in this place… and in these past couple of years, there’s been an unquenched anger in me that no Buddhist meditation or Bret Michaels album has ever been able to touch. That’s one part of me that they just don’t talk about. And at 4am, when I’m driving the truck home, and bleeding, and coughing up a lung, I’m glad that I have something else I can blast through the stereo to remind me that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to be angry as all fuck.

Last year, Lamb of God gave me a good hour of being able to stand in public and scream my head off and want to kill shit. I’m really grateful for that. That one hour has kept me sane for the last ten months. And I didn’t actually have to kill anything.

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*melt*

So I guess the expectation was that I would get to lose myself in another Lamb of God show, and yell myself hoarse, and sweat a lot, and maybe (if I had been in the pit) punch the daylights out of anyone who dared stick a hand where it didn’t belong… But then they put me behind the sound desk, and I got to see techs, and I suddenly forgot all about being in an audience and just wanted to know how it all worked. This is where Rob and I completely part ways. He’s a guitarist, and he’s always going to be watching the bands and thinking about the performance from a musical point of view. That’s what he’s there for. He watches their fingers. If he could get close enough, he’d be measuring the action on Mark Morton’s Jacksons. But if I can’t lose myself emotionally in a performance, then I’m always going to be thinking about it from a technical point of view. What did the lights look like? How did it sound? How long did it take to build? If I ever think about the performers, it’s generally measured in their health, on-stage energy and connection with the crowd. What did the audience get out of that performance, and have the band got enough water? Yup… sorry… I’m an event manager. These are the thoughts that run through my head.

After Baroness had wound up their short set (and they were honestly very good energy-wise, even if their set didn’t have enough peaks and hollows for me), and the house lights came up for changeover, I couldn’t resist the temptation to lean over the rail and tap one of the sound techs on the shoulder. The first words out of my mouth were: “What kind of desk is that?” Thus began our conversation about Metallica’s audio console. And just because I know everyone else is just as interested in this stuff as I am, you’ll be pleased to find out that it was a Midas XL8 – the first big digital console produced by Midas, and one which offers a nice degree of comfort for people who are more used to analog mixing. List retail price: US$340,000… So basically it’s a very flash, whiz-bang thingee that’s worth more than any house I’ve ever lived in. It was very puurrty…

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So puurrrty…

Now, I can tell you a little bit about lighting, but I know that I’m an extremely mediocre audio technician. My dad is the soundie in the family: I’m not. I’ve never claimed to be a tech, and while I’m innately curious and keen to understand how everything in the whole world works, I’m also quite happy to defer to experts when I need to get something done. Yes, I’ve done a bit of live mixing in my day. I still remember spending a whole day mixing a Diwali festival, which had eight solid hours of traditional Indian tunes and Bollywood covers – none of which seemed to have a bass-line of any sort. And after eight hours of mixing nothing but wahwah top end (and trying to make it sound like something, anything, that wouldn’t send the crowd schizophrenic), I definitely wanted to kill myself.

I think that was about the point that I figured my hearing was too closely connected to my emotional brain for me to ever tolerate life as a sound tech. So my ability to talk to Metallica’s techs and hold up my end of a conversation on gear THAT expensive was very limited. Instead, I ended up asking about their load-in times, and crew numbers, and transport, and all the other logistical stuff I want to know about… 18 trucks. 56 touring crew. Packed-in Tuesday day. Rehearsal Tues night. Final rigging and sound-check Wed. Pack-out Thurs night, in roughly two hours… And I kinda fell in love again. I can’t help it. I remember how much I adore professional crews and loathe so many of the minor, freelance idiots I get on the small gigs these days. I think I’m kind of a tech snob that way. The sound guy on my Saturday night gig [whom I shall call Douchey McDoucheDouche] took two hours just to load out ten speakers (which is why I was hauling their gear up the hill at midnight, just to get us all out of there) and he still managed to blow a compressor 20 mins before show time because THAT was when they were finally getting around to sound check… and I wanted to murder them, because it’s all really avoidable if they just knew the difference between amateur and professional. Unfortunately, they weren’t my crew and I couldn’t fire them. But I must remember that it was similar conversations about professionalism that first caused me to fall madly, passionately in love with (evil, roadie, ex-boyfriend) Jack, so obviously it’s not just sound that drills straight into the emotional center of my brain.

