AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
Last Saturday, I went to go see a concert at Irving Plaza, the storied venue off Union Square whose stage has been graced by the likes of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Paul McCartney, and U2. But on that humid June night it was The Dillinger Escape Plan, a mathcore quintet from New Jersey, who was under the lights. For the uninitiated, to see a Dillinger Escape Plan show is to witness the peeling back of the biblical Seventh Seal, releasing a tonal assault of apocalyptic proportions that stirs audiences into violent frenzies. Greg Puciato, the band’s frontman/riot instigator is known to jump from amplifiers, hang from rafters, and even stomp across people’s heads like he were playing game of leapfrog, as he did during the band’s now infamous concert inside the Times Square Virgin Megastore (now a Forever 21) back in 2005.
Yes, this is my idea of fun…or at least it used to be. Despite my below-average height and girlish strength, I was absolutely fearless at concerts as an adolescent. By age 12, I was throwing elbows in mosh pits at Long Island hardcore shows with bands like Vision of Disorder, The Movielife, and Glassjaw providing the soundtrack to my preteen angst. In high school and throughout college, I was taking the LIRR to shows in the City – at Hammerstein Ballroom, MSG, Terminal 5, The Knitting Factory, Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, and the now defunct Roseland – in which cochlea-shattering acoustics, kiln-like temperatures, and bloodthirsty crowds all were running themes. But a change occurred in my mindset during my mid 20s, which persists now in my 30s. I still love music, and I still love going to concerts, but risking life and limb no longer seems like an acceptable trade for seeing my favorite bands live, for a number of reasons.
For starters, growing a little older has instilled in me a solid fear of death. I’ve seen colleagues succumb to some truly freakish fates, and while no one I know has ever died at a concert, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. I’d like my epitaph to read, “died surrounded by family and friends” – not “sandwiched in between the stage and a 300-pound knuckle-dragger in a Slayer T-shirt.” Yes, I admit, losing my life at a show might be a bit of a long shot, but losing blood from a kick to the forehead or an elbow to the chin is a much stronger possibility. To an under-insured 31-year-old living on a freelance writing income, any injury can be life threatening, at least from a financial perspective.
Also, I’ve come to really love sitting in my 30s. I love sitting at home. I love sitting on the subway. I’d love to sit for a portrait (tasteful nudes only). This sentiment extends to concerts, too. I’ve turned down tickets to shows simply because I didn’t want to deal with the stress of struggling to catch brief glimpses of the stage over the shoulders of people much taller than I, all while periodically checking over my shoulder to make sure some crowd-surfing idiot wasn’t about to fall on me. Some asshole crushed my neck at a Weezer concert in 2010 (yes, fans of an emo band that sings songs about sweaters and Buddy Holly can turn violent for some inexplicable fucking reason). My hypochondria had me WebMD’ing symptoms of “internal decapitation” for a week. It’s a real injury, people. Look it up.
Call me a coward, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that my days of mixing it up in the pit or burrowing my way up to the front of the stage are over. It’s fine; I’m pretty content with hanging way back and viewing the stage from afar, or in the case of Irving Plaza, at the upstairs bar in the balcony. That’s where I planted myself for The Dillinger Escape Plan on Saturday – and where something truly incredible happened.
The areas immediately around the railings overlooking the stage were reserved for VIPs, as a security guard gruffly informed me when I tried to pass him, so I was forced to stand just beyond the barriers. I could see only slivers of the stage below, supplemented by a live video feed displayed on the TV screens hanging from the ceiling. I was more than content to experience the concert in this manner, but luck would have another plan for me.
A tall African-American queen of a woman sidled over and touched me on my shoulder. I could tell by the Secret Service-style earpiece she was wearing that she was a member of the venue staff…maybe. “You know, if you pay me $25 you can access the VIP area and I’ll give you a free drink,” she tempted. My New Yorker cynicism instantly kicked in: Did this woman really work for Irving Plaza, or was she trying to con me out of 25 bucks? Then I remembered I had exactly one $20 bill and one $5 bill in my wallet. I took it as a sign from the universe and gave her my money. Thirty seconds later, The Dillinger Escape Plan is on stage and I’m standing right in back of the audio mixing booth at the edge of the balcony with a perfect bird’s eye view of the mayhem, allowing me to capture many moments of pure insanity with my phone — like this one where Greg flies like a meth’d-up Mary Poppins across the floor and into the crowd.
Witnessing such chaos from that vantage point was pretty cool – but what happened not too long after that was truly a first for me. A few songs later, Greg climbed up to the balcony on stage right and ran around to the middle VIP section, exactly where I was standing. I patted him on his sweaty shoulder as he approached me, and I yelled in his face, “Let’s fucking do this, baby!” What was he (or we?) about to “do” exactly? I had no clue – I was excited and blurted out the first thing that popped into my head (I also regret addressing him as “baby”). He pushed past me and made his way into the mixing booth, and it indeed became very apparent what he was about to do…
Greg perched himself on the ledge of the booth like a hawk, and then, at the climax of the song, launched himself into the air and down onto the crowd however many feet below. Even in all my years of being on the floor, it was the closest I’d been to a member of one of my favorite bands and easily the most insane thing I’d ever seen at a show. My mid-30s concert mentality had been validated. Sometimes I guess it pays to be old and lame.
The evening did have a downside, though. In true awkward fashion, I’d taken so many photos and videos throughout the night that when the time came for me to snap a shot of the most amazing concert moment of my life, this happened:
Like those memories of Long Island hardcore shows during my pre-cell phone camera youth, this moment would have to live only in my mind.
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