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November 25, 2003

Voices sends news editor into the mosh pit of doom; Pulitzer to follow

A dark veil of anticipation hung over the thousands of fans that stirred restlessly within the general admission area at the Aragon Ballroom Tuesday night. After a lukewarm performance by Limp Bizkit, the crowd felt like a taut rubber band stretched to the breaking point, ready to snap at any moment.

Then, without warning, the thundering pulse of a base chord ran through the floorboards like a San Andreas tremor and rattled my ankles almost painfully, the vibration reverberating up into my chest and making my heart quake. Standing roughly 40 feet from the stage, a mass of angst-filled humanity surrounded me on all sides. Suddenly they all rushed forward simultaneously, as though possessed with a common, uncontrollable energy. Fear swept over me as I felt the force of 5,000 people pushing on my back shoving me forward toward the stage; I struggled frantically to maintain my balance against the tide, as falling down could mean being trampled and crushed. Within less than a minute, the space between me and the emerging members of Korn had been reduced by half.

As the soft opening progression of "Blind" grew increasingly intense, the crowd had already started jumping up and down with expectation for the inevitably awesome crash that would ensue. When the music exploded into the distortion and beat-heavy brand of rock that has typified the band for more than a decade, the fans erupted into a frenzy: their heads banged furiously with the downbeat as their limbs flailed in every direction with no purpose other than to expel a vague, pent-up aggression.

Directly below the headline on the ticket stub for the Limp Bizkit/Korn Back to Basics tour, it clearly reads "No Body Surfing/No Moshing." Fat chance.

Almost instantaneously, several mosh pits sprung up sporadically throughout the crowd; there were about ten to twelve circles between 5 and 10 feet in diameter, with teenagers rampaging at each other and slamming their bodies in a ritual that can best be described as a mix between a football drill and a prize fight. Though a fan of hard-core rock since my younger years, I have never attended such a concert and certainly have never taken part in a real mosh pit. Oddly, while numerous strangers threw me back and forth and checked their shoulders into my own, the fear I had initially experienced vanished and the sheer energy of the moment infused me with an excitement I have never felt before.

These outbursts continued whenever the music rocked particularly hard, which was often. Soon I was pushing, shoving, elbowing, shouldering, kicking, kneeing, jumping, and head-banging with the best of them. To me, the most amazing thing was that when someone would get knocked down, the group would quickly form a protective circle around that person and pull that person up (though not terribly lightly), ensuring everyone's relative safety. All this violence was imaginary—somehow deeply rooted in a community spirit that one could easily identify with. At low points, everyone hugged and gave high-fives; it was like a pissed-off Woodstock.

For someone who has grown up with Korn since 1994, the show was a serious session in nostalgia, but rocking nostalgia nonetheless. As the name implies, Back to Basics did not try to expose anything new or experimental, just good old classics like "Freak on a Leash" and "Shoots and Ladders" (which was probably the high point of the night). At one point, Jonathan Davis brought the bagpipes on stage and blew his heart out while the rest of the band took a much-needed rest. As one fan put it, "Time travel does exist, and it is being seen here tonight."

Limp Bizkit, led by Durst and his signature red hat, also dug deep and played a hit list of TRL success stories like "Nookie" and "Faith." The band closed the set with a rendition of "Bad Man," a song that Durst carried off fairly well despite the challenge it presented for his limited vocal capabilities.

Having had some trouble the last time he was in Chicago—apparently being booed off stage for making defamatory comments about the Cubs—Durst seemed eager to win back the City with Big Shoulders. He repeatedly attempted to compliment the crowd on their "good vibe," whatever that means, and said how much he enjoyed being there. Between sets, Durst appeared in the balcony and attempted to pump up the crowd by waving his fist in the air…with limited success.

Still, in between almost every Bizkit song, the air was a mixture of cheers and boos, with half the fans holding their hands in the air showing a metal sign and the other half signaling that Fred is indeed number one (with their middle finger). At one point, Durst asked everyone who was having a great time to boo as loud as they could. Then he said, "That was for all the haters out there." Was he trying to trick people into liking him? It didn't work. "Fred Durst is trying to kiss our ass, but he's just a punk. He sucks, and Korn kick his ass," one fan commented. And he was more reverent than many I interviewed.

The day after, my ear is swollen and black and blue, I have bruises along my chest and forearms, and my back feels as though someone went to it with a baseball bat. But most importantly, I simply rock more than I did yesterday. To anyone who hasn't been in a mosh pit, sharpen your elbows, and get in there. Start to live life "all the way up," like a goddamn bullfighter.