The guy that I tapped on the shoulder has asked that I keep his name out of this blog (because, you know, roadies are all shy, wallflower types if you get to know them). He suggested I call him “Stretch” in this post, but only he and I know why that’s funny. I’ve met plenty of roadies with similarly ridiculous nicknames that they use in real life (including once working with a guy who only went by “Satan” – I never learned his real name), but I refuse to give anyone a stupider nickname than the one I gave myself, so I will instead resort to calling him “V”, in a vague reference to my cat… and only he and I know why that’s funny too. I asked him his real name twice. He asked me my name twice. I liked his earrings. I felt completely non-technical in my sparkly denim bustier (which I was seriously overflowing), but I get to wear black t-shirts and cargo pants and stompy boots to work every day, so why the hell would I wear that stuff to a rock concert on my day off? “… Yes, yes, obnoxious drunken asshole, I know you still think that makes me an attention-seeking whore. This is just how I dress when I want to enjoy my clothes… And since when does going to a show dressed EXACTLY like 14,000 other people make you an ‘individual’ who doesn’t care about how much attention you get? You are honestly more worried about how you look (and what other people think of you) than I am. I KNOW that people look at me and see ‘slut/poser/scene-girl-who-deserves-a-good-kicking’, but the difference is that I don’t give a shit because I’m only there to have fun and not there to be liked. I’ve listened to this band since you were a zygote, and I have nothing to prove… Plus I think I look awesome!”

… Okay, sorry, end of rant. Everyone else in the crowd can keep their heavy metal uniforms. Fuck that: I’m in my civvies. 🙂

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Get your horns up, bitches!!!

But, of course, I then watched the whole rest of the show with a more jaded eye. I watched the audio techs doing their stuff. Whenever V glanced up and saw me watching, he’d roll his eyes at me, and I’d grin. They pulled faces whenever any of the band members said something cliched – which all roadies do. They’ve heard those same speeches about 200 times, and that’s just on THIS tour. I didn’t really jump up and down and yell at the bands. It all feels a bit wrong and silly and “fan-like”, and my head just wasn’t in that space by that point.

The fact was, the bands were good. Really good. I can still say that, because I could still see it (even if I wasn’t jumping up and down). Their performance power hadn’t changed – the only thing that was different was me. The crowd was a bit muted in general, which is a shame, but I think that’s partly the mixture that comes out to a Metallica gig these days. There were a lot of professional-type people in their late 30s or 40s, who were a bit less likely to get crumpled and sweaty. There’d be a few who didn’t even own a Metallica album. There were definitely a few ladies who were tittering to their friends and wearing the “rock concert garb” as convincingly as an ill-fitting hire costume. It was just a dress-up party to them. But I probably looked equally as ridiculous as they did. I’ve long understood that I fit in with other New Zealand heavy metal fans about as well as I fit in with any other group – which is to say, not at all. Hey, my father was an audio engineer and my mother is a wardrobe mistress: I’m genetically doomed to want to wear pink top hats whilst rolling mic leads. My folks think it’s hilarious, and so do I.

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Lamb of God had good energy (as always), but I wanted their set to be longer. Metallica looked and sounded better, but they also had the better gear.

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At the end of it all, I leaned over the rail and shared a smoke with V. We talked shop a bit more. He tolerated my questions like a true gentleman. I moaned about not having the camera with me and being able to take pictures of their set-up [Edit: all these photos are actually from the second night], and he offered to see if he could sort out some crew passes for the Thursday night so that I could come and sit with them again. I didn’t take the offer all that seriously at first – loose talk often gets thrown around at gigs. Someone switched off the PA with a massive “bang!” through the speakers, which caused all of the stage crew to freeze mid-roll. Everyone knew what that sound meant, including me… and that was the point that V discovered that the PA (which he was standing right beside) hadn’t been muted before it was switched off. Somebody rattled something over his RT, and he replied with “Yes, of course she’s hot!” And I realized that (even if he wasn’t talking about me) I might well be distracting him from his work, so we should probably make tracks. Before we left, he scribbled a phone number on the back of a set list and handed it to me, saying that I should text him the next day and he’d see if he could get those passes. I thanked him repeatedly.

