I actually cannot remember my first metal concert. Is that odd? I suppose it depends on what you mean by “metal” and “concert”. The first live music concert I ever saw (apart from a couple of Christian rock bands at the local church) was that horrid pop band 5ive in Birmingham, England, with 10 other 15 year old girls. I did not go voluntarily.
My first “real” rock concert was a band I am pretty ashamed to admit I like and so won’t mention here for fear you’ll never read this blog again. The band Incubus opened for them, as well as two local New Zealand acts, including a hard rock band who are no longer together called Savant, who I will have to play you sometime, as they’re fucking amazing. I managed to get front row centre – right on the bar – for the entire show. And standing right next to me was a gorgeous dude who ended up being my boyfriend for the next three years.
But my first metal concert – my first real metal concert? I don’t remember. Was it the 8 Foot Sativa show at the local student bar where I had my first slam mosh? Was it Metallica’s BDO 2004 show where I waited 7 hours in the pit to be on the bar? Was it Motorhead at the St. James Theatre, where Lemmy threw a tanty about the sound and I got crushed to death by the Ogre? It’s al a blur of crazy memories and incredible music.
Between that first show, whichever one it was, and now, I’ve seen … probably a hundred shows, probably more. I’ve seen local and international bands here in New Zealand, in Australia, in England, in Europe, in Greece … I’ve been to underground shows with a crowd of 15 and the biggest heavy metal festival on earth …
I think every metalhead should see one of their favorite bands live. You don’t have to go crazy in the pit to have a good time. Metal is one of the best forms of music to hear live. That enormous sound fills the whole room, and you can’t help but be swept up in it.
Choosing Your First Concert
Ignoring what I said above about not being able to remember my first metal show, the first metal show you choose to see is REALLY important. You want to be sure you have the best time ever, otherwise you’ll never want to go back. And I’d kind of like to see you there someday, so that would be sad. I think you should choose a band you really like – a band whose songs you know well and whose fans say put on a wicked show.
I think you should choose a mid-size gig – not a stadium show, because the vibe is different and the massive crowd can be quite scary, but a club gig – 300-1500 people. And I think you should get a GA standing ticket.
I think if you can find a group of like-minded friends to go with that would be great, but otherwise, you should go by yourself. Don’t drag some poor non-metalhead along – you’ll spend the night worrying about whether they’re having fun or not, and you won’t concentrate on the whole first concert experience. You’re going to be hanging out with your people – metalheads – so don’t bring an outsider in :)
Make sure you figure out how you’re going to get to and from the concert, especially if you plan on drinking. Always have some back-up cash for a taxi in case the gig goes overtime and you miss the last bus (yes, this is a lesson from experience). Carpool or taxi with friends to keep costs down – we normally meet up for drinks first, then head into town in taxis or on the bus.
What to Wear to Your First Metal Concert
A metal t-shirt. And no, not just any t-shirt. Listen up, because this is very, very important. You CANNOT, SHALL NOT, absolutely MUST NOT wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see. It’s an unwritten law (which I’ve just written, thus making it a written law) that dates back to the heyday of metal, and you don’t mess with historical precedent.
If you buy a band shirt at the gig, put it on underneath your current shirt, stuff it into your bag, or give it to your long-suffering husband to look after. Some people wear theirs, but this makes them look silly. And we’re all about not looking silly.
Exceptions to this strict rule are few, and mostly cover festival shirts, where up to 100 bands names are printed on the back.It’s unavoidable that sometimes the band you’re seeing is going to have their logo on that shirt. The awesomeness of having attended the festival outweighs the silliness of wearing the band’s name on your shirt.
So which shirt should you wear? Apart from the rule above, pretty much anything goes. Most people tend to stick to a band in the same sub-genre as the band they’re seeing, but you don’t have to be that anal. A black shirt – any black shirt – is fine.
Sturdy jeans or shorts: if you intend on going up front, you will get hot very quickly. Do NOT wear a skirt. I’ve seen girls come out of the pit with their skirts torn to shreds.
Boots: NOT sneakers. NOT sandals, definitely NOT jandals. You will get stood on. A lot. If you don’t have steel-caps or at least strong leather boots, this will hurt.
Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch: I try to take as little as possible, so I can fit everything into a tiny, padded bag which I loop across my shoulders. It is very easy to lose things in the pit, so make sure your bag fastens securely. I pack cash, ID (if needed. I still get IDed a lot), my cellphone (if needed), camera (if allowed), and pen in case I meet up with the band afterwards. If you want to bring a camera, check the back of your ticket to see if it’s allowed. Many venues won’t allow cameras inside, and it sucks to get there and have it confiscated or have to leave the line to go back to your car.
You’ll laugh, but I also have a pair of opera binoculars I use. Blind metalheads FTW.
Don’t forget your ticket!
What to Expect in the Mosh Pit
The front area of the stage – the pit – isn’t for everyone. It can be carnage down there. However, I do think every metalhead should be in the pit, at least once, right up the front, so you can experience what a thrill it is.
Pits come in a number of different forms. Right up the front of a larger concert, you tend to have what I call “the squash” where everyone is packed so tightly together you can’t move, even if you want to. Everyone pushes forward in a desperate attempt to gain those extra precious inches to the stage, and it can become quite hot and painful. You also become intimately familiar with the anatomy of the people on either side of us.
Further back from the squash, but still quite near the front, is the real moshing. This is the jumping, slam-moshing, circle pits and walls-of-death. I tend to avoid this area, because I am very little and oncoordinated. I trip over myself just walking down the street, so I get decimated in this ocean of gyrating bodies.
