I wasn’t the oldest non–parent seeing Set it Off at Union Transfer on March 3—that honor belonged to my twenty–one–year–old friend—but I was the tallest, often several inches above the brace–faced and pimply high school students surrounding us in the pit. I came from the punk and hardcore scenes, and my friend from metal—both genres prone to raucous shows with headbanging, moshing, and even a few walls of death. We had survived acts like The Descendents and Marilyn Manson. Surely we could go just as hard as an audience not yet old enough for a driver’s license. Instead, we left that show with no voice, agonizing pain from neck to lower back, and the uncomfortable realization that we might be getting too old for this.
Punk, and especially the pop punk that Set it Off inhabits, is a genre of the youth, filled with angst and ire, but I never thought that I would pass my wonder years by the ripe old age of eighteen. Still, the warning signs are clear when looking back in retrospect. I traded my combat boots in for an infinitely more comfortable pair of Adidas sneakers. I stand at the rail not necessarily to be close to my favorite artists but so I have something to lean against when my back starts to hurt. More often than not, I hope a show wraps by 11 p.m. so that I can shower and head to bed before midnight. The death knell was when I started holding my leather jacket folded over my arm to act as a buffer between myself and errant moshers.
Set it Off was, comparatively, a respectful crowd: the teenage girls would pump their fists, wave their arms, and jump up and down, but kicks and punches were kept to a minimum. I know from experience how bad shows can get; the worst two injuries I received were both at Dropkick Murphys shows. First, a questionable sound mix at the From Boston to Berkeley Tour in Milwaukee left me deaf in my right ear for two days. Two summers later, I took a jackboot to the head during the Murphys’ co–headlining tour, courtesy of an errant crowdsurfer, that left me dizzy and nauseated for the rest of the week. Later that summer, while waiting for Rise Against to take the stage, a man with a salt–and–pepper beard showed me the tooth he lost during that same show.
The average Dropkick Murphys fan, from my personal experience, is a 6’5” burly Irish or Irish–American man in his mid–forties or fifties, capable of slamming down eight or nine Guinnesses and then throwing his body around in a circle pit. I’ve always had the common sense not to throw myself into the pit, fully aware that a crowd like that could eat me alive. Instead, I stare transfixed at them for a time, silently hoping that I can maintain that kind of momentum into my own middle age, still able to throw my weight around with the rest of them even when my hair turns gray.
I have not been kind to my body. I had a friend tell me once that I give not 100, not 110, but 130 percent to everything I do. I’ll ignore minor pains in my shoulder and wrists to play guitar or do computer work longer than I should, and I pay the price for it the next day. Half the time, I’m so blinded by the energy of the situation around me, whether that’s playing in the Penn Band or attending my eighth Flogging Molly concert, that I don’t notice how badly I injured myself until the next day. Realistically, I won’t accept that I’m too old to dance with the kids until I wake up after a show and find myself in too much pain to get out of bed.
My first wake–up call came in early 2018, when I developed a sinus infection immediately following Dorothy’s performance at TLA. Although the two events were disconnected, I developed temporary tinnitus as a result of the infection that I initially attributed to the concert. After seventeen years of standing at the rail and avoiding using earplugs, I became convinced that my poor choices had caught up to me and I was saddled with a permanent ringing in my ears. Eventually the ringing dissipated, but I have yet to find a pair of earplugs that don’t bother me. I’ve begun choosing my concert locations strategically, far enough away from the speakers that I can walk away with my hearing intact.
We all outgrow the scene that first drew us into music, whether that be pop punk, hardcore, or even metal. At some point we stop convincing ourselves that we can jump and scream and mosh for hours and come away unscathed. That realization might come at 18 or at 50, but to quote the shirt I saw a man wearing at an Offspring show last summer, “Old punks never die, they just stand in the back.” Someday I’ll have another wake–up call, injuring myself enough against the rail that I take as my spot away from the chaos, leaning against the balcony to help my bad back. Until that day, those teenagers better save me a spot in the pit, right against the rail.