… And he never once hit on me – which honestly probably would have ended the conversation. He was very polite.

Rob, meanwhile, had smoked a bit much and kept asking me for water for the whole 30 min walk back up the hill to our hotel. In between repeating “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry”, and despite my stopping several times and offering to buy him a bottle of water. Bless him.

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***

By the next afternoon, Rob’s sister and brother-in-law had made their way to Auckland too, as we were all meant to be going to the Thursday show together. Rob’s sister has half-sleeve tattoos and is probably a bit more “metal” than he is. She would also marry any member of Metallica, given the chance… even Lars. Rob regaled them with stories of our “rock n roll adventures” the night before. Both Rob and his sister decided loudly that they were quite happy to prostitute me out to any roadie who could get them close to James Hetfield. The sense of humor is a big part of the reason why I love his family… but not enough to go bugging James Hetfield for them. Or prostituting myself for that matter…

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If it was really this painful to play a guitar, nobody would ever try…

I texted V and he said he’d sorted a pass for me. Rob giggled that it was likely only one pass and that he’d lose me into some backstage lounge. “Hey, my girlfriend’s in there!” he mimicked. “A lot of people’s girlfriends are in there,” his sister replied. Their obscure Wayne’s World references are another reason why I love them. I retorted that I’d take them to meet Lars, but only if they greeted him with the words “Napster Bad!” and didn’t complain too much if he responded by punching them in the throat… I also really love the fact we all get to take the piss out of each other and know that nobody means it.

 

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It was a joke, Lars… Honest…

When we got to the venue, V had texted to say that he was down at the console with my pass… which I thought might make for an interesting obstacle course, because my ticket wouldn’t get me into that section again, so I had no way of getting near the sound console. I also realized, when I walked into the auditorium from the other end, he clearly wasn’t sitting where he said he was. I made some lame excuse to the usher about looking for my friends, and proceeded to walk through several sections, gradually traversing my way around the arena. I finally reached a point where there were several covered control desks set up in what would normally be an aisle. A large, Polynesian security guard blocked me from going any further, but I had spotted V changing mic batteries beside one of the desks. I asked the guard to speak to him, and V just waved me through. The guard apologized profusely, almost bowing, and I told him to chill out. “Oh honey, don’t worry about it – you’re just doing your job, and I ain’t that self-important to begrudge you for it.”

V still couldn’t seem to get the mic to turn on. “Are you sure it was a dead battery?” I asked with a grin. He raised an eyebrow. “Are you kidding?” he grumbled “I just changed it!” He’d obviously misheard me, and I kinda felt like a dick… but then I grinned a bit more, because it also felt really normal. No tension. No weird vibe. He seemed to be talking to me as an ordinary person rather than… a girl.

He produced not one, but two passes from his pocket. See: gentleman.

I skipped back to go find Rob, even as V was apologizing for the fact that we’d have to climb over the rail in order to get down to the FOH control area. I was wearing a miniskirt and my new leopard-print boots, but I still didn’t care. I’ve done weirder things in weirder clothes. I’ve actually loaded out a show in a ball gown before. Don’t ask. [And I tore a hole in it too. Note to self: chiffon is not gantry-friendly.]

I hauled Rob away from his sister, even though she looked a little crestfallen. She made me promise to get a million photos for her. I’d already figured out that our tickets would have put us all up in the Gods.

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Rob and I jumped the railing and flashed our passes at the guard who tried to stop us. The sound guys were all generally busy, or not there, so we found a spot where we thought we’d be out of the way. I took photos of racks and consoles and screens, which was kind of why I had come along. I asked V about the frequency patterns that I’d watched on one particular screen the night before, and he explained how the RTA system worked. I learned all about the way their system was analyzing the sound input from microphones dotted all around the arena, in real time, and adjusting the mix accordingly so that (despite the stage being in the round) there were no dead spots in the venue. Not many people will appreciate just how damn difficult that is to achieve. It was considerably cooler than anything on the small gigs I get to do, and I immediately wanted one as a new toy.

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Toy! Gimme Toy!

I used the opening band to try and test out focus settings on the camera. It’s just a cheap little point-and-shoot thing, and it hates the fact that I keep forcing it to work in low light conditions, and often on people who are running around on a stage. It also resets its focus randomly, which pissed me off. But I felt guilty about Rob’s sister, and so I committed to getting her as many photos of the bands as I could – because I knew she really wouldn’t give a shit about the sound gear.

