He got off the train into the humid twilight. He was on the near west side of his city. The city he called home, the city that worked. No one was working now. The corners were patrolled by cops and vagrants alike, both had malice and disregard in their eyes. The old man made his way past them as quickly as he could. His feet ached from the night before, yet he returned to the pavilion for another night of music, dancing and darkness. He walked into the security line up and waited for his turn.
Raise you arms the guard said.
The old man did as he was told. The guard grabbed him, groped him and pushed him through to the next check point. His ticket was scanned by the blood red light and he entered the arena. It was a desperate place. A girl with vacant, dark eyes crept by asking for molly, acid, anything. She was so desperate she stole a sip from a passer-by’s beer. He slapped her, making her sprawl on the ground, still crying, begging for drugs. The old man walked away.
He slid his way on to the general admission floor. The old man was able to move up close to the stage, getting strange looks from the younger fans, knowing nods from the older ones. A boy in a dress was starting to cry, peaking too soon on the acid he took before the show. Others were drinking, two-fisted, on overpriced Fat Tire Beer and watered down margaritas. One girl with dirty dreadlocks that smelled like earth was vomiting. It took awhile but two guards came over and dragged her away. The old man sat down on the cold floor.
As it got later, the crush of bodies became more and more intense, eventually the old man had to stand or else he would have been crushed.
Pick the Opener? A young man with a beard said.
No, the old man said.
The next forty minutes seemed to last a life time. His feet already hurt. The smell of bodies was strong and the talk and laughter were too loud. The old man desperately wanted the lights to go down and the music start, so he could feel release and forget.
The darkness finally came and the band walked out to an enormous cheer. A blaze of lighters and cloud of smoke rose before one note was struck. The band seemed confused, befuddled by the signs and shouts for songs that they long ago forgot how to play. Then they started; Dinner and a Movie, a simple song from a simpler time. When they played Ha Ha Ha the old man almost felt like it was a joke about how his dating life went; dinner, a movie or show, then laughter, sometime wicked, sometimes pitying, always hurtful. The Chalkdust Torture fit the old man’s mood perfectly, rage, peak, and almost drove him mad. The younger fans were pleased by the choice of Mexican Cousin, but the old man was unmoved. He always found the song to be a cheap Jimmy Buffet knock-off and he’d be damned if he’d cheer for it now. Walls of the Cave did nothing for him. It is a fine song, and was well played but it did nothing for the old man.
The rest of the set was a run through memory for the old man. Runaway Jim and Foam were fast but the next swing in mood was after the stale comedy of I Didn’t Know. Ocelot and Ginseng were paired and mellowed the crowd and the old man. He decided to look back from the stage when the lights shined. All he saw was a sea of sunken eyes, slowly pulsating, desperate. All started moving in a rhythm to the Wedge and then chased the magic of Limb by Limb. The old man tried to dance like he did when he was young. It just made him feel broken tossed with the salad and baled with the hay. The Rolling Stones’ Let It Loose ended the set. Page Mcconnell sounded brilliant. His voice was soulful and almost made the old man weep as he thought of all the past shows, past loves, and past life.
The old man thought about leaving the floor to find a bathroom, but he decided to sit on the floor. People stumbled by him, drunk, stoned and vacant. Balloons fell next to him. No one felt the need to throw them without the music. The old man waited.
The second set opened with Mike Gordon pounding on his bass with fury. Distorted sound erupted and Down with Disease began. It has always been the old man’s favorite song. It often went to a dark place and it did not disappoint. The stage was bathed in red and the music was like a thunderstorm.
Harpua. Harpua, a fan yelled.
The old man slapped him across the mouth. Blood, spit and teeth spilled onto the floor.
Harpua is a myth.
The old man enjoyed Twist and Backwards Down the Number Line, but wished that both went further, deeper, darker. Theme From the Bottom had always been a break within the set for the old man, and he didn’t feel any different now. The cover songs, Golden Age and A Day in the Life were unexpected but welcomed. The Beatles were always welcome. You Enjoy Myself ended the set like it began, though not as dark. The vocal jam haunted the old man. The screams of the band made him think of a lifetime ago, when screaming mattered. When the band came out for the encore and played Heavy Things, the old man knew his time was up. He pushed toward the back of the arena and waited. Slave to the Traffic Light was another favorite, but the old man was already thinking of the real traffic lights, green, yellow and red. He moved closer to the exit. Rocky Top was never for him, though he liked the song. It was just sung for someone else. The old man left. He walked into the darkness, boarded the train. He thought about the concert and realized it was the forty-fifth time he had seen phish. Why?