Back in November when I first ordered the mosh pit tickets for the Green Day concert in Singapore, I didn't fully understand the ramifications. Sure, my daughter Billie's excitement about the gig announcement was clear. And certainly I am an admirer of the raucous band's hard-driving music, considering American Idiot lyrically and musically one of the most important American cultural statements of the first decade of the 21st century. So I quickly got online and did the Sistic credit-card thing. But the mosh pit?
Should we get tickets for the mosh pit? I asked. Yes! was the response. Our fate was sealed.
Within a week the tickets arrived by mail. After opening the envelope, it suddenly came to me: I saw on each ticket the ominously printed section name: Pen A. Oh to feel like a soon-to-be caged (and slaughtered?) animal.
Months passed, the holidays came and went, and I had nearly forgotten about the concert and the mosh pit. Apparently, I had also overlooked Green Day's appeal, even here in Singapore. The day before the concert Billie asked me when I'd be home from work, in the same breath suggesting that we head to the stadium venue by mid afternoon in order to have a chance to get in early and get close to the stage.
What? Mid afternoon? I asked incredulously. Why?
I was remembering how two years earlier we'd gone to WOMAD Singapore at Fort Canning, and for the concert by Britain's Asian Dub Foundation, we'd waited to the last minute to go and still gotten choice spots alongside the stage. This would be different, I'd imagined.
I'd still balked, but I came home from school by 4pm so that we could leave the house by 4:30. When we arrived by taxi at the stadium grounds, I was surprised so few cars were in the lot. There ya go, I thought. No one here yet.
Right on one front, but generally wrong! What was true was that no one who could drive a car was there yet. After a detail of security dudes directed us to the line for Pen A, we discovered, hidden under the eaves of the stadium, at least a 150 fans sitting on cold concrete in a line cordoned off by a thick purple strand of theater rope. My guess at the average age: 18 or so.
Still, things were calm---it wasn't anything to worry about. So there we sat for nearly two hours, amidst the developing line and growing piles of burger wrappers. But that was just the beginning. As more fans arrived, the buzz became more palpable, and then just after 7, the doors were opened and through the turnstiles we quickly went. Unlike the fans in several of the stadium concerts I'd been to in the distant past -- seeing The Who in Cincinnati and the Stones (twice) in Cleveland come to mind -- these kids were amazingly well behaved. In fact, once through security, I was one of only half a dozen people I saw running for the front!
Easy as pie. I got right up to the chest-high metal barricade separating the mosh pit area from the stage. And that's where we stood as the arena filled. And filled. And filled some more. And the more it filled, the tighter our space became. Finally, just before the opening band got on stage (a rather dull and pompous glam rock group named Prima Donna), I realized that yes indeed we were penned against the barricade. The only way out would have been via "life flight" care of the muscular bouncers who stood just opposite us, smiling in their own spacious comfort zone.
Then came the moment we'd all been waiting for, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool running on stage, and the audience sway became a tidal wave. It seemed that everyone behind us, from little Malay dudes in colored hair to Indian girls with nose rings, wanted to enhance his or her position so as to see these musical heroes. With hundreds of cellphones and video cameras held high, with sharpened elbows plying for the perfect screen shot, the impassioned fans heaved into a collective mass of humanity. Luckily, I was able to hold my own in the fray (and protect Billie), but smaller characters, including a skinny 15-year-old Chinese kid Billie had befriended back in the initial line, now fought for a breath as they were squeezed more and more. From the rhythmic force of the first bars of the first song, a power surge ensued, and the crowd's moans and bellows followed. Within our immediate view, at least a dozen kids soon were begging the bouncers to be plucked out of the maddening throng. (After being lifted over the barricade, they were escorted out of the front of the arena to the back, from where they could still watch.)
Up on stage it was all a 21st Century Breakdown. What excites fans about Green Day is the high energy level and great execution. These guys play with a maniacal conviction. No one hits the drums (or loses drumsticks) like Tre Cool. No one pinches the bass strings (or his brow) like Mike Dirnt. And then there is Billie Joe, a bit of a Charlie Chaplin character: one part poetic genius, one part circus clown, and three parts masterful communicator/lead singer/rhythm guitarist of one of the hottest bands on the planet. The band's three more anonymous sidekicks are all heady musicians as well.
In action, Billie Joe and Mike run from one end of the stage to the other, they jump, they slide---all the while kicking out song after song after song. They also interact with the audience in a manner that I've never witnessed, Billie Joe going so far as to invite the entire audience to sing along as he did with "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," or asking volunteers from the crowd to come up to strut their own stuff and to not just sing along but to hold court---king or queen for a moment in the evening. One young Malay dude with green hair was just such a lucky invitee. Though his vocals were mediocre, he used his chance under the hot lights to imitate Billie Joe with quite a bit of finesse, much to the band's obvious satisfaction. After his singalong through "Longview," he and Billie Joe embraced, then Billie Joe slipped a fat envelope into his back pocket: money or back stage pass?
Back in the mosh pit, life had become a bit more civilized. Yes, personal space was lacking. Yes, the breath of the tall Chinese kid beside me was repugnant. Yes, my neighbors' hand-held cameras occasionally slipped too far into my view and I was forced to push them away. But we were all in it for the music, and in that way, we bonded, even if only momentarily, chanting along: ole ole ole ole, or hey oh, I say, hey oh!
The music went on non-stop for two and a half hours, the musicians showing not just a great talent for reproducing the gems from their albums but also very serious athleticism. When Billie Joe finally bid us good night and then completed his introductions of fellow band members, no one was fooled. We knew an encore would follow in the form of the classic songs, "American Idiot" and "Jesus of Suburbia." What none of us might have suspected though was that a medley of three more songs would follow --- "Last Night on Earth," "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Time of Your Life"--- all played commandingly in acoustic solo fashion by the singer-songwriter himself.
By the time the last stroke of Billie Joe's clangy guitar faded into the rafters, the mosh pit had become as meaningful as a giant womb, with each of us finding a sort of collective calm in a cultural experience of accelerated worth. No regrets, I then thought to myself. Not on this day.