I also tried to politely ask questions of one of the other FOH engineers in the bay (whom I won’t name), but found that he wasn’t exactly the conversational type. Rob speculated later that he was just a bit anti-social, but I racked it up to the fact that I’m a female and… um… I’m standing in the sound bay wearing thigh-high, leopard-print boots! I don’t look like your average, harmless heavy metal fan. “… Dude… I was a geek in high school too, ya know!” I understand that I don’t wear that on my face though. People make certain assumptions about me, and that’s just how it is. If a tech’s scared of that stereotype, then so be it. But if a tech makes a move, based on that assumption, I’ll break his fucking hand… and that’s probably part of the reason why they get all scared and confused. It’s not a trap: just be polite and learn to take people as people.

… Right, sorry, I’m ranting again aren’t I?

It’s funny, because people think that groupies must have an easy time getting access to bands. It’s just not like that anymore. A lot of the guys I work with are just like that engineer: vaguely nervous and suspicious of any girl who doesn’t resemble a man, and likely to shut down even the most simple of conversations. Yes, there are horn dogs too, but the girls often get derided either way… and they kind of walk into it. If you want respect, then you’re not going to find it down the front of his pants. Groupies are often crazy as loons too, so there’s good reason for the guys to be standoffish. In my experience, the older roadies are often more polite and civil to females in general – and it certainly helps if they’ve worked with a few bands that attract a lot of boob-enhanced attention. You get used to having girls around. But a lot of heavy metal bands these days (especially the younger ones) are friggin’ terrified of girls. They tend to think about women solely in terms of broad stereotypes, and it make sense because there aren’t a lot of women around to give them a finer context. If you’re female in a heavy metal crowd, you’re usually outnumbered 500/1.

It did make me a little sad, and slightly amused. Sad because we live in a world where a few crazies can make performers (and crews) suspicious of anybody. And amused because the engineer in question kind of looked like my first boyfriend, so even if I had been showing him that level of attention (which I clearly wasn’t) then it wouldn’t have necessarily been a disingenuous ploy. “… No, dude, I’m really not trying to fuck you to get to the band. If I was, you’d know about it…” I genuinely like techie guys, just for themselves. It’s always been my downfall…

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Of course, the fact was, both Rob and I could have used those passes to get very close to the bands if we’d tried – but we didn’t try. He doesn’t try because he’s afraid of discovering that some of his favorite musicians might be assholes – and he prefers to lazily love an illusion rather than pursue a reality. And I don’t try because I don’t go through life thinking that fame is some kind of glorious disease that might rub off on me if I spend enough time around it. I think I’ve worked with too many performers over the years to ever see them as anything other than people. I talk to them like normal human beings – which some of them like, and some of them honestly hate. I leave them alone like normal people too. I accept that some of them are jerks. Rob and I have completely opposite perspectives on this issue, but it actually gets us back to the same result: he doesn’t want to see them as human, and I already DO see them as human, and that’s why neither of us will throw ourselves at somebody just because they’re good at playing a guitar.

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No, it’s not going to fall on you… Hopefully.

In the end, V and I used the breaks between bands to wander through a little more conversation. He asked about my work life, and I explained that I used to be “the enemy”: one of those annoying venue girls who just sat on the phone and emailed you tons of paperwork and told you what you weren’t allowed to do. He talked about how he had retired from the road, only to be dragged back for this tour. It’s the kind of story I’ve heard many times over the years. Same tale: different crew. He complained about how corporate the industry has become in the last five years, and how “it’s really not rock n roll anymore”. I commiserated – it’s that way here too – but at the same time I also felt a bit guilty. The fact is, in my time as an evil venue girl, I ended up having to institute a lot of that corporate stuff. The general idea comes down from the Board, but it was still ladies like me who had to write all those darn policies and set up all those budgets. We had to encourage people to be nice (but not, you know, nice to useful people – just nice to idiots who might get their feelings hurt). I still tried to be a bit more practical and compassionate than the other evil venue girls. I was never one to just flutter my hands at some exasperated house tech (who’d just tried explaining the laws of physics in broad terms) and screech “Just do it! Stop being difficult!” I guess the difference was that I went into venue management having come from crewing. I didn’t walk in cold, with some stupid “event management” degree, thinking that I knew everything. I’m not precious and I have zero problems with being sworn at, even though I rarely swear back. I always had a great deal of sympathy for the guys on the coal face, and I always tried to argue points on their behalf… which is probably why I kept losing those venue management jobs.

