About five minutes into being at Paper Tiger for the Norma Jean and For Today show, I texted my friend Angel: “Feeling kind of sad and panicky at this Christian hardcore show." I didn’t realize that all the bands on the bill were Christian until the friend I was with mentioned it. I’d seen Norma Jean on tour with Throwdown and Fear Before The March of Flames almost twelve years ago and none of those bands besides Norma Jean were affiliated with Jesus. Norma Jean was and still are Christians but they’re not really evangelical about it at shows. So it came as a surprise when I found out that I was basically walking back into Christian youth group, only this time as an openly gay, non-believer.
Looking around the venue I saw tight jeans, carabiner key chains, and T-shirts of metalcore and hardcore bands. I grew up at these shows, sported Norma Jean shirts and wore side-swiped hair in 2003. I was a typical scene kid. But somehow coming back to it all reminded me of my desperate attempts to suppress my homosexuality. I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to abandon my friend so I decided to stay, despite my growing anxiety.
Norma Jean opened the show (weird, because they normally headline) with a 40 minute set of mostly new shit. I love Norma Jean but the crowd was definitely there to see For Today so the energy was off. Which kind of sucked. Silent Planet, the second band, came on shortly after and the vibe got a little bit more upbeat. “I don’t care who our president is, the only name that matters is Jesus!” singer Garrett Russell screamed into a microphone as the audience cheers. I rolled my eyes and walked to the bar to get some water.
The band finished before I returned to my spot and For Today took the stage. If you don’t know what a breakdown is as it pertains to hardcore and metalcore, it’s basically a chunky slow groove with chant screaming. That’s basically what For Today’s catalog is composed of. Breakdowns. I turned my attention to the mosh pit which is steadily growing with kids flailing their arms and windmill kicking. If you’ve never seen hardcore dancing, imagine someone doing kung fu whilst being attacked by bees. Now imagine, a group of people in a mosh pit doing that simultaneously and running into each other while doing it. Congratulations, you’re at a hardcore show.
I used to hardcore dance at shows like this. My adrenaline started to rush as I thought about going in the pit. “Nah, I’m good...” I thought to myself a few times before I was finally like, “fuck it,” and jumped in. A few seconds of violent aerobics was enough time to pull me out of my head and become a part of the crowd. "So what I don’t share the same ideologies or theologies of these people anymore? We’re all here to have a good time,” I thought to myself before quickly being swept back up into the pit.
For Today came back for an encore after finishing their set and the fans got rowdy. The band is breaking up after this tour and you can see in the eyes of the audience members as they are chanting and pumping their fists that this group of musicians meant something to them. In this age of hyper, digital connectivity it’s still easy to feel alone, lost and disconnected. Seeing this show humbled me in a weird way and reminded me of something devastatingly human. At the end of the day, we’re all just looking to feel connected to something. This weekend, we found it in hardcore.