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It's two hours till doors, I’ve already embarrassed myself at the front door. Apparently no one expects a photographer to show up this early. It dawns on me as I’m led down to the green room, I have never even seen the theater's stage before.
The lead singer greets me, and the room quickly fills with awkward silence. I think we’re all out of place. It’s probably best to distract myself with my gear.
I’m going over my camera. I already set it up for the show the night before. My batteries have been charging all day, but I leave them to charge while I guard the outlet, even though I should be talking with the band. They invited me; they’re my friends, but I just keep distracting myself.
All I want is to ask about what standing in front of a crowd is like. How’d they like me to take pictures. If I should use my flash or not. This is my first concert. A real one. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I check the time. Another hour and forty-five until doors. Whatever that means.
The bandmates are abuzz with small talk and polite laughter that crowd my hearing. I busy myself with pretending to prep my camera. I shouldn’t be here.
Doors, finally. The green room is silent. The lead singer is anxious. This is her first big show in a while, and she's terrified nobody will show. She asks me to go check how many people are here. I slink onto stage, poking my head from behind the curtain. I'm not sure how many people show up for concerts, but I’d be happy with this turnout. I relay that to the singer, but it doesn't quell much. I can feel her anxiety in her breaths.
Relief creeps over the green room. We can hear the audience from down here, it fills the room. I know the lead singer, she wants to be a rockstar. A real one. The glitz, the splendor. I can see it in her eyes, the drive, the spinning hopes. She's quiet now, probably going over the show in her head. It’s mollifying, seeing someone dedicate themselves like that. If the audience could just see her fervor. If everyone could just see this fantastical drive like I do right now. The stage would swell, the droning of music would thump in my heart. We all, concertgoers and exalted witnesses, would feast on her energy, heartily.
Her zeal is infectious, almost like if I spent enough time around her, or fell a little too in love with her music, I’d catch it. That thirst for Los Angeles splendor and fame, that elusive love for music.
The openers go on. The lead singer is pacing backstage. Setting up an Instagram live for her friends, whom she’ll call her fans. The audience is alive; they’re here for her. As she goes on stage, her energy buds.
She starts to play.
Heat, from the stage, pulsing, light in your eyes. Thumping and shaking, squeaking and scuffing of soles on turns and whips of quarter-inch cord. This is what a concert should be, I can’t hear the words. I’m not supposed to, I think, but the buzzing between each person shuffling and awkwardly amalgamating into each other, the lights reflecting off of metal fastens, the taste of concentrated rave burns the throat and whole mouth.
My friends talk about crying to concept albums, this must be that feeling. Born of high art and burrowing into my emotions.
There’s something hiding in the speakers, maybe behind those circular meshes, it’s growing and gnashing its limbs together. It’s in my head and it feels so good.
Another show. A new venue. I’ve been to a few now.
I feel less grounded. This place feels unreal. They’ve chipped part of the street off with cones and the band is crammed into a shop.
The stage is tiny, far smaller than an average living room. There’s sparse seating, some lucky few have nabbed couches before others could, the rest stand outside, squeezed around the doorway for the warmth of music.
I hate using my flash. You aren’t supposed to in concerts. It can distract the band and ruin the venue. But I need the crutch.
I know these pictures won't be very good, despite my best efforts. The color is washed out from the flash, the pictures are cramped and I can’t frame things how I want. I’ve taken better pictures, I know I have. I know I’m capable. I’m worried about how the band will react. I’ve never worked with them before, this is subpar performance. I wish I could apologize.
The lead singer, that girl from before. Who poured honey in my ears. She’s finishing off the night. I’m not here for her, I didn’t even know she was playing. But I should stay to support her anyway. I take a few pictures.
They’re far better than anything I’ve taken tonight.
Fear drives me to my car and home before the end of her first song.
Another show, back at the theater. She’s playing again.
I’m making tonight the same. The same band, the same venue, same openers, same camera, same lens. I’ve even made sure to wear the same shirt. It will be the same. It will be okay.
I’m not using a flash this time. The camera is comfortable in my hand. I’ve even started turning off the autofocus.
This is her show, that’s why I’m here. I’ve been listening to her music in my free time, it’s in a few of my playlists. I’m not sure why I listen, hearing them flares anxiety.
I deeply hope to rave for the rest of the night, write far-too-serious poetry about all the flashing lights and reflections on tuning knobs. I hope to be drunk on her energy again. This is going to be the same as the first time. This is going to be good again.
The green room is comfortable, less oppressive at least. I chat, make small talk even, I’m far too ravenous for anxiety to win out tonight.
The openers go on. They’re… fine. The audience is wild for them, I’m taking some of the best pictures I’ve ever managed to, but. I’m not sure. I think I'm keeping myself from connecting, or something is. I feel far less vulnerable now than I should. It should be the same. It's the same.
It’s time. She’s on stage now. I’m ready.
She starts to play. And I can’t hear much beyond mumbled lyrics.
Why can’t I hear the music? This must be a new song or something. It’s okay. Tonight is the same. I can hear just fine through the viewfinder. Tonight is the same.
Why isn’t it the same?
I want to know where the music went. I want to drink the overflowing vigor of sound and immensity. I just want to enjoy music again.
Maybe I’m just further back. Maybe the lighting isn’t right. Maybe something changed, something I can’t control. Maybe I’m just too anxious for this. Maybe I glorified the experience of supporting a friend in something they found fantastical. Maybe I got swept up in someone else’s personality again. Maybe it’s the camera.
It’s probably the camera.
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