I can still remember touring into one of my old venues, many years ago, and loading out as the next show was loading in. And all the incoming tour manager did was moan about how the new venue manager didn’t know what the fuck she was doing and they really wanted the other girl back because she was really good. The other girl was me. He’d never met me: we’d only ever spoken on the phone and via email… And I just smiled and never told him who I was.

The fact was, it didn’t matter that I always made budget, exceeded profit, and the crew and clients usually liked me. It didn’t matter that I made the venues lots of money. The Boards eventually all saw me as nothing but an annoying, naysaying fly in their pretty corporate vision. I’m a glorified roadie amongst a bunch of business people. I’m blunt and bull-headed. I made the job look easier than it was, but I sucked at agreeing with stupid decisions. I have never been a “team player”, in the most ugly, political sense of the term. I stood up for the guys who were genuinely risking their lives (and not just their bonuses). I did what I could to protect their jobs and their skulls, without treating them like incapable gorillas who had nothing intelligent to add to the discussion. I care about gigs on a completely visceral level. Always have.

… Yeah. I was never born for venue management. I think with my head and not with my wallet. You can’t pay me to agree with you.

I have terrible references. 🙂

But it still bites that my career was on an upward swing (despite all the friction) before I met Jack… and it has shrunk down since then. There are only two large venue companies in this town, and I’ve been pushed out by both of them. Before Jack, I had more will to fight back. I’m still working on recovering that bit of my health and personality. In the meantime, I’m just mucking in for myself wherever I can. There are definite levels in this industry, and I’m right back near the bottom. I don’t get to do the big gigs anymore… and I miss them. It’s one of the worst parts about working for the venue: the promoters rarely see how much you individually do to help, because the venue becomes one amorphous thing to them. This is what I get for being a stubborn bitch and not putting myself first. But I’m actually now okay with the idea of having to start again. It makes me tougher and smarter than I was before. I’m trying to be a better Buddhist. I’m trying not to want it so much that it hurts…

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… Okay. Rambling again… Sorry.

Of course, I didn’t tell the sound techs any of this. No one wants to be bored with somebody’s life story in between bands, and they were starting their pack down wherever they could. I felt really awkward standing there and not helping. I offered to help and they said not to worry. To be honest, I was grateful to not be touching their gear. I don’t think my insurance covers me when I’m not at work.

Instead, I kept on snapping a bajillion photos. It distracted me from watching the crew. It also made me look like a giddy fan-girl, but who really cares? At one point, James Hetfield walked across in front of us – looking like he was just stretching his legs before show time – and neither Rob nor I so much as said “hi”. I didn’t take his photo, because he wasn’t really “on show” – I just ignored him. Despite certain crew guys being a little cagey initially, Rob and I obviously both suck at being obnoxious fans. I think I need to get the words “Not Crazy” tattooed on my forehead, but perhaps that would be an oxymoron.

V also pointed out later that he doesn’t normally give people passes, but he’d decided that I was one of them (and therefore, presumably, harmless). I returned the favor by being harmless. He said that he thought I got it… and that’s probably a compliment I’ll take to my grave.
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Lamb of God played another tight, no-nonsense set. At one point, Randy tried to get a circle pit going but I think the Metallica crowd were really more worried about breaking their phones. Pussies. Still, it sounded nice – better than the first night – and they got a few clumps of raving LoG devotees in the stands. All in all, it was a more energetic response than the night before. They played a slightly different set to the Wed night too, closing on Redneck rather than Black Label, which I thought was an odd choice. R had moved over to the barrier, and stayed there for the whole set. I was quite happy to sit nearer to the console.

