(This is part 1 of my experience at Gigantour. Part 2 coming soon.)
I arrive at the Nassau Coliseum for Gigantour with my friend, his co-worker and his nine-year old daughter. He lets his daughter listen to Megadeth and stuff at home and thought she was old enough to go to her first concert, which I thought was cool. The security guard says once we go inside, we can’t go out and in again. So, we debate whether to go in and watch the first few bands we never heard of. We look at the lineup and figure out that the first band any of us give a shit about is Arch Enemy, so we decide to go to McDonalds down the road, to kill time until they come on.
On the way out, there are little mini-tailgate parties going on in the parking lot. I haven’t been to a big arena show in a while. On our left there are 40-year old guys with bald spots blasting Overkill out of a Toyota, and on our right there are 18-year old guys blasting Lamb of God out of a van. A balding guy with a ponytail enthusiastically gives me the “horns”. A few steps later, over my shoulder at the teenage tailgate party, I overhear a Hot-Topic-dressed mallrat snickering to someone about my friend bringing his young daughter to a show. I realize with a small old-feeling cringe that I identify way more with friendly old Ponytail Guy than elitist young Hot Topic Guy, and that I am probably becoming a grumpy old man. We leave the parking lot and go to McDonalds.
We get back from eating, and get to our seats when the last band we didn’t know was just finishing up. I’m not really paying attention to them, because the seating arrangements are so strange, it takes me a few minutes to drink it in. First off, we’d normally get pit tickets, but he didn’t want his daughter in a moshing situation, which I thought was understandable. So we got tickets for the front row of the “seat” seats. The other times I have been to the Coliseum, like for Metallica, there was one stage, so where we were (the center section) would have been directly head on looking at the stage. However this is a two-stage setup, with one on the extreme left of the arena, and the other on the extreme right. So being in the center, we’re equally far away from both; in other words, as far as fucking possible from the stage at any given time during the show. And being in the front row, our sightline to the stage is at a direct 90 degree angle to the left or right, meaning that if you stay stationary, you are completely blocking the view of the person next to you. So you have a row of people craning their necks, and each one leaning over 6 inches farther out past the next person’s head, making a big diagonal line of heads. There are barely any people in the regular seating, although it fills up when the more popular bands come on.
They play hockey in this arena during the winter, and our seats are right in front of the penalty box. Beyond the penalty box is a line of guardrails. Every few minutes throughout the show, someone gets frustrated sitting in the “seat” seats, jumps into the penalty box, and then goes up and over the guardrail, and onto the arena floor, toward the pit. One guy did an impressive Sabu-esque maneuver to jump onto the top of the penalty box railing straight from the third row, and then about ten feet over the guardrail in one swift motion, including a totally unnecessary but cool-looking full extension of the legs to either side while in midair. The lone security guard they have stationed in our area, presumably there to prevent unforgivable breeches of ethical conduct such as crossing over from viewless normal seating to the pit, stops the first couple of people; but after a while he accepts the fact that he is a defeated man and the leapers continue unopposed.
The band (I never found out who they were) closes and literally like 30 seconds later Arch Enemy comes on on the left-hand stage. They had been setting up during the other band’s set. Everybody in the pit sprints over to the other stage. I guess you have to plan this out pretty well since if you’re in the front of one pit, you’re going to get to the other stage last, unless you bulldoze the fuck out of people. I think you would have to make sure you’re in the back for the band that sucks, because if a band that you like comes on next and you have to run over to the other side, you’re going to be in the back for their set and have to push your way through a lot of people. But that’s an awful lot of strategy to ask from people who have been taking in illegal substances for a good 4 hours by this point; another unfortunate side-effect of the two-stage setup. I was half-expecting to see a few people trampled. Actually a small part of me that I am ashamed of was hoping to see a few people trampled; I wanted a little entertainment since I couldn’t see fuck-all of the stage.
The people I was with didn’t know a lot about Arch Enemy. I told them they were pretty good and they had a female singer, although you can’t really tell she is female if you just listen to the studio tracks. I thought my friend’s daughter might be impressed, since she is a budding metalhead, and Angela the lead singer is all “grrrrrrrrl power” in her stage banter and mannerisms, like a death metal Spice Girl. But she just kind of shrugs through the whole set. My friend is blown away and wants to go buy their CD. I agreed; I thought they sounded much better live than in the studio, and I already liked them before. Also, I had heard Angela speak before, in an interview, but to hear her sexy speaking voice in stage talk, back to back with the growling, is kind of… creepy. I got a half-impression that she looked hot in some camouflage pants and what looked like a wifebeater. But we were really far away.