If you’ve never been in a wall of death, picture yourself facing off against an opposing army, running across the battleifeld to clash together in a great flailing of limbs. They are insanely scary but so much fun.
A circle pit is essentially a bunch of people running in a circle or crashing against the edges of a circle. They sound tamer than a wall of death, but can be their own special breed of carnage. Observe.
Behind the circle pit area is where the majority of people watch from. Most people prefer to stake out a spot with plenty of space (their personal territorial bubble) and actually watch the band. Who would’ve guessed that’s the main reason people attend concerts? Crazy fuckers.
Back behind the moshing, you can headbang if you want, you can go and get a beer or take a piss and always find your way back to your own little space. You’re also nearest the sound desk, where the best sound is.
In the squash, the flow of the pit goes forward and outward. So you travel quickly down the middle toward the stage, then, unless you’re on the bar, you will be quickly pushed out toward the side. You will quickly learn how to use the momentum of the pit to wriggle between the people gaps and wind your way to the front, where you might only stay for a song or two before the tide pushes you out again.
If you’re in the squash and the crowd decides to start jumping around, you can get thrown about or knocked over. This has happened to me several times and can be very scary. It’s more likely to happen the further back you are from the stage (as people have more room and it’s easier to get knocked about). But honestly, the people in pits are SO kind and considerate – they see a girl (or guy) who’s fallen down or looks like they’re in trouble, and they will help you out.
To get out of a pit, signal to the people on either side of you that you want to get out. They will lift you up and you will be crowd-surfed to the front of the stage, where security guards will pull you out. This is quite fun.
Pits are different all over the world. In Germany, my friend Johnowar and I were in a pit right up the front of Rage. John’s hat flew off and he yelled out “I lost my hat!” in English, and the people around us actually PARTED so he could look for it. Like Moses on the red sea.
In New Zealand, they would probably have pissed on it.
In all UK shows I’ve been to, I’ve found the whole front-of-stage area extremely polite and restrained, although I’m assured this isn’t always the case.
New Zealanders are insane, especially when it comes to violent pits. We can turn Iron Maiden into the most brutal pit experience imaginable. This is why we have a reputation as being crazy mother-f**kers. Even our local shows are absolute carnage.
Getting to the Bar
“Being on the bar” means you’re right at the front, so you’re leaning against the security bar. It is, apart from directly in front of the sounddesk, the best place to be at a metal show. Why? First, you get an unobstructed, front-row view of the band. This is quite important for those among us – like me – who can’t actally see that well from further back.
Second, you don’t get tossed around as much. Being on the bar means you’re able to hold on better if the pit turns into a slam mosh. If you get the bar, you can usually keep it for the entire show, whereas, if you’re even one person behind, you tend to get pushed out quite quickly.
The disadvantage to being on the bar is that a) quite a lot of people want to be where you are, so they will all be sticking their hands in and trying to wriggle their elbow in to get your spot, and b) you will spend half the night with your face in the belly of a large bouncer while they pull people out of the pit. You know that brace position they teach you on planes? Yeah, it comes in handy here.
The best way to get to the bar is to be the first in the doors, and run to the front of the stage, grab your spot, and don’t move. If you can’t get right on the bar, stand directly behind the people at the dead centre of the stage – this is where the pressure from behind is greatest. Chances are, if you can hold on, and make the tide go around you, at some point during the night this pressure will push the people in front behind and you can squeeze in.
At a festival, it’s much easier, as people tend to leave after a band finishes to catch up with bands on other stages. Simply wait behind someone during the last couple of songs of a band and, when they move away, nip in at take their spot.
Once you’re on the bar, hold on at all costs. Before the squash starts, I like to unwind my sweatshirt/jacket and jam it between my rids and the bar. Heavenly comfort, I can assure you. I fold my arms over the side of the bar. This stops other people trying to squeeze in beside me.
And then, I say hello to my “bar-mates” on either side. Lots of friendships have been forced at the front of metal concerts.
Top Concert Tips
To a metalhead, closing seven inches of distance between you and the stage IS worth it.
There is no “save my spot” in the pit. If you have to leave to go for a piss or your ribs are broken, you are not going to get your spot back.
Asking people to give up their spot for you since this is “your favourite band of all time” makes you sound whiny and childish. Don’t do it. I don’t ask people to give up the bar for me because I’m blind.
Never wear a skirt in a mosh pit. Just DO NOT DO IT. There’s always a girl who does it, and she’s always the girl left standing at the end with only a torn fragment of skirt remaining.
You cannot turn a tide of people by pushing back, so don’t even try. This applies for guys trying to “protect” their girlfriends.
If you’re a girl and someone gropes you inappropriately, elbow them. Don’t tolerate that bollocks.
Don’t bring flags into the pit. The people behind you can’t see, and this annoys them. You do not want a bunch of annoyed metalheads on your ass.
Remember that in the squash some people can’t control where their limbs end up. Don’t get aggro just because someone elbows you – sometimes they can’t help it.
Be nice, and everyone gets to have a good time.
Try and catch a pick. You’ll be so proud.
Bring earplugs, even for local shows. Especially for local shows.
I’ll talk more about local shows in my next article.
If you’ve never been to a metal show before, now’s the time, baby! Bands are touring, and your job is to find one you like and go and see them. The sooner the better. And when you’ve gone, come back and report your adventures to me.
If you’re a regular concert goer, tell us your top tips – your favorite shows. Your best-spot to stand, your favorite concert outfit. Your first metal concert experience? Your best and worst shows? What size shows do you like best? Who are you looking forward to seeing soon?