After Lamb of God finished, there was a good 20 mins of changeover to wait through. V packed up Lamb of God’s console and wheeled it straight out to the trucks, while the other guys prepped for Metallica. We all watched as two men in the pit leaned against the barrier, directly in front of the Metallica desk. One of them faced towards us, bent double on the rail, with his head buried in his crossed arms. He was beyond drunk. He had gone quite grey. His friend tried to comfort him for a while, and then clearly decided that it was all just a buzz-kill, and wandered off. V asked one of the young security guards to check on the ill man. The guard tapped our new friend on the shoulder, and just got shrugged off with a bit of drunken irritation. The guard reported back that the man claimed he was okay. “I don’t care,” V retorted. “Tell him he can’t stand there during the show. Tell him we need line of sight to the stage.” It’s one of those strange, entertainment half-lies. The fact was, we were all just concerned that the guy would puke on the console. One of the other Metallica FOH guys laughed as the guard moved the man along, “Yeah, he’s gone really pale. If he just pukes on THAT bay [indicating to the now vacated LoG bay] it would be alright.” I wondered how long it would take a crowd to murder any stupid drunken fan who made Metallica’s sound go away. We really don’t care if you’ve drunk so much that you’re about to collapse and die – just die ten feet over thataway!

I asked V where he was from, and whether he’d got to see much of New Zealand. He said he’d had about two hours in downtown Auckland that afternoon (which honestly isn’t the best bit of New Zealand to see), but that he’d seen a bit more of Christchurch a few weeks before. I pointed out that Christchurch is usually prettier when it’s not all rubble-y, but he said it was still pretty. They were flying out to Australia the next morning, so that would be the sum total of his exposure to New Zealand (basically lots of hours in a big windowless building, with only a handful of hours squinting at an unfamiliar city with the sun in the wrong part of the sky). Still, he’d get a day off in Brisbane, which should be nice at this time of year.

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*tap tap*… Dude… Your head’s on fire.

Metallica launched into their set, and I dutifully took pictures. However, I couldn’t help but start to feel disappointed. The band were good; I was just disappointed because I knew that it would all be over in a couple of hours. On Friday I’d be back in the office, trying to get order numbers out of bureaucratic City Council employees, prepping run-sheets and calculating generator loads. People think shows are glamorous and interesting, but mostly they’re not. The crew just sat around looking vaguely bored and impatient. That’s the way it should be. If they look angry or scared, then THAT’S when you worry.

Dear Santa, please also don’t let Lars sue me, because I’m really poor and just trying to show off his work on account of the fact that I like it a lot. I do actually own these CDs too. I’m not just some butthole stealing stuff for the hell of it…
– K

The Metallica set was also different from the previous night, but I’d already been told that it would be. I guess they have a huge repertoire to draw from, and the type of fans who tend to buy albums rather than singles. They can get a bit obscure if they want to, and people will love them for it. They must also get terribly bored. I was pleased that they played ‘Of Wolf and Man’, but sad that they didn’t revisit ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ or ‘Wherever I May Roam’ (both of which they’d done on Wednesday night). I knew that Rob’s sister would be well pleased that they did ‘Sad But True’, because it’s one of her favorites.

As the set progressed, the guys packed up where they could. It’s familiar ground for me: those restless couple of hours in the trenches, where you’re doing what you can and just waiting for the next big push. V handed me a bottle of water and a piece of dark Hersheys chocolate as he worked. I never told him how much I miss real Hersheys chocolate… Sigh… Everything that night was just hitting the right buttons in me.

The band moved into a few bars that I vaguely recognized, and V leaned back against the rail next to me and muttered something about seeing if they’d get this right. It was ‘Orion’, which apparently they haven’t played live in many, many years – and offered some big shoes for new bassist, Rob Trujillo. V said they’d rehearsed into the wee hours on Tuesday night, trying to get it tight. It seemed like an interesting gamble to me, particularly so late in the tour, but the band nailed it and it was obviously a big hit with the crowd.

[Edit: this is Metallica’s (long) concert video of the song in performance that night.
In the wide shots, we’d be off camera on the left-hand side.]

I was back standing by myself when ‘Orion’ closed and they wound into ‘One’ with a lot of flame bursts (as they had the first night), and for the first time the hair on my arms prickled, despite the heat. It was probably the fact that I was alone with it. For a moment, everything stopped being a work memory and became a different type of memory. There was a time in my life when I listened to that song a whole lot. It was in those post-Jack months, when Janis Joplin had already begun to be too cheerful for me. It was desolation. Having to keep on breathing but not really sure that I was still alive. And nothing but those creeping, terrifying memories to keep me warm. Staring at the clothes iron and wondering if I could burn my own breasts off… I’ve never admitted that to anyone.

“I can’t remember anything
Can’t tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel to scream
This terrible silence stops me

Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there’s not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me”

Yeah. It wasn’t a time that I like to remember. But it’s probably no accident that I’ve leaned into certain bands at points when I was learning to put the razor down. We find strength and protection in weird caves sometimes.

… And that’s just one of many things that music has done for my life… Moving on.

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They finished the night with ‘Seek and Destroy’, while I watched the beach balls bounce around the crowd… and randomly get sucked down into the maw like so many live chickens in decades gone by. It was always amusing to watch. Some people want to bounce it on and share the joy, and some people must possess it. Crowds make relatively normal people grab and stomp and kill, and that’s all part of the fun. V was already giving me shit for taking too many photos, so I stopped. Local muscle began to materialize around the edges of the barricades, all in their color-coded crew shirts, and nervously itching to earn their keep. I surprised myself with how young so many of them look. It’s the same company that my ex used to contract for from time to time, but he’d be an old man now by their standards. I probably wouldn’t even know him if I saw him again.

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And that was it. The racks were switched off before the band had even left the stage. The crowd rumbled for another encore, but encores are always scheduled at concerts – that’s not really much of a secret. The band can’t come back on if the crew have already unplugged everything and begun putting cases on the truck.

I thanked V again, gave him a hug, and left them to do their load-out. They were busy, and my night was over – it was time to get out of the way.

… But it had been a fabulous couple of nights. I’d gone to the show hoping to relieve a bit of aggression, and ended up with a happy reminder of why I love and miss the industry…

***

I didn’t say it, but about a month ago, when Rob was laying out his family’s vague plans for the concert, I actually ended up in tears. I really don’t cry all that often (honest!). He was talking about leaving before the end of the encore, and getting a cab back to the motel so that we could avoid the crowds… and I tried desperately to explain to him that this is never just a fun piece of entertainment to me. I am not a stockbroker playing at “heavy metal show thingees” in the weekends. I want the crowd. I want to hang back afterward and see what the riggers are doing, and scan the floor for picks, and talk to the security guards. That’s why I go. I miss cold-fingered smoke breaks in the loading dock at 3am. I miss it like it’s an addiction. At last year’s Iron Maiden concert, his insistence that there was no point in sticking around actually left me feeling naked and robbed. He treats it like it’s a movie. He sees my desire to interact with the concert as silly and embarrassing… and in the process, he inadvertently reminds me that I’ve been excluded from the one thing in life I’m desperately passionate about…

But I ignored him this year, and took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. In return, I got to step back into that world for a while (and drag him along too). He actually doesn’t resent me for it – I knew he wouldn’t. He’s really just scared of the crew, and embarrassed about me potentially annoying them. I, on the other hand, find them completely non-scary and couldn’t give a shit if I annoy them. I’m just people being people… I’m hoping that Rob might have learned something from the experience, but I doubt it. My old work is all pretty alien to him. I’m a local where he’s a tourist. He just got a better view of the stage and a better story to tell his friends.

Yet, to me, it wasn’t just a steam vent releasing pressure, it was a chance to feel normal again. It was a chance to revisit my tribe – just for a moment – and remember that I wasn’t always an outsider. It was a relief from the loneliness and awkwardness of having to live on a different planet most of the time.

***
Rob’s family and I were all sitting back in the motel room at midnight, having ordered room-service sandwiches and chattering away about the show, when V texted me again: “Next time… you bring the chocolate…”

I was extremely tempted to reply with: “Only if you bring the boobs”… but I didn’t. I try to be more considerate of the people who put up with me in the real world. V would understand it and laugh (because we speak the same dialect) but Rob wouldn’t.

I guess that’s the difference.
Yet it was surprisingly easy to step out of that world and back onto Earth. There were no tears. There was no real sense of loss, just a resolute acceptance. I enjoyed the chance to feel ordinary again, but I must remember that I can’t ever really take it with me. There’s a real world, and then there’s work, and you can’t carry one into the other. Even attempting to do so only causes a lot of pain…
Fuck, I miss it sometimes though…

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