This is a response to the Flash (Non) Fiction Challenge: Tell Us A Story From Your Life on Chuck Wendig's site. Normally, I post these in the Stories section, but as this one is a true story, or, at least, as true as I can recall given that it was over twenty years ago, I suppose it properly belongs in the Journal section. I have stories that I'd like to get down in writing, and I may wind up making this a recurring feature here. We'll see how it goes...
(p.s. Here's a different account of the same evening: http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/the_melvins.shtml )
In the late winter of 1995, Nine Inch Nails were still touring on The Downward Spiral almost a year after its release. They were no longer playing nightclubs in Deep Ellum; they had graduated to headlining medium-sized venues like the Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas. I'd seen NIN four or five times already, but this was the show I was really excited about. Not only were Nine Inch Nails playing, but my co-favorite band at the time, Pop Will Eat Itsel, were opening. This had the potential to be one of the most memorable shows I'd ever been to, and I suppose it was, but not for any reason I could have expected.
Fair Park Coliseum was an odd venue. It was the home to the rodeo during the State Fair, but most of the year, it was where the minor league hockey team, the Dallas Blackhawks, played. When the venue hosted a concert, they just put down plywood over the ice, or at least, they used to.
A few weeks prior to the Nine Inch Nails show, Pantera played at the Fair Park Coliseum. At some point, the fans figured out that they could make crowd-surfing way more awesome by lifting up the plywood and having people surf on it. Just imagine a sea of arms, lifted into the air, pushing a plywood board forward, a fan struggling (and likely failing) to keep their balance atop the board. Now imagine the board, propelled forward, carrying two hundred pounds of fan, and the front edge dipping just low enough to hit someone on the back of their head.
So, for our show, the plywood had been replaced by maybe an eighth of an inch of particle board. You could feel the cold when you walked on the floor of the arena, or at least, you would if you weren't wearing army boots like I was.* Normally, the crowds arrive late, but this was an exception: Pop Will Eat Itself received quite a ton of local airplay for their debut album "This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This!"** and the new record, on Trent Reznor's Nothing label, was something of a masterpiece. The floor of the coliseum was nearly full when the lights went down and you could literally feel the edgy energy of a mosh pit that was about to explode.
And then it all went wrong.
In these strange, pre-internet days, communication was a much less certain thing. No one knew that Clint Mansell***, the singer for PWEI, had fallen ill and the Poppies had been forced to drop off the tour. None of us knew that the Melvins had been filling in for the last few weeks of the tour. All we knew is, if this was Pop Will Eat Itself, then they were the worst industrial band in the world.
I'm sure the Melvins are a wonderful band, but for whatever reason, they simply did not have it on the 11th of February, 1995. I didn't like them. My friends didn't like them. The crowd didn't like them. The first song came and went to angry murmurs and only the faintest hint of applause. They gamely went into their second song and it went from bad to worse. The buzz got a little angrier, the crowd felt restless, and the band seemed pissed off.
It was around this time that some bright person on the floor of the coliseum realized that the floor was made of thin particle board and would tear with ease. They tore up a chunk of floor and threw it at the band. This seemed like a Very Good Idea to some other folks, who followed suit. Soon, the air was full of mostly-harmlessFrisbee-sized sheets of particle board directed at (but seldom actually reaching) the stage.
The Melvins reacted badly, but you can't really blame them, can you? Their response was to start playing one note, over and over, with a ponderous drum beat, while the singer improvised lyrics about what jackasses we were. Well, that, and the fact that they weren't going to go away no matter how much of the floor we threw at them.
But throw we did. We threw and we threw and we threw. We threw until there was literally no more floor left, at which point, one of my friends turned around, facing away from the stage, and sat down. All of my friends did the same. Eventually, everyone on the floor was sitting down, facing away from the band. The Melvins, either figuring they were beat or that they'd won as much as they were going to win, threw down their instruments, flipped us off, and stormed off stage.
The lights came up, and Trent Reznor came out and stepped up to the mic.
"Dude. Not cool. This next act does some seriously dangerous shit, and if anyone throws anything at them, we're not playing tonight."
I may be off a word or two. It was a long time ago.
The second act were the Jim Rose Circus, a freak show act that were kind of everywhere in the mid-90's. The had a guy who put his entire body through a badmitton racket, a guy who lifted cinder blocks with his nipple piercings****, and similar acts. We behaved will and enjoyed the show.
You'd think that seeing Nine Inch Nails after all that had gone on before would be anti-climactic. Or, at least, you might think that if you have never seen Nine Inch Nails. Their show was almost the perfect embodiment of the world "climax." Trying to describe any show is difficult at best, but NIN at their peak? Imagine the heaviest music you've ever heard, add in the visceral thump of industrial percussion, and top it off with Trent Reznor's uniquely emotional vocals. The music made me want to slam into to thinks, to tear myself out of my skin, it felt like every raw emotion I knew from my teenage years turned run through a Marshall stack.
Most of us on the floor felt that way. It's why were on the floor, after all. We were there for the mosh pit.
Did I mention that we'd torn up the floor of the arena? And that underneath the floor there was nothing but ice?
Yes, please picture that for a moment. Take the time to wrap your head around a dark arena, thousands of kids in combat boots, shoving and pushing and caroming into each other, all on a floor of ice. We'd sit down on the floor, clutch our knees to our chests, and three or four others would give us a running start and launch us into to the pit like a bowling ball, knocking over a half dozen others on the way. You have the imagine in your head? How does that look to you?
It was awesome.
It was stupid, it was pointless, it was really fucking dangerous, and it was the best thing I'd ever experienced.
* It was a very different time. I regret nothing.
** Which you should own if you don't already. It came out before NIN's Pretty Hate Machine, and in some ways, it's a superior record. It's a dizzying array of cut-and-paste beats and metal riffs that was at least five years ahead of it's time. Seriously. Check it out.
*** You know Clint Mansell, or at least you know his work. He's done the sound track for most of the Darren Aronofsky films and his Lux Aeterna from Requiem for a Dream won a stack of awards. Oh, he's also the singer in this video.
**** This was Joe Lifto, who bartends at Casino el Camino in Austin. Ask him about this night if you run into him. He remembers.