As I walked up the overgrown, weed laden hill, following the lead of a hastily made, “Concert in back” sign, I wondered what I was about to enter into. On a Monday night in the beginning of September, shirking all other responsibilities, there I was, walking on cracked pavement to the back of a house, a stranger sitting on the stoop yelling, “Step” as my foot lightly caught on the raised piece of cement. Regaining my balance, if none of my dignity, I looked onto a kingdom cocooned in the sickly sweet, pungent smell of marijuana, sage, Black and Milds, and Marlborough Lights. Christmas lights flickered on a shed, emitting a soft glow from the bulbs still intact, while countless people milled around in groups, the light sapped by their dark clothes. A last call was sounded and like soldiers for roll call they all filed into the house, dropping their recommended cover and cracking open beers. Inside was stifling hot, too many electric bodies housed in a closet sized living room, leaning up against the staircase, an unused piano, or poking their heads through the kitchen hallway. The phantom whine from the amp reverberated around us as we inhaled and exhaled to the silent count. The band members, clad in tight jeans, stripped shirts, and All Stars, looked out over the sea of sardines, and introduced themselves. They would be the only words I’d understand for the next few hours. Following a count, the area exploded in a chord reminisce of “A Hard Day’s Night”, some slight interference from amps, and a collective exhale as our ears were assaulted with a cacophony of basslines, guitar strikes, and drum slaps. Heavy on the bass the music screamed around us, suffocating what little air we had left. Some of us swayed to the intricate basslines, watching as the deft fingers of the artist snaked in and out between strings, rippling across the surface of the neck. Others stood silent and still, eyes locked on the mouth of the lead singer and guitarist, valiantly hurling lyrics into a greedy microphone, lost on a deaf crowd.
Next to me was a small girl, Amelie, I would come to call her. Pale, porcelain face encased in a small, dark bob, lips stained purple by the cheap merlot in her hand, she took evidence of the event through the lens of a disposable camera, the flash a strobe light across a vibrating yet stagnant crowd. Across from me was a Thom Yorke lookalike, gaunt with matted, thin hair hanging by his face, and buggish eyes surveying those around him. He lifted a DSLR to his face and snapped pictures of the onlookers, some standing with their hands in their pockets, some halfheartedly swaying. We caught eyes as the camera turned in my direction, and the piercing realization that I didn’t know what to do with my limbs took over as I hurriedly unhooked my arms from each other. His gaze stayed awhile, a chilling breeze across the back of my neck, as I turned back to the music.
After a set, a new band would take the “stage” and we’d file out, allowing them their preshow ritual in privacy. I passed various signs, a wall of brightly colored posters advertising other bands, and an ominously flickering telly, static running across the screen, highlighting a cut out saying: “There is nothing to fear”.
Outside, I joined the milling vagrants, aimlessly and pointedly watching. Some discussed the chord progressions and decrescendos with an academic fervor based in passion. Other’s lamented the inability to discern the lyrics. Many, with clouds of Mary-Jane sustaining them, stared out, reliving the music as their free fingers twitched to a sound only they could hear above the ringing in our ears. The call sounded, and we filed in, beginning the process again and again until the music abated. My ride told me it was time to leave, and as we all left the back garden and walked down a suburban sidewalk I turned back once to see the Christmas lights in the window flicker and go out. The concert had ended, the magic, over.
The title is taken from a Real Number’s track of the same name. Click here to listen.