Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne 13 December, 2018
Kira (15) to my right, Lexi (11) to my left. Row R, door 11 – halfway up the first rise of seating and so close!
We walked all the way from the city on a day of torrential downpour which flooded Melbourne but cleared for us. We had to use up some of that energy that comes from pre-concert anticipation. Not even Lexi complained about the walk. We were in it together…along with hundreds of others making the same concert pilgrimage. A temporary mobile community moving as one.
It had been years and years since my last arena show. So long ago that I can’t remember when or who it was I saw. I am usually a smaller venue kind of punter. Probably because bands that tour at this arena level don’t really interest me that much. All that was about to change.
Four years ago, Kira had been introduced to Twenty-One Pilots by some primary school friends. They had all committed to memory a rap in the song Holding Onto You and would reproduce it randomly. I loved watching them do that.
When the band released the next album Blurry Face we all got on board together as a family. It became our car music. And car music is sacred. I have never introduced ‘children’s music’ to my auto-temple. No Wiggles, no Hi Five – none of that well crafted, damn catchy and even more effectively marketed stuff that young kids like. Not even to keep them quiet and happy in the car as toddlers– NO!
So they have been listening to Ben Harper, Josh Pyke, Bob Evans, Jack Johnston, Tim Rogers, Triple J Top 100s, Beatles…well, you get the idea – whatever I want to listen to, basically. Carefully curated to the girls’ ages and musical awakenings.
I probably shouldn’t tell you about the time, not so long ago, that we played Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of and all chanted out the words as we drove home that night. It was a bonding experience. We have an agreement about swearing – ‘know your audience, consider your intention’.
The Trench album was highly anticipated in our house, and within days of its release in October I went to JB HiFi to get us a copy. The kids were rapt! We made it our mission to learn those songs before the impending concert. I even learnt the harmonies so that Kira and I could split and do all parts together, such was our dedication. The album was on high rotation in the auto-temple, interspersed with the older two albums so we could freshen up on those too. We had become solid fans sometime during the past few years.
Sitting now, quite literally on the edge of our uncomfortable plastic moulded seats. The house lights went out and a low resonant keyboard synth chord played out with such bass and almost menacing intention that it felt like my chest was actually vibrating from the inside and making my vocal chords move of their own accord. I held Lexi’s hand in case it was too much for her – but it wasn’t, she loved it. She was fixated, waiting to see what would happen next. Tyler Joseph appeared silhouetted in the haze and paced the front of the stage with intention, holding a flaming stick. “Jumpsuit, jumpsuit. Cover me!”
For the next hour and 50 minutes, Kira and I sang at the top of our voices. We squealed, whistled, shrieked, cheered, danced and jumped with the crowd. Kira knew all of the words, every one – even all the really hard rap pieces. I did the best I could beside her. I was 15 again too, but I was also newly 50, and as such, had stopped watching myself. Kira does not dance or sing in public. She barely allows me to see her do these things. She can play guitar very competently and sings very beautifully – but I usually need to sneak up on her to hear it. It was a cathartic experience of absolute freedom for the two of us, as we just both let go and enjoyed every second of this all consuming experience together
Tyler Joseph has a way of making all of us feel very much parts of a greater sum. He speaks to the crowd often, tells us we are appreciated and important to him, he choreographs vocal join-ins where he has us sing parts together, separate, in turn without him at times. After such a part, he will stop, hold his hand over his heart, and the smile on his face as he tells us how beautiful we sounded is priceless. It is quite intoxicating and despite how very, very corny it might sound now in writing, it is truly and unmistakably genuine. His final parting words to the crowd that night were, “We are Twenty-One Pilots – and so are you.”
The highlight, among so many that night, was My Blood. This song had a stirring funky bassline that kicks in at the start of the second verse. To hear it live in that space, as it bounced off the ceiling and around the cavity of the arena, through our bodies, as thousands of us moved as one, was a visceral experience I never wanted to end.
My Blood holds a special kind of understanding between Kira and I. I have texted her some of the lyrics when she’s been at school some days, struggling with the conflicts, confusion and intensity of being in Year 9 and 15 years old. I remember it well still. Too well. A random text during the school day, offering a reminder by emotional link back to what’s real in her life, what is important, what is a constant.
I have her back…..
when everyone, you thought you knew,
deserts your fight, I’ll go with you,
you’re facin’ down, a dark hall,
I’ll grab my light, & go with you,
I’ll go with you, I’ll go with you, I’ll go with you
Stay with me, no, you don’t need to run
Stay with me, my blood, you don’t need to run
Postscript: Chris Phillip’s first Stereo Story, based on Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, was about the birth of her daughter Kira.