So there I am, driving along in my car and changing CDs when this commercial comes on the radio. I heard the announcer say that punk rock band The Ataris would be playing a free show at the Tempe Marketplace on Thursday, September 18th, 2008. Thinking that my ears had deceived me, I went home and checked out the website for Tempe Marketplace. Sure enough, the concert was part of something called “Tempe Third Thursdays,” where the shopping center hosts free concerts on the Third Thursday of every month.
The Tempe Marketplace is Tempe’s newest mega-shopping center, right down the street from Arizona State University on McClintock Drive and the Loop 202. Although they call it a social mixer, I would argue that the Tempe Marketplace has a vested interest in drawing in lots of young, affluent college kids to wander around and spend money in their 1.3 million square feet of retail space. I guess Third Thursdays works though, because a free concert was enough to draw me down there.
Before the show, I had told several friends about the free concert and they seemed interested in going. When Thursday came around, I started making calls as soon as I got off work. Five different people gave me five different excuses as to why they couldn’t go. This was discouraging, but not enough to keep me at home. I stopped at home just long enough to eat dinner and grab my camera before heading down to Tempe.
Traffic on the freeway was heavy, and I was concerned about getting to the show in time. The website mentioned that the shows typically start around 7 or 7:30pm. It was 7:05 when I cruised into the parking lot for Tempe Marketplace. There was no indication that anything special was going on, so I figured I would just drive around until I found some action. At the other end of the lot, I saw clusters of young people heading for “The District,” which was a collection of stores and restaurants clustered together like an outdoor shopping mall.
In fact, the Tempe Marketplace is almost a mirror image of the Desert Ridge Marketplace in North Phoenix. It makes sense though, because both shopping centers are owned by the same property development group. The parking lot was just as bad as Desert Ridge, and even at a brisk walk it took me several minutes of dodging cars to get inside. Much to my relief, none of the event staff or security said anything about my camera.
In the center of The District, I found a lot of people standing around drinking beers. Apparently, Budweiser Music was a major sponsor of the event. In the corner next to Dave and Busters’ was the stage, which was decked out with lights, PA stacks, and crowd control barriers. It looked like a miniature Marquee Theater to me.
There was plenty of standing room at the front of the stage, largely due to the fact that the show started much later than I originally thought. Still, I couldn’t leave the awesome spot I had staked out. So I stood there, watching the sound check guys do their thing. Finally, one of the DJ’s from The Edge 103.9 came out to introduce the show.
The opening band was Friday Night Gunfight, a band that sounded every bit as harsh and in-your-face as their name implies. They played seven or eight songs, which was pretty good for an opening act. It would be hard to classify them specifically as metal or hardcore, but I can say the sound was heavy and loud, not unlike a gunfight. They had a lot of energy and the singer was twirling his mic stand around like a propeller; I thought a few times that he was going to hit the other members of the band.
As they wrapped up, the radio DJ came back on stage to do a little giveaway. Members from the audience who sent text messages to a certain number were brought up on stage for a game of musical chairs. The prize was a guitar signed by the Ataris. All of the contestants were eliminated except for the really hot girl, who won the guitar. Everyone clapped and shouted for The Ataris, who came on stage next.
During the opening band’s set, I had gotten what I felt were some great pictures. There I was in the front row, getting these great shots of the band under the colored lights and everything. As The Ataris came on stage, I got ready to take some more photos and waited for the lights to come up. I waited and waited, and they never came on. What the heck was going on?! The first song was over and the second one had started by now. I could barely make out the silhouettes of the band members on stage. They were playing in the dark!
This made it challenging to get the good pictures I had hoped for. While Friday Night Gunfight was playing, nobody was shoving or moshing or anything crazy like that. I was amazed by the most calm and civilized crowd I’d ever seen at a concert. They must have been saving their energy for Kris Roe, because when he stood up on the crowd control barrier, there was a frenzy of arms, hands, and camera phones fighting for a piece of him. I got shoved around a bit by some ditzy girls pushing their way to the front, but I wasn’t about to argue with anyone who reeked of beer as much as they did.
So I’m standing there, taking pictures and enjoying the show. The area between the barriers and the stage is crawling with pro photographers. There’s a guy decked out with a Canon 5D, battery pack, telephoto lens, and a monster sized flash. There’s a cute looking Asian girl with a super wide-angle lens on her dSLR, and a couple of very cute interns from The Edge with point-and-shoot cameras. Next thing I know, one of the guys comes up to me and asks what kind of camera I am shooting with. “Is that a Rebel?” he asks. “No, it’s a 20D” I responded. “Well what are you doing over there? Come over here!” he shouts, and motions for me to come on his side of the barrier.
Excitedly, I pushed my way through the crowd and went around to the side of the stage, where the guy was waiting. He was dressed in black from head to toe and had a camera bag slung around his shoulder. He nodded to the security guard who waved me through with a smile. One minute I was fending off drunken fans and the next thing I knew, I was mere inches from the stage where the pros hang out!
For the rest of the show, I tried to do what I saw the other photographers doing. They made sure to not blind the band with their flashes or anything, and I did likewise. The fans were getting really crazy and I saw one guy come flying over the barrier and split his head open on the speaker stack. Crowd surfing is a dangerous game.
My fellow camera jockey introduced himself as Jon from the Phoenix New Times. We traded contact information and he asked me to send him my pictures from the show! “The New Times is always looking for freelancers” he said warmly. By this point, I was thinking: “Pinch me, I must be dreaming!” Of course I knew it was all true. Not only had I just seen The Ataris for free, but I also had my first taste of life on the other side of the barrier. All around, it was an awesome show and an awesome night!