When Arch Enemy closes their set, everyone starts running back to the other stage again. Except Overkill is on next, so this time it is less like running and more like moderately-paced jogging, since all the fans who are eager to get into the front for Overkill are about 42 years old, and all the 20-year old kids are going to get six-dollar nachos. By the time the pit re-forms at the right side stage, half the people are doubled over with their hands on their knees and sucking wind. But, God bless ’em. That will be me at a Megadeth show in ten years, so I can’t be too judgmental.
I have a side story about Overkill. I liked them as a kid, but I was never really an obsessive fan of theirs. They had catchy songs but they were always a little too high on the “cheese” factor for me. Like, if Anthrax was the highest acceptable form of cheese – around a 5 – then Overkill was about a 7, and let’s say Dimmu Borgir or Poison would be a 9.5. I’m not putting anyone down if they like that stuff – different strokes and all that – but it usually isn’t what I like. That said, when I was 11 or so, I liked them enough to own their first record (yes, record – this is around 1985, or something).
I had a friend in my class who had a shitty dubbed cassette of that album and got really into Overkill. He wanted the actual album, and you couldn’t really get metal stuff in the record stores by us because they only carried U2 and Madonna and stuff like that. Probably the closest thing to metal they would have would be like Van Halen. The only way we knew of to get metal stuff was to go into Manhattan, and for that he needed his parents who wouldn’t let him listen to metal. When he found out that I had it, he asked me for it. Well, I didn’t really mind giving it to him, but I didn’t tell him that, because, being a devious little kid, I figured I was in a good position to extort him. He had a really hot older sister, about 6 years older than us and in high school, and she was a massive slut. I told him I would give him the Overkill album if he could convince his sister to let me feel her up. To my great surprise, he agreed to go ask her. To make a long sub-story short, she wouldn’t let me feel her up, but she did agree to flash me and my other friend (not her brother) for 3 seconds, which was awesomer than awesome for a dopey 11-year old kid like me, and good enough to cough up the album. (A footnote to the story: I haven’t seen that guy since junior high, but I saw his sister somewhere about three years ago. Being 6 years older than me, she was about 35, and I would guess she weighed about 225 pounds. The ravages of time. I didn’t have the balls to go up and ask her if she remembered that I was the kid who saw her boobies 20 years ago.)
I haven’t listened to or thought about Overkill much for about 10 years (I didn’t have the album anymore, har har) so I am kind of curious what their set sounds like. After an incredibly annoying light show that consists of two small plain white lights blinking rapidly for about 45 seconds, giving everyone in the audience epilepsy – kind of like the NES version of a light show to Megadeth’s X-Box 360 -- they take the stage. To my mild surprise, Ponytail Guy from the parking lot is about two sections to our right, screaming loudly. Two sections to our left is another 40-year old guy, head shaved, screaming out “PLAY HAMMERHEAD!!!” in a thick Joisey accent. The people I am with think this is just about the funniest thing in the world, so being the class clown, I jump in too and yell “YEAH!!!! PLAY HAMMMMAAAHHH HEEAAADDDD!!” in my approximation of his same accent. Shaved Head Guy hears me joining in his exhortation to Overkill to Play Hamma Head, and enthusiastically throws me the horns, and I instantly realize he has no idea he is being mocked. I sheepishly look over in the other direction and Ponytail Guy is throwing me the horns, too. I feel a little bad.
The in-between song banter is more entertaining than the show. The singer (Blitz) rambles incoherently about playing at the Roxy many years ago, and the crazy times they had there, and how Long Island is the sick fucking cousin of New Joisey. Then he makes fun of people from Long Island and does a regional hockey joke about the Devils and the Islanders that only the old people get, and they start playfully booing him on cue. Then he takes off his shirt for no apparent reason. Then he tries to get them to chant along with him and they don’t do it loud enough so he accuses them of being from Connecticut. So then they chant it better, so as not to be mistaken for Connecticutians, who famously aren’t good at chanting, I guess. By this time, I am amusing myself by screaming out “PLAY HAMMMMAAA HEADDDDDD!!!” every time there is a song break. Every time I do, I get the very serious horns back. In the middle of every song, at the part where there are no vocals, the singer runs to the back and disappears for about 30 seconds, then comes back. My friends and I speculate that he is going back there to make use of an oxygen tent and revitalizing IV drip. Through all this, the epilepsy-inducing white blinking lights continue on and off. I secretly wonder if they are blinking a Morse code advertisement for Blue Cross/Blue Shield directed at the seniors in the audience. The set ends after 7 or 8 songs, none of which is Hamma Head.
