You thought you knew what was coming – and you wanted to be wrong

First appeared in The Woolf
Summer 2018
Tales from the Pit no. 7

Dispatch: Shame

Before the crowdsurfer popped a few chin-ups over the track lighting, you still knew your place. You took it, rightfully, on the riverside, among the semi-fresh-faced and lightly unwashed.

As you and your friend tucked into reasonably priced vegetarian, you thought: I could get used to this. The chestnut trees swayed. The beer ran cold. You talked more about travel and kids than the brain-bludgeoning state of the world. And straight ahead, in shouting distance, sat a few members of Shame, the band you came to see.

You knew all their names, and just that afternoon you’d sunk so deeply into their music, you left your lunch on the train. Still, you behaved. You let them be. There were, after all, conventions to uphold, reputations to preserve – and you might sound like their mother because you could be.

Inside the club, you were tempted again. One of the guitarists was setting up inches away, likely the last tour he’d be doing that himself. But you remembered the time Noel Gallagher told a heckler he had a message from Liam – that he “shouldn’t disturb his brother while he’s fucking working” – and kept quiet.

You had other things to worry about. In a few minutes, you’d be called on to defend your front-row position while protecting your friend’s open toes. As the room filled up, you sensed an encroachment from behind. You puffed up all 61 inches to your name and widened your stance. The offender slipped past you anyway and took his seat behind the drums. Maybe it wasn’t too late for surprises.

Because with years of gigs behind you, expectations could dull your head like a brick. Just last month you’d caught the Dylan show to see him once and not have to tell your dad that you didn’t. The packed arena looked as convincing as a computer-generated crowd scene. Even with your glasses on, you couldn’t always find the man on stage. Sometimes you wondered if the music was coming from the band or the 50-odd years of memories the audience had smuggled inside. In a hall as vast as his work, you got lost.

Tonight, you needed an antidote. As the band checked their equipment one last time, you thought you knew what was coming. And you wanted to be wrong.

When Shame bounced on stage to ABBA, so much was still inconceivable. The crowdsurfer hanging from the ceiling. The guys down front clutching the stage like a teddy bear. The bassist somersaulting backwards with his guitar, or trying to. The mic thrust in your face for a line, and you acing it. The single raised eyebrow of an older woman as you locked eyes, for a second, in the mayhem.

The band grabbed their instruments. The frontman rubbed his hands like two sticks over a pit. You waited for the fire, but first he opened his arms.

“Come closer,” he urged, taking beer in his mouth, and before he spewed it out like a geyser, you did.