How far will you go for your favourite band?
It was about 8:45pm, March 7. I was on the balcony of a 3rd rate bar in Sydney’s Chinatown. Permeating the air inside was the rich fragrance of sweat and urine. The place was packed with pokies; construction workers stared into blinking screens with dead eyes.
It was a big night. Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails were co-headlining for the first time. They had two shows in Sydney and I was going to the second day.
I’ve been a fan of Queens of the Stone Age since I was 15, almost eight years ago. They were one of the bands that made my teenage years. I’d waited almost six months to see them. Then, 24 hours before the concert, I came down with a bad cold. My body felt mangled.
I had heard from a friend who went the first night that NIN finished playing at 9:15 and that the Queens were playing at 9:45. As much as I wanted to see both bands, I was so buggered I had to choose: I decided to sacrifice NIN and just see my childhood favourites.
My friend had insisted on going to the bar beforehand.Laura brought two schooners to the table and, against my better judgement, I drank one. I felt good for a little while – then I felt sick again.
Nearing 9pm we made our way into the stadium. Laura wanted to grab another drink and go for a smoke but I convinced her that we should catch the last of Nine Inch Nails.
We went through a door leading to a wide tunnel and walked towards the sound of the crowd. That’s when I heard Go With The Flow by QOTSA blasting through the speakers. We looked at each other for a second and launched into a sprint. Entering the stadium I saw the drummer slam the last few beats and raise both his arms triumphantly. The crowd was in a frenzy.
I swallowed hard and asked a random fan “How long have they been playing?”
“Ah” he said looking at his phone. “Probably a little over an hour.”
I swore to myself. The guy saw my expression and understood.
“Well if it makes you feel any better, they were fucking awesome.” he said with a broad grin and turned back to look at the stage. I was in shock.
Josh Homme – the lead singer – said something to the crowd that I can’t even remember, all I know is that they played Song for the Dead as their finale and it was epic. I felt as though a knife had been driven into my gut but there was no pain. Just numbness. The song finished and it still hadn’t sunk in. The crowd scattered for the intermission and suddenly I felt so ill I suggested we go home.
It turned out the bands had decided to flip a coin because they see themselves as equals; neither band wanted to “headline.” At the start of each gig, they’d flip to decide who went on first. Apparently this was announced on Facebook but I was oblivious, taking my own sweet time at a bar.
When I got home, I thought long and hard.
There’s timing to everything. For athletes, physicists, artists and plumbers alike: there are peaks within the human lifespan. Everyone has a few key moments when all the right juices are flowing; where every whim leads to some electrifying experience, every decision is the right one, every expression you make is true, honest, pure and beautiful – your prime.
I felt that this was one of those moments for the Queens of the Stone Age.
Back in 2002 they made Songs for the Deaf (platinum sales status in Australia) – the album that got them widespread recognition – and man, do I wish I had been old enough back then to witness that moment in their lives. Now, 12 years later with their latest opus, Like Clockwork… I feel they have reached yet another peak. I have a peculiar connection with this album.
I called an old friend and told her everything. Though jobless and with a dwindling savings account, I had already made my decision: “I’m going to Melbourne to see them,” I told her. To my surprise she said “I’ll go with you. You can stay at my place there and I’ll book the tickets now.” We wished each other good night and hung up.
If only it had been that simple.
When I tried to contact her to figure out our plans she refused to pick up my calls. Text, likewise. She finally confirmed on the Thursday, one day before the gig, that she hadn’t bought tickets and couldn’t go.
There was no time to spare; I had to book tickets. I went on Ticketek to find all Friday allocations exhausted. I looked up Saturday:
General Admission (exhausted)
B Reserve seating (exhausted)
A Reserve seating (available).
I bought the ticket without any hesitation. I relaxed a little… until I looked up transport for Friday.
The cheapest flights were $200 each way. I looked at buses. Booked out. I looked up trains. Booked out. I threw my hands up in the air and stared at the screen. Apprehensively, I looked up trains for Saturday: everything was booked out except for first class – 7:30 on Saturday morning.
The doors for the show opened at 6:30pm. The train’s time of arrival? Also 6:30pm.
I bought the ticket.
Next, accommodation. Every hostel was booked out. Someone upstairs had to hate me. I called a friend to whinge about it and he told me: “Oh the Grand Prix is this weekend in Melbourne and there are huge Rugby and AFL games, too.”
I had been trying to organise an impromptu trip on Melbourne’s second busiest weekend of the year. I thought: Ah well, I’ll just pull an all-nighter at some bar.
