Inside Looking Out: A View of the PAX East Show from the Stage

I awoke in darkness on a couch in the QA Director’s office about 30 minutes before we were supposed to go on stage for the Harmonix/PAX East Showcase. After running around PAX all afternoon, gathering as much swag as I could carry, then skating over to the club for a quick load in and sound check  (followed by dining out with my better half before she went to go work our merch booth), I crawled back to the quiet of the HMX offices and found the darkest corner to nap in before the show. 

I slipped on my black Pumas as I grabbed my leather and my skateboard and headed for the elevator. As it descended to the ground floor, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and threw on my ever dependable old spiked up, patched up leather jacket. Tonight was going to be awesome…

The elevator doors opened and I shot out of the lobby and hit the street rolling through the busy Mass Ave. intersection.  I wove a haphazard path through traffic and a random assortment of drunks, hipsters and college kids as I barreled down streets and sidewalks toward my ultimate destination, The Middle East nightclub.

I popped my board up into my hand and snaked my way through the large crowd outside, making my way into the club and toward the stairway in the back that led to the larger room downstairs (where the show was).  As I headed down the stairs I could hear The Konks kicking out some serious classic punk goodness into the faces of the packed nightclub. Kurt, the lead singer/drummer [and Harmonix office manager], is awesome. Don’t ask why. He just is.

As I walked in, I was stopped at the lower doorway by two obvious PAX conventioneers. One was an Anarchy Club fan, and wanted to know what songs we’d be playing for the set.  His friend just stared at my skateboard with an odd look of disbelief.

“That’s one of the PAX East/Skate 3 promo boards…!” he said.

“Yeah… I won one yesterday, brought it home and threw some trucks, wheels and grip tape on it. It’s actually a pretty sweet deck…” I answered.

“W…Why would you actually ride on it? You’ll mess it up…”

“It’s a skateboard. If it’s not getting messed up, you’re not using it correctly…”

His friend laughed and shook his head. I smiled and walked through the doors into the dense crowd.

I said my hellos to friends and co-workers as I swerved back and forth through the happy mob of drunken gamers, jaded hipsters, and curious onlookers. As I reached the backstage entrance, The Konks had just finished their set and were toweling off their rock sweat. The room was fairly small, so I let them do their thing and clear out before heading in.

It was about five minutes before it was time to play when the rest of Anarchy Club made it to the backstage room. It was the first show with the new live line up (Adam, Caleb and I, Dan Chase from Giant Target, and Bryn from Bang Camaro). Adam asked me where I’d been. “Sleeping…” I said. Naoko from That Handsome Devil was back there and worked some elven ninja magic therapy on me that totally killed off my cloudy sleep brain as well as a developing case of mild nausea (She knows things…She has powers…).  We had a brief pre-show band powwow. Dan was excited and obviously psyched, Adam was calm and seemingly indifferent, Caleb was anxiously stoked, and Bryn was quietly ready to bring it. It was like the brief moment of peaceful serenity, when all is still, just before the hurricane hits and tears unprepared trees up by the roots. And then it was time to play.

The four of them went out onto the stage and I heard the whole crowd break out in cheers and screams. I heard Bryn say “Hey! …We’re Anarchy Club…” as he bathed the crowd in a haunting wave of sustained feedback. Caleb came in with the drums and locked into a tight, driving groove with Bryn. I let that ride for a bit and then stepped out onstage and up to the mic stand as the feedback and drumbeat grew in intensity. I counted off “One two three four…” and the stage erupted as the whole band kicked in to the opening of “Enemy Ace.” The crowd noise elevated from a cheer to a roar, and they were right there with me to sing along with the chorus…

As “Enemy Ace” ended we went right into “Blood Doll” (from Rock Band) and just as I pulled the microphone from the mic stand to sing, the cord came out of the back of the mic. This happens more often than you might imagine, in clubs that should know enough to tape it to the mic. Some singers play it off better than others. In my case the crowd seemed too happy to care. I fixed the problem quickly, and the show went on, without missing a beat (Well, actually the song went a whole measure before I jumped in with vocals, but I prefer to think of it as a “spontaneous remix”).

From there we pounded through “Rise and Shine,” “A Bullet in the Head,” and “If I Can.” Then we played “Collide” (from Guitar Hero 2) into “Behind the Mask” (from Guitar Hero) and announced we’d be putting an updated version on Rock Band Network. The news was well received.

Winding our way toward the end of the set, we played “Built to Grind” and then ended with “Get Clean” (from Rock Band 2). Again the crowd sang along with all the choruses.

To be honest, from the stage, the whole show is always a blur of guitars, drums, and screams. It’s almost over before it even starts. The crowd turns into a swirling mass, responsive to the bands every move, connected by the invisible bond of the music. Their response is the fuel on which we feed. And the night of the PAX East show, the crowd was on fire! From the kids who’d flown from England to see us play live (They knew EVERY word to EVERY song!), to the local faithful who show up at every show we play, to the PAX East crowd who’d only ever heard us in games, everyone was in the zone, feeding off the electricity in the air as they swayed back and forth in time to the music, and singing along to almost every chorus. By the time we’d finished with “Get Clean” the crowd was whipped up into a happily frenzied mob, screaming, whistling and howling their approval of the performance. We said our thanks and left the stage, still high on adrenaline.

When it was all said and done, the show had been months in the making, weeks in the press and preparation, and days in actual set up, for 40 minutes that passed in the blink of an eye (It took me longer to write this than it took to actually play the set!).

They say time flies when you’re having fun. They have no idea…

Image credit: HMXLushLife. For more photos from the show, visit her Flickr set.