I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one weak ass Monday at work when I saw it. Eyehategod, one night only in Phil-a-delphia, playing no other than First Unitarian Church. Skeptical if the event page was real or just an early April fools prank, I worked my resources to learn that it was, in fact, the real deal. I wasn’t sweating like a whore in church over the venue as much as I was the promised return of Mike IX. It’s a story that we’ve all become too tragically versed in. The loss of a liver and a fight for a shot at redemption made ten times steeper by the American healthcare system. It’s all so unfair. But instead of shouting into deaf ears, we all threw down, he re-upped, and on day III, Mike IX rose again – and just in time for a 49th birthday.
I had my doubts if either he or I were going to make it to the stage. Philly, the time warp I briefly called an underage home, becomes a circular trap as confusing as the one way streets that spit out under tiny overpasses. It’s the small-town feel of Baltimore interwoven with the crudeness of pre-gentrified New York; the place where true dagos call marinara sauce gravy and shorts in the summertime mean attracting gangs of street stalkers. I love it and hate it. I regret leaving but grumble every time a show brings me back. But, the promise of EHG pushes any hurdle, any pretense aside. We made it to the church steps, my sister a few paces behind from negotiating heavy boots among cracked sidewalks and unsynchronized traffic lights.
I had expected a show right there on the altar top, but as we came to find, the action was downstairs in a BYOB basement hall, humid with the sweat of every edgelord of Bucks County. I wasn’t mad at it, though. I stood in darkness underneath slowly spinning ceiling fans held by a thread along asbestos-laden tiles, refreshing the footage of Mike’s first return date at Berserker Fest the day before. I was excited, but it still didn’t feel real enough. I had been bracing myself for months for that Facebook notification from Thee Garbage Men or Metal Injection article I didn’t want to see. Mike slipped under, the boulder had been sealed, and the point of no return had long since passed.
One by one they manifested. An Aaron, a Brian, a Gary, a Jim. Finally, with his head half-shaved and scrawny guns blazing, there was a IX. The final nail in my coffin of unease had been driven. At last — all was complete again.
Eyehategod. A topic I’ve broached so many times but never run out of the capacity to address. Without a doubt, I’ve witnessed a change in my relationship with their music. From an integral part of the light that’s reflected in my daily prism to the ground that anchors me, it’s a shift I’ve come to embrace. They’re that hoodie from the 10th grade I can reach for from my bedroom floor every time I’m running late for work or dying of hangover chills. I can neglect it for days or weeks, but whenever it’s called to duty, the comfort it provides is still the same, no questions asked. And when you’ve got a ride or die like that, you sure as hell better not let it go. Even bursts of desperation for stability can’t shake the chains that hold us down through any and all tides. As I went to sell all of my records recently, I took a good look at my mystery homegirl on Take as Needed, and my heart actually activated again for the first time in what felt like in an eternity. From my cold dead hands.
And so, in the underground of the holy land, I watched Mike take command, one fist in the air and the other securing a cable around his neck. He ordered the offering plate be passed around. Well-concealed pills and money—albeit mostly the latter these days—but pass the fuck up all the same. The rest of the markers on the EHG show bingo board were placed. Investing in a 20 minute blowout just to get hit with an airborne beer .005 seconds into the set. Some attention-starved kid shouting something painfully unfunny at Jimmy. Hearing “play Sisterfucker” after they’ve already played Sisterfucker. Some dude in a bandana yelling something-something-pussies after hearing Mike announce White Neighbor instead of its sharper counterpart. Check. But like watching your favorite movie for the millionth time, you can still discover something new. Aaron playing so soulfully that you’re inspired to lock yourself in the room and do nothing but write and smoke for the next week. Brian casually being the most underrated guitarist of all time. You know – just the little things.
Regardless of which way things wax or wane, no matter how much I grow or shrink, there is that consistent plodding in EHG’s spirit. I can feel myself dragging across cracked pavement while the world burns around me. I don’t know if there’s safety ahead, but something from the depths drives a desire to keep my hands grasping forward. The placement of their symbol on my back only seems to grow more appropriate. I can’t see it, but I know it’s there, testing the most unbreakable bonds of abstract faith – all sealed with the permanence of tangible ink.
This is a faith that’s been heavily taxed as of late. False idols hold the power to detract from all passions and shatter a sense of self. Charismatic authority employed through dark eyes and bright smiles, lying in wait. A persona curated to fill the void of a personality, exploited until he can exploit you. You become nothing more than an extension of him, but a distinct othering process reduces you to a less tier. He inflates just to deflate until all sense of autonomy is defused. He lost sight of his prime so he takes some of yours until you’re as vulnerable as the day you first spoke. And so, you close your eyes, but by the time they re-open, he’s in too deep. Your vocal box has been mutilated as what’s buried further below meets the same fate. But, despite the carrousel of confusion, you try to remind yourself it’s not you. But, it is you who’s left to carry the burden, to pick up the pieces and rebuild as he scampers off to craft a new cult, to recruit with the hypnosis of doe eyes falling downturn.
But on the third day. On the third day, it was proven that rebirth is possible. With a single facet of your former self, like a pair of fingerless gloves clutching a microphone, you can cover the scars that evil left behind.
Awaking Easter Sunday hangover free—a milestone in my EHG-seeing journey—my sister and I rejoiced in the good news at an Upper Darby diner. Large families were clustered around tables pushed together, all while I reveled in a booth opposite my family of one, because hell, one is better than none. In that moment, I was just another patron in the crowd, meditating to the sound of clanging coffee cops and snaps of flip flops. Tattoos emerged from the corners of sun dresses and tank tops – some better than others, but still worn with the same amount of acceptance. Some things will always be a part of us, but we can build a levy to guard the extensions of ourselves that take form in the little girl in a dreamy tutu, shoveling waffles with a fervor that hasn’t yet been extinguished by apple bites.
To some, being little more than a face in the crowd is something to dread, but to me, it’s become something to savor. I’ve regained consciousness that I am, indeed, a person –nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
Editors note: markit aneight was also on hand for the occasion and captured the show in its entirity. Check that shit out!