Wednesday mornings at a child-focused mall kiosk ( during a school year, no less ) are, for lack of a better word, boring. As I sat idly wasting time doing a whole lotta nothing on my phone, I made my routine check of the area: What’s the line like at Starbucks? Who’s sitting on the bench? Coming down off the escalator and in to the directory, over to the diamond peddlers, back to my phone. As my eyes passed the freshly-dusted plastic Easter Lilies between bench and escalator, they struggled to find the directory because someone familiar was passing between the two. What came next was a feeling that many greats before me have tried to describe. Like catching vertigo and panic all at once: My vision tunneled, the Earth tilted on its axis, my heart raced its way in to my throat. Holy shit.

My heart, and the fan forever carved in to my soul, recognized the person walking toward my kiosk long before my mind could catch up, long before I figured out how to overcome the physical response I had no control over. He walked by my kiosk. I told myself that it wasn’t him. At this point I register that he isn’t alone, there is someone walking next to him, and as their backs are finally to me I see the letters on the back of the taller figure’s hoodie spelling out ONE OK ROCK and confirming everything that I already knew. Holy shit.

They turn and come back, realizing like many a mall patron before them that there is nothing but an exit the way that they’re heading. What I think about what happened and what actually happened are most likely two different things. I don’t think I was staring, because I was telling myself not to, but in all actuality I probably stared at them for the whole ten foot length of the walk back up to where I was standing. When I finally spoke, it was with all of the grace of a proverbial twelve year old, star-struck girl. “Uhm, are you Ryota from ONE OK ROCK?” Smooth, I know. Ryota pulled his flu-mask down and smiled, nodding, and he probably said ‘yes’ or gave some other verbal response but I did not hear it, still trying to process this moment. He held out his hand, standing now in front of me and reaching over the counter, and I again displayed my brilliance by staring at it for a moment before realizing that, you know, I am supposed to shake it. My immediate thought then is something like ‘wow, his hands are soft’ because, again, twelve year old fangirl.

In a perfect world I would have been able to articulate myself. In a perfect world I would have told him that he is one of my favorite people on the planet, or at the very least that he is my favorite member of the band. I could have told him I think that he’s an incredible bass player and one of the most kind-hearted and really just precious people I have ever witnessed. That I think he looks really cute with his dog on Instagram. What I said instead was some jumbled line of my stumbling over my words, “I love your band, ONE OK ROCK is … really great.” Of course he thanks me and smiles again. “Are you coming to the show tonight?” Oh, yeah, Christian is standing there, so there’s an audience for my awkward social performance. I don’t look at him, but I do say ‘yes’ and nod-shake my head, something undoubtedly embarrassing. Ryota reached his fist over my counter. Again, I stare, thinking about his knuckle tattoos before I realize it’s fist-bump time. And that, more than anything, speaks to my fangirl heart. I don’t know if I waved or said ‘goodbye’ or ‘good luck’ or anything of that sort. But I do know I turned around, looked at my hand, and started crying.

When I told Christian that I was coming to the show, it was really a lie. I had no idea they were even in town – they hadn’t ever been anywhere close, and I couldn’t imagine any band that they would be on tour with hitting up any of the local venues. They generally head north to Richmond or D.C., Baltimore. I told everyone I know, in excited variations of all caps and key-smashes, I just met Ryota from ONE OK ROCK. And then I look up the show, and I realize it is literally across the street from where I’m standing. I check ticket prices, and they’re within what I have left until Friday, and I decide that I am actually going. I can’t not go. I hit up the work group chat on Facebook to tell my coworkers about my Ryota run-in, and they accept my ramble with grace and loving teases. They’re good people. Around thirty minutes before it’s time for me to leave I look up again, with my coworker standing next to me, and see Toru at the directory. “There’s another one.” I have no idea why I phrased it like that, and my coworker laughs at me for it. I watch Toru make some girl’s day – she stops him and asks him to pose for a picture, and there’s some talk between them as it happens, and once he walks away I watch her stare at her phone and jump once in happiness. That girl and I are kindred spirits for one brief moment and she has no idea.

I have enough time to take the bus home to get leggings and a jacket, because I can already tell it’s going to be a cold night, and to pick up the last $20 I have to my name. On the hour ride back to the mall I listen to XXXV, knowing that the odds are that the songs they play will be 100% from that album. I feel more nervous about this show, at a venue I know and love and have cut my teeth at, than I felt about traveling solo to NYC to see XJapan. This is The NorVa. It’s where I saw my first show ( AFI, I was 14 ), it’s where I saw Frank Turner, it’s where some kids from my highschool put together NorVaCon, a one-time anime convention that played the Cowboy Bebop movie in the background the whole time. I’ve seen friend’s bands play to maybe three-hundred people there, and I’ve seen sold-out shows. But none of it stacks up to this, and maybe that’s why I was so nervous that I seemed to blank on the layout for a moment.

