By Nick Anderson
Photos by Matt Brown
I’ve always really wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll riot. It just sounds so cool. I’ve been to some crazy shows where the laws of God and Man went out the window. I’ve seen fights, mosh pits that resemble the opening scene in Gangs of New York and serious injuries, and I’ve even been part of the legendary “Wall of Death” (that…was a mistake). But never a full on riot.
My lack of rock ‘n roll riot experience is kind of embarrassing, for a couple of reasons. One, concert riots are the ultimate achievement for people who give a shit about concert bragging rights. Dangerous, idiotic and being part of the problem, not the solution? Yes, I freely admit that. But honestly, when it comes to the revolutionary spirit of rock ‘n roll music, all those words can almost be considered synonyms for “cool.” I’m not talking about one of those riots that Danzig half-heartedly tried to start in Austin a couple years back. (That asshole can’t be bothered to haul a BC Rich, so I can’t imagine him standing in solidarity when the rubber bullets start flying.) No, I mean a real rock riot, a righteous one. Like, where the cops come to put a stop to all the Truth that’s being told and I’m throwing rocks on the front line side-by-side with Joe Strummer and the guys from, I don’t know, Propagandhi or some shit, and “We’re taking it back, MAN!”
That kind of riot doesn’t exist, though, because it’s stupid. In reality, riots are terrifying incidents where real people get seriously hurt and they rarely, if ever, lead to positive change. But what can I say, I listened to a lot of punk rock in high school and teenage fantasies die hard.
The other reason I’m bashful about my lack of rock riot cred is because, at my age, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that I’ve never thrashed a venue or overturned a cop car in the name of a genre of music. I’m not 17 anymore, so engaging in unlawful and destructive behavior because some musician is pissed about the amount of diet Shasta backstage strikes me as immature at best. Even if I was 17 and down for some ultra-violence my mother would have a heart-attack if she ever found out. And what kind of asshole gives their mother a heart-attack?
The closest I’ve ever come was Bumbershoot ‘08, when Monotonix played the Exhibition Hall. My band The Whore Moans had opened for them at the Comet earlier in the year and I knew what to expect: Monotonix are a group legendary for not playing according to the accepted standards of mid-level, touring garage rock bands. A stage? Not needed; they play in the midst of theaudience. Stationary drum kit that’s not on fire? Oh, you must be joking; said drum kit will be hoisted atop a pile of human bodies and it will be lit on fire because fire rules. A garbage can reserved strictly for refuse? What are you, some kind of fascist? Somebody’s going in that fucking can and then it’s getting lifted up right next to the burning drums. The singer’s ass will be shown at some point and it will be a miracle that the guitarist’s instrument cable won’t come unplugged as he crowd surfs mid-solo. “Whose idea was this?” I remember thinking as me and hundreds of others filed into the cavernous hall.
To be fair, lead singer Ami Shalev started out center stage, even if the guitarist and drummer were set up on the floor about 15 feet in front of him. Gat started off with some dancing that can only be described as “interpretative” and it took all of 30 seconds for him to drop trou and show us his ass. “Ok, well maybe this is gonna be a chill set,” I thought as he wiggled and sang plaintively to a discordant doo-wop melody. “Oh, shit, nope.” He pounced from the stage into the heart of the audience and the crowd closed around him like a fist. The security guards, who had stood at the front of the stage so proud and erect at the set’s start found themselves quickly negated, rendered as obsolete as a Lite Brite set beside an Xbox. They were accustomed to frontal assaults from frenzied fans trying to touch disdainful rockstar idolatry but they were completely unprepared for the high and mighty to insist on populism and start demanding that anarchy hold sway. These tough professionals in crowd control, with their shaved heads and official looking shirts, looked almost comically hurt, as though they assumed that the cool kids would always want them around and couldn’t understand why they had been suddenly demoted to the cheap seats.
The show lasted about 10 minutes. In that span, the singer had been hefted atop the crowd in the aforementioned garbage can and the guitarist had spent most of his performance with his feet never touching the ground. I suppose whoever was in charge knew enough to at least guess at what was coming next (hint: Fire) because the sound was cut and a voice came over the loudspeaker informing the mass that the show was over and everyone was expected to leave the hall NOW. To say that the crowd took exception to these demands is something of an understatement. For a moment, a lot of people were on edge and shit could have gotten real and real fucking quick. If the band wanted to, they could have inspired the crowd to level that place in the blink of an eye.
Speaking from experience, I can say that the members of Monotonix are some of the best company I’ve ever had the pleasure of keeping. Their manners are impeccable, they had nothing but kind words and gratitude for everyone who congratulated them on their show, and, contrary to the frenzy they whip up during performances, they are the very embodiment of “chill.” This ended up working in favor of the organizers, because, before anything could get too out-of-hand, the singer clambered back up on-stage and addressed the audience, saying that while he was sorry the set was cut short, he wanted everyone (festival employees included) to have a good time. He asked that we buy some merchandise, come to the next show, and leave the hall calmly. Which everyone did, albeit begrudgingly.
Writing this, it strikes me that this is all I could ask for as far as a rock ‘n’ roll riot goes. I don’t really wanna go crazy and rip a place apart or square off with a riot squad. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt for any reason, let alone just trying to have a good time at a show. Hell, I don’t even like crowds, so what I would I want to join a mob for? But it’s fun to run up to edge of a cliff and peek over. If Monotonix had played later in the evening, if the crowd had more time to get drunk, if security had gotten physical instead of just standing around looking lost, who knows what could have happened. Maybe I’d be writing this with a poorly healed fractured jaw delivered via billy club. And I’m alright with that not being the case. I don’t need to go looking for broken bones. I’m content with the ringing in my ears.
Nick Anderson is our newest contributor. He also plays in a rock and roll band called Hounds of the Wild Hunt. He’ll be covering Bumbershoot for us on Saturday, August 30. This year’s lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis Costello, Afghan Whigs, Schoolboy Q, Mavis Stables, Capital Cities, The Replacements and hundreds more. Tickets are still available.
This year’s Bumbershoot lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis Costello, Afghan Whigs, Schoolboy Q, Mavis Staples, Capital Cities, The Replacements and hundreds more. Tickets are still available.
More in this series:
- Against Me! (2004)
- The Locust & Flogging Molly (2005)
- Iggy & The Stooges (2005)
- Kanye West (2006)
- John Legend (2007)
- Man Man (2008)
- Patton Oswalt (2009)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2011)
Read Red’s 2010 interview with Yonatan Gat of Monotonix.