Friday, June 29, 2007

WWIII, or How I Learned to Practice Safe Rock

As I'm pretty sure I've admitted on these pages in the past - yup, there it is - I've been listening to my mp3/AAC collection chronologically. Because I have a 20 gig iPod and far more than 20 gigs of music in my collection (damn, when did that happen?), I've broken things up by decade - right now I'm on the 2000s. This morning's first selection on the way to work was the title track from KMFDM's WWIII, a song that always blows me away with its sheer power; it's the sonic equivalent of getting punched in the gut, then getting angry about it. Every time I hear "WWIII," though, I think about the last time I saw KMFDM live.

Boston, November 1, 2003. I had just returned to the city, caravan style, from Middlebury, VT after a journey of almost epic proportions: driving up to Woodstock from Boston on Friday to spend Halloween with my buddy Steve, going with him over the border to New Hampshire (Hanover, I believe) for a costume contest that we lost for reasons that still boggle the mind, driving back to Woodstock in disgust, then deciding to drive up to Middlebury in the middle of the night to visit friends at Middlebury College with the express intent of drinking heavily and running a radio show at 3 AM. All four hours I spent sleeping that night were on a floor, so it was probably a miracle I made it back to Boston, but made it back I had and - pounding, sleep-deprived headache aside - it was time to rock.

That night was one of the few concerts where I've viscerally regretted not bringing earplugs. Intellectually, I know I'm doing irreparable damage to my ears every time I go to a concert and don't (as Chris Cornell once put it) practice safe rock, but this particular show burned the message into my consciousness with the fury and precision of six-inch tall letters of fire burned into the inside of my skull.

After the opening band cleared the stage, I made my way to what turned out to be the acoustic centerpoint of the club, watched KMFDM take their positions, heard the countrified opening of "WWIII"...then felt my skull compress and my jaw drop as the machine-gunned guitar and heavy, thumping bassline crushed my eardrums into oblivion with volume I could not have thought possible, while the lighting rig went into an epileptic strobe, dazzling me with the sort of shock and awe then popular in Iraq. It was the beginning of the most physically possessing concert I've ever been to, one where the waves of sound were such a physical presence they felt tangible - something I've never encountered since. It also left a ringing in my ears that lasted for enough days afterwards I thought I was slowly going deaf, like Beethoven but without the composing ability. 'Point taken,' I thought afterwards, when my hearing returned to normal. 'Ear plugs from now on.'

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