Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Arena: a tribute

Last night's Teenage Bottlerocket and Frenzal Rhomb gig was a blast from the past. Not because of Frenzal Rhomb (although they did play a plethora of really old songs) but it was because it was the first time the Arena has played host to a concert in years.

Ahh, the Arena. For 5 years it was a second home for me. One of the first shows I ever saw after moving back to Australia was Cypress Hill there. Inside the painted black walls with the sticky floor and the slightly dive-bar atmosphere, it just seemed right that everyone would light up joints right in front of security. Because that is the beauty of the Arena, no matter the band, they never seemed out of place. Over the years I saw indie, hip-hop, metal, punk... I pretty much was able to satisfy all my musical desires in the one venue.

Walking back through the thick red doors last night, it all came flooding back to me. I felt bad for Michael, my friend who was with me, as he moved up from Adelaide after the venue shut. As such, he had to listen to me ramble as I strolled down memory lane. I had to explain to him about the low ceiling in the men's toilet, and how the air conditioning vent at one corner meant you had to limbo to get to the urinal. About the dancer's cage on the second floor that used to be able to hold people, but would probably collapse now. The beauty of having bars both upstairs and downstairs and how they would only open the upstairs ones during all-ages shows. The two giant poles in front of the stage, right in the mosh where you don't want to get pinned to it. The couches hidden at the back and the even more secret back room on the second floor, full of couches and away from the noise.

But you can't blame me for this old-man reminiscing. I've seen so many good shows at the Arena that for a person like me, with such a religious-like link to music, it is my temple. I still can't forget when the Norma Jean lead singer climbed up to hang off the roof in their final song (Memphis May Burn maybe?).

Or the first time I saw Rise Against. I lost my belt in the mosh, then my pants, but I stayed up the front singing along to their acoustic cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I was probably the only person in the crowd who knew the song.

Or the very first time I saw Frenzal Rhomb and was in fact pinned up against the pole on the left side of the stage.

Or the very first time I saw NOFX. Phil got knocked out in the first song, but I had my shirt torn off me by the third song by a violent mosher and the rest of the night was a blur of a minor concussion.

Or the entire crowd singing Sink Florida Sink while impatiently waiting for Against Me to get on stage.

Or how the dickhead Frenzal Rhomb crowd kept spitting on the Lawrence Arms to get them off stage so Frenzal could play.

Or the epic 3 hour Mars Volta set (no opening act) with one of the first times they ever played the song Frances the Mute live.

Or when the firehose got pulled out during Less than Jake and sprayed all over the crowd and stage, shorting out the equipment.

Or when Moneen joined Alexisonfire on stage to sing Accidents together. After that song I lost Phil, only to find him walking the streets of the valley wearing only a single sock.

And especially who can forget the Parkway Drive show. The one that supposedly sounded the death of the Arena and the changing of the all-ages licensing laws in Queensland, seeing the demise of all-ages shows in licensed venues. The riot police, the fire alarms, the little kids going crazy and apparently the fire lit in the venue that started it all.

After that night, the venue was doomed to shut down. A few months later Frenzal Rhomb played the last show there. It then became an R & B nightclub. Oh how my heart ached at the misuse of the venue! All the shows that would normally play there got moved to the HiFi. The HiFi, don't get me wrong, is a lovely venue. It's just too nice. It lacks the gritty character and even to this day, after the amazing shows I've seen there, it still doesn't seem to have a connection with me. It's a great venue, but it has no soul or spiritual signifigance to me. It's just a venue.

I hope now the Arena comes back in some form. Walking through the doors last night you could tell things had changed. The walls had satin material. The dance floor had been relaid. The toilets fixed (and a bloody odd mirror placed directly above the urinal). The couches were nice and new. There were plants inside! The bar fixed. New lighting! Most importantly, a working air conditioning system. But under that slight face lift, it was still the Arena I know and love. That little bit of botox and cosmetic work could not hide what the venue truly is. As I moshed along to Teenage Bottlerocket, continuously slipping on the floor, I couldn't help but smile. The old girl, she's back.

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