The train ride was peaceful and I dozed as the countryside slid by. Approaching Melbourne I checked my phone to find the battery was almost flat from trying to find a signal in the bush. I quickly switched to Airplane mode as I realised I would have nowhere to charge it.
The train arrived on time and I raced to the exit of the station where I put all my luggage into a public locker. I crossed the street and hopped in a cab.
“Rod Laver Arena” I said to the driver. We moved all of five metres in traffic before he said “Listen buddy, you’re probably better off walking if you’re in a rush. This traffic isn’t going to let up.” I reached for the door. “That’ll be $7,” the driver said. I turned to stare at him. I had been in the cab for less than two minutes. I threw my loose change at him and got out before he could count it.
The city that was unknown to me, but I began to walk. My iPhone, with only 19 per cent battery left, showed I was 30 minutes from the stadium, so I started to run. And that’s when I felt a droplet of water on my swinging arms. I picked up the pace but so did the rain. Soon I was moving through walls of water but I kept running, short of breath. I could barely see the phone for the water on the screen.
After 15 minutes of running, an enormous structure emerged amid trees on the opposite side of the road. There it was: Rod Laver Arena. Going through the gates felt like running through the finish line of a marathon. I bought two beers and found my seat. It took a moment to take in. I was in Melbourne, alone, to see one band. I felt crazy and it was a great feeling.
At 7:20pm the lights dimmed and the echoing sound of guitars and synthesisers crept in. I didn’t know the song at the time, but it was A Warm Place by Nine Inch Nails. Aptly named, the song is a comforting ambient piece that managed to put me in a blissful trance – which was suddenly interrupted when the rolling guitars to Somewhat Damaged threw the stadium into darkness and the stage burst alight with white strobe lights.
I didn’t know Nine Inch Nails that well, but as I listened, my toes began to tap. By the time they were half-way through their set, I was engrossed in their rhythm. I had never realised how dark and industrial their sound was. Almost like a metal band but with experimental/ambient electronic elements. By the time they finished their set, I wanted more.
Of course, they came back out for their encore, the one song I knew well – Hurt – and I was completely awe-struck. As people stood up to cheer and clap I sat there with my hands to my face, tears filling my eyes. I forgot where I was until the song finished and snapped me out of it.
I got two more beers and sat back down. A girl in a black dress who wasn’t there for NIN sat next to me quietly, an excited look on her face. I wondered where she’d come from.
At about 9 o’clock, the lights dimmed and the stage glowed an ominous red. Two vertical rectangular screens lit up grey on both sides of the stage with static all over and a countdown started. When it hit zero, drums started rolling. We all knew what song it was: chugging guitars joined in and it was unstoppable, the crowd roaring in excitement as You think I ain’t worth a Dollar, but I feel like a Millionaire blasted through the speakers.
It was the first song from the 2002 album Songs for the Deaf and I sure as hell felt like a millionaire at that moment. I was up on my feet yelling at the top of my lungs: 12 years on, it could still rock a stadium.
The girl next to me was as excited as I was. She turned to me during the third song Avon (from their debut album). “This is my favourite!” she said excitedly. Two songs later she left. I guess she was one of those people who’re only into bands’ older stuff. $130 for one or two songs… Good for her.
The setlist was incredible, mixing songs from 18 years as a band while honouring the fact they were touring to promote their new album. Eight of the 16 songs were off Like Clockwork…
You wouldn’t really expect a rugged looking guy like Josh Homme to be singing in silky smooth falsetto. It’s great that he quit cigarettes; he couldn’t otherwise maintain a voice so delicate yet so strong, a voice that brims with attitude without coarse yelling. It’s not often that brutal rock songs like Sick, Sick, Sick can be accompanied by such a soft style of singing. Although some classic fans might not be fond of it, he is a master of the slower ballads.
As encore they played Vampyre of Time and Memory. The sound of piano drifted down like rain drops as he began playing in complete darkness.
“I’m all alone in this crowd,” he whispered into the mic. And there it was – the satisfaction of witnessing a moment of greatness, the feeling that everything was worth it. The money, the time, the effort meant nothing and the experience meant everything. They certainly were in their prime.
The concert ended and I left. My phone told me my dad had somehow found a hostel for me. Guess he didn’t like the idea of me staying up all night at a bar. I walked back to the station to get my bag with my charger but it was locked up. So I had to walk to the hostel using up precious battery reserves. I slept for about 4 hours. My phone alarm went off at 5:30am with 1 per cent battery left and I managed to safely catch the train back to Sydney at 7.30.
I’d spent $570 on food and tickets and 24 hours on a train. Almost everything had gone wrong and yet I returned with a smile on my face.
What can I say? It was one hell of a gig.
– Sion Weatherhead