In this new miniseries, Daily Music Writers reminisce on the best live show they ever saw.
If I had asked 14-year-old me what I saw myself doing the day before graduation, my younger self would probably have thought I’d be burning all of my homework assignments or doing something equally exhilaratingly destructive. Instead, I’m sitting on the sun-baked pavement outside of St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, trying to keep the loose shards of gravel scattered about from slowly migrating up my shorts.
The exterior of the building is worn, slightly graffitied, infused with the ghosts of concerts past, as if the furious energies of those countless nights have bled straight through the walls of the hall. I’m sweaty and hungry, but the anticipation pumping through my veins fuels me, keeping my limbs restless and my mood bright.
It starts raining 30 minutes before doors open. A few lucky people take cover under the awnings that poke out from the building next door, but most of us are vulnerable, left to conquer the weather with nothing but the contents of our bags.
When I finally inch into the hall, the air conditioning washes over me like a calm, fresh wave. I find myself shivering uncontrollably, partially because of the excitement and partially because of the rain that has dampened my head and back. I head straight for the front, delving deeper into the mesmerizing fog and dancing lights with each step. I end up right at the barricade, mere feet away from the edge of the stage. People mill around, bodies compacting closer and closer together with each consecutive opening act.
The wait is long, but PVRIS finally comes onstage in a flurry of sound and flashing light, diving into “Smoke” to lead off the night. I’ve listened to their album, White Noise, countless times, but never like this, with the world feeling like it’s exploding apart and the decibels roaring so loudly that my very bones vibrate. Lynn Gunn’s singing isn’t perfectly polished the way it is on studio recordings, but the tiny imperfections and spontaneous embellishments she adds to the songs develop them into entirely new works of art. I scream along as loudly as I can, and when my throat starts to feel hoarse, I double my volume.
In between songs she speaks to us, her voice warm and sweet, a clear contrast to the vivid energy of the music. She orders us to jump and we do, flashing brightly as the lights onstage cheer us on. The crowd becomes one boisterous, thrashing organism and I feel as if my body cannot possibly contain all of the life I’m experiencing.
My favorite part of the night is right at the last song, when she leaps down from the stage and walks through the pit, along the boundary that divides the hall between her domain and ours. Her voice grows ever powerful as she stalks along the line, buoyed by the watchful gazes of the burly security guards that stand vigilantly within arms reach and the force of our fevered screaming. She reaches out for us and we reach back, still awestruck that this lioness is here in the flesh. Her hands are small, warm and somehow dry despite the heat and the effort she’s putting into the performance.
The concert ends far too abruptly; they finish with their most well-known song, then catapult off the stage with a bang. We pour out of the space in a mess of bodies, and I find myself back at the same spot of pavement, slightly unsteady on my feet. When people ask me about my favorite band, I tell them about the bass, the drums and Lynn’s wonderful voice, but I never mention the academic, personal or mental struggles that PVRIS has helped me through. The night leaves me bittersweetly nostalgic yet hopefully euphoric, ready to face college and all that the next year will bring.