Kidding aside, Overkill had the most sing-along of any band of the night other than Megadeth. I wonder if they have that kind of a following outside the tri-state area. I always thought of them as being like Seinfeld, or in the musical word, maybe Biohazard – as in, I get it, but I wondered if it plays well outside of New York.
Now all that’s left are the three most famous bands. The stands have started to fill up. Opeth is about to come on stage, and people migrate from one pit to the other, just like before, but this time there is also more of a steady stream of people leaving the arena seats and jumping over the guardrails. The poor security guard in front of us, who gave up on stopping the stray kids jumping over the railing an hour ago, now has a newfound interest in the steadily increasing trickle of human beings filing over the railing to go into the pit. Strangely, it reminds me of what it looks like in a movie when there are a bunch of bugs in a cabinet or an unused closet or in an abandoned house, and they come streaming and jumping out when you open it. He talks into his radio, but doesn’t do anything and no one ever comes to help out.
A woman in a T-shirt and jeans, who looks about 40 and seems like maybe an ex-groupie, is climbing up and over seats, apparently randomly, then comes back down by us again. She gets to about three seats away from us, and during the 15 seconds she is in our general vicinity, I can clearly see that she is, at best, on about three tabs of acid, but more likely, a crackhead. She hovers in our row for a second, then skips back up the stairs, dispensing incomprehensible half-spoken, half-sung words of wisdom to people on either side of the aisle as she goes, as if she is in a musical that the rest of us didn’t know we were supposed to participate in, and wanders in circles into the next level up. I feel a little sorry that she didn’t say anything funny to us as she passed. She reminds me vaguely of Mary Poppins, but on crack.
I like Opeth, but they picked the absolute worst songs to play live at a festival. They must have played the 10 or so slowest songs with the least angry headbanging parts. This might seem like an unfair gripe, but a significant number of people are there to see Megadeth (and Overkill, apparently) and might not be that familiar with Opeth. I think on a festival you should play the songs that are most likely to give unfamiliar fans the feel of what the band is about, not take an opportunity to be artsy-fartsy and please 17 fans on your forum online somewhere. But obviously they thought differently. I felt a little dumb having recommended Opeth to my friend because he was clearly not impressed with what appeared to be a Blue Oyster Cult cover band, plus some intermittent growling. I’m not sure but I think his daughter nodded off. They even admitted in between songs that they have been getting heckled on this tour because they’re playing slow shit. This came right after a lull in the crowd and one guy on the other side of the arena screamed out “GET OFF THE STAGE!!!! LAMB OF FUCKING GOD!!!” (the next band) at the top of his lungs.
Although, I have to say, the stage banter from Opeth was hilarious, and not unintentionally like with Overkill.
“We are from Stockholm. That is in Sweden. We are Swedish people.”
“It is true what you hear about Swedish girls, they have big tits and are really horny. But so are the men! I have tits.”
And more that I can’t remember off the top of my head.
After Opeth there is a long delay. I guess neither Lamb of God nor Megadeth want to play off the right hand, smaller stage, so they abandon the two stage thing. That means Opeth has to deconstruct their equipment and Lamb of God has to set up afterward, so the lights come on and there is an intermission. I realize when the lights come on that by this point there are way more people in the building than I thought. We went to the concession stand to get our own six-dollar nachos. On the way out, Crackhead Poppins is flitting by past some very sheltered suburban Long Island kids, who ask her in a very concerned voice if she is OK. She ignores them. She has progressed from Mary Poppins and is now into the final scene from Hair, twirling around like a hippie. My friend, who works in a correctional facility, laughs, as if he has great familiarity with the experience. After we are out of earshot, he goes into a diatribe about sheltered Long Island kids and how they’re too stupid to know not to talk to crackheads. “No, she isn’t alright, she’s a fucking crackhead. Leave her the fuck alone.” I realize again why he is such a good friend. I keep telling him he should write a sitcom about his job.