I regained my composure, found the tour shirts on the wall for my band at the back merch box, and walked up to buy a shirt. The guy who asked me what I wanted and took my money was rude and unfriendly, and sort of had this attitude about the fact that of the $20 I gave him, one was in quarters. So, I rolled my eyes and took my shirt and have composed a mental rant at him about how none of the blood and sweat he has put in to ONE OK ROCK will ever measure up to the time and passion and tears I have poured in to this band, but in the end it doesn’t matter and he didn’t ruin my time.

I picked my spot to stand in, sort of to the left of center, about five or six rows of people back. We wait together, me and this room full of strangers, and I assess the people there to try and figure out what kind of show it is that I have signed up for and whether or not there are to be other ONE OK ROCKers there. To my right I immediately spot a mixed-race group of about five speaking a mix of Japanese and English. Off to my left is three girls. There’s also a girl in a XXXV tour shirt, and at least five people mixed in to the crowd wearing the OOR shirts they bought tonight. So there’s a handful of us, probably more, and it feels good.

The first band, Night Verses, was good. I don’t remember much about their set other than that their vocalist will forever be Hardcore Billy Corgan to me, and he was really grateful to the audience for being checked-in for their set. A group of kids sitting right-rail got really in to one song and it amped the crowd up some, and it was a good time. But I cannot remember much about it, and if anyone ever reads this, I’m sorry. You were good, I was just somewhere else in my head, and in my heart. Their set ended, I learned that Crown the Empire was not the name of the tour as I had thought at the merch booth, and the crew came up to tear down the first layer of instruments and began setting up for what was the band of the night, at least to me.

The lights came up. People began talking. I looked around. More people had filtered in behind me.

“Are you here alone?”
“Hm? Oh, Yeah.”
“What band are you here for?”
“ONE OK ROCK, the next band.”

This girl, I learned, was seventeen and here with her cousin so that she didn’t have to come alone. She asked me if I knew ONE OK ROCK personally, if they were local or something – I told her they were from Japan and that I didn’t know them, but that I had met their bassist while I was at work at the mall earlier that day. We became what I like to call Show Friends. The sort of kinship that begins and ends in a sea of bodies around you. She introduced me to her cousin when he came back with his drink, and we chatted. Tomo came out. I screamed. The crowd followed. Show Friend commented that he was hot, and I laughed and agreed, which Cousin thought was pretty hilarious. People around me started getting excited when Tomo’s drumkit lit up, he ran through to make sure everything was good, and departed.

The nerves came back. The lights dimmed. Tomo came out. Scream. Ryota came out. Scream louder. They fist-bumped, I got butterflies and instinctively squeezed my own hand shut. They started playing. Toru squeezed his way out from the other side of the stage between stacks of gear and looked pleased about making it, and we all screamed for him. I saw Taka, over Ryota’s shoulder, surveying the audience or watching his boys or psyching himself up, maybe deciding how he was going to play this one, I don’t know. But when I looked back he was gone, and then he was appearing from Toru’s side of the stage, and we all screamed.

Take me to the Top started then and I screamed first, sang second. Though I didn’t really sing so much as I screamed the words back to them like I was alone, in a car maybe driving down the highway in the middle of the night. No one around me mattered, really. And from that moment on, I don’t know the order of the set. I just know the songs that they sang. So don’t quote me on the order, even though I have tried to recreate it. Show Friend and Cousin came to the consensus that ONE OK ROCK was good and told me, and I beamed with pride. They played Cry Out and I am pretty sure that Taka translated the Japanese parts and was singing them in English – but I am not positive. The feeling was weird, like I was singing the wrong words, but I know this band and I know the lyrics and it didn’t stop me from screaming them as loud as I could, hands in the air, clapping when I knew the beat for it was coming.

They played Decision and, as is usually the case, the intro comes on and I have flashbacks to Mighty Long Fall at Yokohama Stadium. I screamed louder, I love this song, my voice started cracking. The people around me looked back at me, smiling and a bit confused. For the second round of chorus there was a guest on stage. I immediately recognized him as Taka’s Best Friend Tyler Cater from Instagram. The audience recognized him too and they went absolutely batshit. After the song Show Friend informed me that he was the singer of Issues, and Cousin told me that him coming out to sing with them definitely meant that ONE OK ROCK was a good band. It won over the audience, Tyler looked happy about it ( and had playfully tapped on Tomo’s cymbals on his way out ) and Taka was definitely happy with it.

