I spent a long time processing the night of Friday, October 19th. The pure emotion in the room was voltaic enough to relight Scranton, Pennsylvania, which had once been dubbed The Electric City, but has since lost some of its luminance, but never lost its casual charm.
As a Pennsylvania native, I take special interest and have a sense of nostalgia associated with certain pop-punk bands that have managed to escape “my” town and built a meaning that can transcend into the minds of every lonely suburban teen. This means bands like Grayscale, Modern Baseball, and of course, The Wonder Years have always been held in the center of my heart, almost to the point where their lyrics run through my veins.
Having moved to New York City for school, I had taken pieces of these bands with me as a sense of the home that I didn’t always have otherwise. So, when I found out that Tigers Jaw would be taking the stage in their hometown to celebrate ten years of their self-titled album, a part of me was engulfed by this sense of loyalty that I tried so hard to distance myself from. Pennsylvania natives get Pennsylvania natives. That’s one thing I knew for certain. Before too long I was booking bus tickets and dragging my friend from Jersey out of her Wawa obsessed shell to make the journey into Sheetz territory.
My experience with this iconic night began long before the sun set and the venue was swamped with emo kids and adults who hadn’t learned how to move on, myself falling in the latter category now. A relatively last minute venue change put us at The Ritz Theater in downtown Scranton. Having not known what to expect, we arrived early, especially given the bus schedule we had to follow.
So, a little before noon we made plans to bunker down outside and insist on being center barricade in the pit. To our surprise, the venue was not what we expected. A cozy little coffee-shop-esque area was available for us to ‘camp out’ in. It was certainly the most glamorous camping-out experience of my life. As it was hours before any sane fan would arrive, we had the nice comfort of this little theater all to ourselves.
The venue was quaint and the staff, while bewildered by our dedication to arrive so early, was very accommodating and kind. It was clear that the theater was owned by a family or at least a family style leader and, from what I overheard from the waitstaff, was relatively new.
That part became abundantly clear once the scene changed and we were funneled into the strange theater that was clearly not built for a rowdier crowd. We approached the barricade with caution since it was nothing more than a flimsy police rail barricade; we feared that one wrong move and it may all come tumbling down.
And it did.
By the time the opening acts (who were all quite lovely) had finished with the audience, people were ready to experience what they came for– the beauty and bliss of a pit at a Tigers Jaw concert.
One strum of a guitar and up came the crowd surfers who were truly only traveling about four or so feet from the back of the crowd to the stage, since the venue was comprised of tier after tier, making the floor tiny. Then came the pushing to accommodate the crowd surfers and the bumping that came with a makeshift mosh pit. Down came the barricades that we weren’t expecting to hold us anyway.
The problem was how the security was expecting it to hold us. The venue itself was shaking (quite literally as the floor nearly couldn’t support the chaos) as the staff frantically attempted to resolve this culture clash between their peaceful slice of bliss and our destruction of reality through literally ramming into each other.
A man, who I recognized as the owner, ran down into the pit, shouting at security to kick out the crowd surfers, who had not been forewarned that this behavior was not allowed. Security, however, could hardly drag these kids out of the pit as they were too focused on holding up a falling barricade and stopping those of us in the front row from pouring onto the stage or getting trampled.
Health and safety risks everywhere, but what’s new?
Separating poor venue management and policy from the show itself is always something I struggle with because a show is a whole experience besides just the music. In this case, though, I refuse to let it define my show experience.
Tigers Jaw, despite everything, was unbelievably amazing. They opened the show with a set of some of their top and newer songs. There’s something about the way they transitioned between songs and the delicacy they took to playing their instruments that was just downright intriguing. Every person in the theater seemed to share the same sense of intimate love for the band as I did. It was like we had all latched on to the Pennsylvania dream and watched it poured out on stage in front of us.
Unlike many of those in the room, I hadn’t been following the band since their origin Scranton days. While I had been listening to them for years, the first time I saw them live was when they were opening for The Wonder Years in New York City. While the venue we were at now was much smaller, the energy was magnified, intensified and it reflected in each band member as they pulled from the pure excitement of the crowd.
Their second set was that of the entire self-titled album– played from beginning to end. I’ve never seen so much passion embedded into an artist performing before, but more importantly, I had never seen that same passion laced into the eyes of the crowd which seemed to feel a personal conviction about just how the words seemed to feel in the room.
They knew this meant something and they believed in it. I believed in it, too.
Ten years later and the self-titled album was for everyone in the scene who needed it. Ten years later and watching it played with such honesty was truly a gift.