I’m wearing dirty blue jeans and a jacket to match. My checked shirt is from Kmart and the Docs on my feet were a birthday present from my mum. I’ve got shitty hip hop blaring from my headphones and when I walk I keep my shoulders hunched and my eyes straight ahead. In my mind I’m exuding edge, I’m exuding fuck-you attitude and everyone is getting out of my way.
I caught an Uber here even though they’re corrupt and exploitive.
A shoulder bumps into my side and draws me out of my punk youth fantasies. I twirl around as the girl responsible simultaneously flips me off, apologises and keeps on walking. I straighten and turn my music down. These boots are too new and tight on my feet.
I arrive at the gig halfway through the second support act. To get to the stage you have to go down a hallway next to the main bar and then past a secondary sports bar/gaming area. There’s no signs pointing to where the stage might be so it takes me a sec to figure out where the fuck I’m supposed to be going. This place sucks.
The room where the band is playing is carpeted with three complete walls and a fourth which is just a frame around holes where the windows and doors have been removed. Between me and the stage is this room and a paved beer garden, narrow with tall buildings looming on either side of it so you have to look up to see the sky. I go and get myself a beer from the sports bar so I have something to do.
I buy a Coopers even though they’re conceited and homophobic.
To get to the stage you have to go across the beer garden and step up through the empty doorway into the carpeted room. The room looks full from outside even though it’s probably not so I stand awkwardly back where I can’t see the band playing. To occupy myself I sip at my drink and stare at different people until they turn around so I have to pretend I’m looking somewhere else.
The support finishes, thanks us and packs up. As people leave the area closest to the stage to get more drinks I slide in. The crowd is full of middle-aged old-school punks. I watch a few stroll around with laces up to their knees and the headlining band’s vinyl tucked under designer jackets. The lighting is dull in here and every time there’s a lighting change shadows move across the floor which makes me feel like something is falling behind me. When this happens I flinch.
A loud woman with big cheeks, short hair and a Mambo hoody gets her drumsticks signed by the support act that just played. Enthusiasm rolls off her in waves of sweat. A man built like a wall stands to the side of the stage. He is bald with two red wiry mutton chops hanging off the sides off his face. There is something fast and loud being played over the speaker and I don’t recognise it but he is bobbing up and down. His two hands are balled into large tight fists and they sway with him.
There’s a fireplace next to the stage and he bounces in time with the dull flames inside it.
I finish my beer and don’t know what to do with the glass.
I see one of my old tutors and don’t say hi.
I wish these lights would stop flickering.
The headliner is taking an extra long time setting up.
I watch the bass player carefully stick several layers of bandages to his right wrist and wonder what it is for.
My back hurts and I think about leaving early.
I’ve just started counting the coins in my pocket to figure out if I can get another beer when they start playing. The loud woman with the big cheeks pushes past the crowd and stands uncomfortably close in front of me. She turns and says something to me that I can’t hear over the music then laughs. I nod smiling. When she swings her elbows around I have to step back.
Green lights wave wildly across the stage rendering the band a blur. Their sound is deceptively simple, with one guitar, a bass, drums and incendiary lyrics it’s easy to fall into a punk mould that denies originality and interest. But the extent of control they exert over both their performance and sound is astounding and destroys that mould completely. The stage is an instrument in itself with the guitarist utilising distance and space to her advantage. I watch as she moves back and forth from her amp, carefully pushing distortion levels up then down in time with the rest of the band. Heads nod in the crowd. The woman in front of me is totally lost, grinning madly to herself. The wall to the right side of the stage is swaying faster and faster. To the left a pair of men in suits start dancing, get embarrassed, stop, then dance again.
The songs I know get played first and I don’t mind when they play more that I don’t know. I sing the words loudly and get them wrong often.
The green blur of the stage coupled with the rolling build of the music and words is intoxicating. In this shitty pub on the wrong side of Adelaide I close my eyes. I forget my clothes, my skin, my mind and let my guts and insides twist to the sound. I am not me here, I am part of something, I am part of change, I am part of dissonance, revolution, something greater than.
A shoulder thumps my back. I turn, still grinning. The wall with the mutton chops glares back at me, a woman in identical black clothing twirling on his arm. Good natured I bump him back and turn back to the band.
My eyes catch the fireplace briefly. The flames are much higher now.
A hand grabs my arm and pushes me into the person next to me. I turn to apologise to them when someone knocks me forward. Someone else from my left pushes me and another from my right. I turn, drop my shoulders and start knocking back. I’m smiling.
My hat gets pushed off my head and I grab it quickly, hitting someone in the face with a flailing fist. The green lights spin and I spin with them, falling into ribs, elbows, knees, floor. In the blur of the band and body movement I recognise the woman with big cheeks, the wall with the mutton chops and a handful of others as the space where we mosh expands. Expanding because people are stepping back.
The wall grabs people and pushes them in, people who immediately pull themselves out. He swings fists. I watch in one spin across the front of the stage as he knocks the drink out of the hands of one of the men in suits and pushes the other to the floor. I laugh, lost in the violence of the moment.
I think we’re moving faster but it’s because more people are stepping out which means there is more space to fall through. I stumble when I push to the side and hit no one. As I gather myself I see one of the men in suits, now with wine stains down his front, is standing in front of the wall. He has a finger pointed between his muttonchops and I can read from the shapes his mouth is forming that he’s saying
“Stop this bullshit.”
The wall laughs and the woman with full cheeks pushes the man in the suit so he stumbles. He doesn’t step down. Things are getting quiet and it’s then I realise the band is playing the same note over and over again, watching what is happening carefully. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing this. A creeping uncomfortable feeling crawls up from my stomach, like alfoil that I’m slowly regurgitating. I move back into the crowd.
The bass player leans towards the mic
“We will stop playing.”
The wall throws his hands in the air like Nixon on that plane. He nods vigorously.
“Take your toxic masculinity and fuck off.”
The woman with full cheeks knocks the man in the suit again, and the wall pushes against her. A few others push again but I don’t want to move anymore. I don’t want to be here anymore. I am so aware of my clothes, my skin, my mind, my hate. I am not me here, I am part of something, something awful, something poisonous.
The guitarist starts to speak. The song isn’t over yet.
“I look out here and see men, men making everyone else here feel unsafe in a space where we have fought hard to make everyone feel welcome.”
The contradiction between what they represent and what we thought was support frightens me greatly. I was having fun. I was having fun making other people feel unsafe. I wish I wasn’t so tall. I wish I wasn’t here at all. She points at the wall and when he sneers she shouts him down.
“Fuck the patriarchy.”
I nod and clap and cheer with everyone else even though I’m part of the problem. I can’t turn around in case someone points out my hypocrisy and I explode. The wall’s head is down but he is still swaying.
They play the end of the song which is the part where I know the words. I say nothing and keep my hands in my pockets. Someone knocks me and this time I step back.
The band finishes. I can see from their setlist that they still have one more to go but the bass player turns to the guitarist and when they turn back to the crowd they say thanks and start packing up.
I clap and nod here even though I’m part of the problem.
I leave immediately, walking out of the pub and putting my headphones in. I don’t play any music. Guilt and shame follow closely.
Streetlights flicker. I can only see them in the corner of my eye and when it happens it makes shadows move across the pavement and makes me think something is falling behind me. When this happens I flinch.
“I am not a production unit,
I am a human being.”
‘Say What You Mean’ – Cable Ties