Suddenly happened. Taka commanded this crowd. The energy that the band gave, the way that they played, the stage presence. They weren’t phoning this one in because it was a relatively small venue somewhere they’d never been before. They were giving it their all, and the audience repaid them for it with their attention and participation. There was Stuck in the Middle, the whole audience clapped along. Any of the ‘do-do-dodo’s that were missing, I filled in. And I am sure that the other ONE OK ROCKers there filled in, too, but I couldn’t hear them.

The final song of the night was Mighty Long Fall, and I wanted to cry. My voice was already hoarse, my ears were ringing, but none of that mattered. The crowd was right there with me, hands in the air to an unfamiliar song, but those of us who knew the words sang them back. We were there, together, for that band and those six songs. The breakdown was nothing as orchestrated as a Japanese crowd, but it was there and it was real and those people cared. When the last notes faded in to nothing the lights came up, Tomo and Ryota and Toru waved and left the stage. Taka stayed, thanking everyone, and he bowed at least twice to the audience, and I had one of those feelings, standing there in the crowd, that only a fan of a band can understand – that feeling of being acknowledged, understood, and appreciated. Maybe somewhere in all of the yelling they’d heard us, felt our enthusiasm. As Taka left the stage, the audience started chanting one more song and I looked out over them, the sea of people who had supported my band, and I knew that I had to stay for the rest of the show.

There are always those people who come to shows late, the assholes who don’t give the opening acts the time of day because they’re above it, or they don’t care, because they think being unaffected and fashionably late is cool. And it isn’t. I have never been one of those people, but I have also never been to a show just for an opening act. A guy who was standing in front of me to the right turned around and said, “Why do I get the feeling that that was the best band of the night?” Obviously a dad, but I smiled as big as I could and said something about how amazing they are, and he responded with, “Well, I came here not knowing who they are and now I’m a fan.” Several other people chimed in with how blown away they were by the performance and I don’t know if they were being nice or if it had something to do with Tyler Carter singing Decision or if it was just the pure talent of ONE OK ROCK. Probably a lot of all of the above, but it made me happy.

Show Friend asked if I was staying, and I told her that I was. I watched many of the ONE OK ROCKers file out, and found that just about as disrespectful as the people who skip opening acts. These people, this crowd – they had supported my band, so I was going to support theirs. It was the right thing to do.

Crown the Empire came out, and they had two vocalists. We were, at this point, moved over to the right side of the stage, centered on one of the two vocalists. He was wearing a black shirt with giant daisies on it, and a lot of his movements and expressions ( and his shortness and haircut ) reminded me a lot of Taka, and it charmed me. The whole band did. They were fun and good-natured and their hearts were definitely in what it was that they were doing. At the beginning of their set we had gotten separated from Cousin, as the mosh pit had started just behind us and Cousin was keeping us safe, but in the beginning some guy and flown full-force in to him and, inevitably, spilled Cousin’s drink all over him. I thought the guy was going to fight him, you could tell he was there and he was majorly aggressive and was ready to fight. He didn’t. But he did end up to our right, and I only noticed because, during a song whose name now escapes me, the one vocalist had the show stopped and the lights came on and he pointed the guy out to security and had him escorted out. “Hitting girls isn’t as cool as you think it is bro, I promise.” The audience cheered. The lights went off, he asked for permission to restart the song, and they did.

There was a nosebleed, a brief intermission for a shot which was either followed or preceded by an audience sing-along to the opening verse of a Journey song about midnight trains going anywhere, and I just fell in love. I really appreciated all that Crown the Empire did, their set, the music, all of it, and am now a fan for life.

The last band, headliner and Tyler Carter fronted group, was Issues. They were good. Their stage was elaborate and their drummer performed on an elevated platform that he climbed up to on what looked like a ladder made from welded pipes, which connected to this structure that he and one other member sat on while the others participated in a slow, melodic song that I never would have expected but appreciated and found myself drawn to. Something about, “I’m so mad at myself for giving in to what I want, never again”. The audience singing that was haunting in a way that I can’t quite put in to words, but it was magic.

After their encore the lights came on. My ears felt stopped-up and were ringing. Show Friend and Cousin and Their Show Friend with the Weed Vape disappeared in to the night, to buy merch and make the drive home and yell about how great the show was. I watched people file out, and I eventually joined them in the cold night air, though I wasn’t headed to a parking garage and so, after only a minute, was left one my own and to the deafening silence of post-show ears. I walked passed ONE OK ROCK’s tour bus, which was parked half a block up from the venue next to the mall and I had seen Toru sneaking in to before the show when I was arriving, and looked confusedly to the running-but-empty car parked haphazardly behind the attached trailer that pulled their gear. I kept walking back to the bus station, pausing to pull my tshirt from my pocket and put it on because I was cold, and watched the car from behind the bus drive by.

As I waited for the bus to take me home I put my headphones in, pressed play on Memories, and thought back on the night. I had gone to the show by myself but, as is always the case when there is music, I was definitely not alone.