At the end of the row is a young man, alone, dressed in all black and sporting a long, scraggly beard. The look on his face says "if you keep looking at me I will cut you."
Further down is a group of skater dudes, the oldest no more than 17. Their sweatshirts are a size or two too big and covered in Independent and Hawk logos. The chains hang low off their belts. Each is more stoned than the one sitting next to him.
At the other end is another group of young men. All are white. All are in in their early 20's. They put a very intense Mountain-Dew-and-Dungeons-&-Dragons session on hold for this so it better be good, lest they post nasty comments about it on their blogs.
Luckily for them, and for us, they would not be disappointed. Not this time. Somewhere at the other end of the arena, Tool was about to hit the stage and rock our socks off.
I'll admit it: I like heavy metal. Lots of it. The awesome guitar work, the psychotic drumming, the angst and rage and the darkness and the search for that riff that just makes you want to destroy everything in sight - all of it is just plain awesome. It saddens me sometimes to see the way so-called "serious" music types, be they fans or critics, write off the genre. To say that "Iron Man" and "Master of Puppets" don't stand shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of musical importance with, say, "Hound Dog" or "God Only Knows" is just plain ignorant.
Then again, metal isn't really about caring what anyone says, is it?
It's not just an us-against-them attitude though; in many ways, it's an us-against-us school of music. The goth kids don't like the thrash. Power metal is too soft for the speed-metal freaks. Techno-metal is too soulless for the stoner metal set. And so on and so on. If any other scene more closely resembles the sectioning off and cliquishness of high school, I have yet to see it.
And yet, somehow, the battle cry brings this - nay, us - all back together: METAL RULES!!!
For the longest time, I could not get into Tool. I knew they were good because so many people whose opinion and judgment I respect were rabid fans. Friends would go on and on about this band and I just couldn't see what the big deal was.
"You need to look at the big picture, man!" They would tell me about the equations applicable to certain songs. They would forward on garbage about "the holy gift" buried within the band's Lateralus album. They would explain how if you edit the EQ settings on .WAV files copies of certain tracks from 10,000 Days, you would find that you can marry three existing songs to make one new super-song.
And all I could do was laugh and think that this is what happens when some people do too much PCP during their time at art school.
But something happened in between listening to all this conspiracy talk and making jokes about some level 13 wizard sitting in his mom's basement splicing together pirated MP3 files in hopes of finding secret songs buried in his favorite illegally-downloaded album with one hand and popping mouthful after mouthful of Cheetos with the other: the tunes were actually pretty damn good.
As in, they rocked - and they rocked hard.
Heavy riffs, killer drumming, intense lyrics...this were not some stoner-friendly riddles. And yet, no one really talked about that.
No one mentioned how the guys could kill you with in-your-face riffage one second, and then with something as basic as a spaced-out five-minute jam with a refrain of "watch the weather change" the next. No one mentioned how if you listened really closely you'd see how that one song was actually Maynard singing about his mother dying. No one told me about the awesome drop-D tricks that were all over the band's catalogue.
Honestly, are you kids into the music or are you into the mystique?
But, as with all things metal, that is part of the deal.
Iron Maiden has Eddie on the cover of all their albums. Megadeth has Vic. Black Sabbath has all kinds of oblique references to death and Satan. Judas Priest, Pantera, Korn, Black Label Society; everything metal is part of something else, something bigger, something more metal.
And yet there at the Tool show, as with the Slayer show and the Opeth show and the Porcupine Tree show and the Ozzy show and the Dream Theater show, the little factions could hang out for a while. The stoners next to the Satanists, the nerds with the goths, the ex-pats with the ex-cons.
Each comes in attire proudly displaying their affiliation. Subtle nods of approval and not-so-subtle barbs of insult are exchanged. In some weird, anti-social way the evening will reaffirm what we knew to be true all along: