Thumping beats, crashing drums, melodic instruments, ecstatic signing, rhythmic pulsing, sweat pouring from your skin, a crowd surging together as one, shouting, screaming, chanting, touching, pounding heartbeats, flashing lights, the scent of alcohol and bodies, drops of sweat and water and saliva spraying over everyone and then you go home with your ears ringing, lying in bed thinking in the darkness “what in the heavens just happened?”
Not every concert I go to is an ecstatic experience, but there have been a few times when I’ve known deep down in my heart of hearts that the people I was watching on stage weren’t just making music, but they were putting on a show. Deliberate or not, they were channeling something different, something special, and the crowd was totally sharing in that experience with them. These moments can be rare and meaningful, and in some cases, completely cathartic and cleansing.
The first time I felt this way at a concert was many years ago when I saw the band Polyphonic Spree. They’re an alternative rock group that is known for filling the stage with as many people and instruments as they can fit. I’ve seen them described as “choral rock”, but when I try to explain their shows to people, all I can say is that I totally felt energetically connected to that room full of sweaty strangers, packed in as close together as we could get. At the climax of that show I understood for the first time the potentials of collective experience, joy and ecstasy. My heart and mind were so open that I probably would have done anything that the band asked of me, and I’m not at all an impulsive person. I only realized later how scary that was – to be so open and willing to dive fully into the experience, no matter what the consequences of that experience might be.
A few years after the Polyphonic Spree show, I went to a dance-punk concert to see a band called !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk.”) If Polyphonic Spree showed me joy and communion, !!! was a perfect example of ecstasy and divine abandon. I had been fighting depression at the time, was anxious about my job, and in the middle of an existential crisis. My spiritual path had been moving from generically witchy to more devotional, especially since I had recently started researching and studying Dionysus with a new-found dedication. He had been revealing himself to me gradually over those months, slowly and gently. In many ways I had been keeping him at a safe distance, feeling more like a fan-girl rather than letting an emotional connection take place.
It was at the !!! concert that Dionysus showed me one of his masks, and I began to see musicians and performers in a whole new way. Seeing a band live is very different from hearing it on the radio, and I was knocked off my feet. !!! is crazy, loud, melodic, fun, sexy, fast. The show was mind boggling. I felt out of my element and emotionally, I couldn’t keep up.
There was the lead singer on stage, but he was doing more than just singing. He was the music. He was the performance. He sang. He cried. He screamed. Sweat dripped down his face and he flung water at the crowd. We welcomed it. He tore off his shirt and rubbed his body. There was glitter and flashing lights. His gaze was intense, otherworldly. He came down to join us, and we all danced with wild abandon. We were one pulsing beat, moving together in perfect unison.
The thing with ecstatic experiences is that they are hard to describe. I could use all of the fancy adjectives I can find and even make some up and it still won’t do the concert justice. But I can say that the lead singer was channeling Dionysus, whether intentional or not. Dionysus was there. He was in the music, he was in the lyrics, he was in the beat, he was in the lights, he was in the sweat as it dripped down all of our bodies. He was in that lead singer and he was with us and he was everywhere. Dionysus is more than just the god of theater, he is theater. He is performance.
The thing about concerts is that they can follow the same energetic stages of a ritual, with something to catch your attention, something to get you going, a little contemplative lull, something to get you excited again, and then the climax, that magic raising that is so like a cone of power. The energy at a concert can ebb and flow and swell and grow until it is all around you, permeating your entire being. It can come in little bursts, but usually ends at one huge climax of energy, song, and sound. This happens so easily at concerts because everyone is there for the same purpose, with the same intention. Everyone at a concert is vibrating at the same frequency, making it easy to connect with the group, to really get in touch with the magic of the moment.
The whole experience left me feeling utterly exhausted and clean. I had screamed out my frustrations about work and about my life. I had cried from the utter abandon of it all. I danced until I my knees ached and I had blisters on my feet. I gave my heart over fully to the experience, and I left feeling like I had just been to something more than just a concert. I left feeling like I had gazed upon something utterly holy and magical. Truly if Bacchanals were a thing, I had just been to the modern version of one. I drank that music like sweet, sweet wine. I let it pour through me and over me. I raised my hands, my voice, and my heart and was rewarded with a few blessed moments of pure joy and ecstasy.
And after the music had faded and I was at home in my bed, my ears ringing and my feet sore, I felt than I had in months. I felt as if Dionysus had been listening to my prayers. He knew how depressed I was, how hard I was being on myself. He knew the tension and anxiety I was carrying with me. He gave that beautiful moment to dance and sing with him, and it was a magical and mystical experience that changed my life.
Post script: Check out “Hold me Now” by the Polyphonic Spree and “Me and Giuliani Down By the School Yard” by !!! But if these sweet, sweet tunes don’t do it for you, find a band or artist that speaks to your heart and soul and go see them live. Get as close as you can to that stage and sing your heart out and dance until you can’t dance any longer, and then dance some more. You deserve it.
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