The concert, a festival of emo-core up-and-comers, feels like a crucial Friday night football game and the homecoming dance rolled into one. Blondes and brunettes with high ponytails fluff their hair and hog the mirrors in the women's bathroom alongside punk fashion plates who carefully touch up raccoonlike eye makeup and adjust fishnets and short plaid skirts. Awkward boys in Atreyu hoodies and Taking Back Sunday shirts gather in the ticket lobby with the hyperactive swagger and camaraderie that only testosterone-fueled adolescents can muster.
Elsewhere, clumps of friends wearing studded belts race into the sweaty general-admission floor mob or wander the concourse, gossiping and giggling. A quiet couple -- she's wearing black nail polish, he's sporting an impressively spiked green mohawk -- intertwine their fingers lazily during My Chemical Romance's set. Other pubescent lovebirds clutch each other chastely at the acoustic stage as Los Angeles' Bleed the Dream pounds through a brief emo-punk set.
Less noticeable within this Hot Topic debutante ball are the patient moms and dads playing chaperone in the reserved seats, occasionally serving as human ATMs to their thirsty kids. Some of these adults are here for their own piece of mind or because they don't mind the piercing screamo of their kids' idols -- or because said children have several years of acne woes and junior high trauma to go before even thinking about obtaining a driver's license.
But as the composition of the audience demonstrates, this tour is particularly welcoming to both genders. Girls in the Taste of Chaos pit are more at risk of heatstroke than assault. Because, unlike the last wave of TRL-friendly heaviness -- the much-maligned nu-metal movement, which reeked of physical violence and sexual antagonism -- the Taste of Chaos bands are devoid of destructive machismo. Rather than whining about insurmountable angst, groups such as Underoath writhe onstage and yell until hoarse -- expelling pain, fear and uncertainty outward in primal screams tailored to effect a therapeutic catharsis. It's a release based on emotional aggression, yet audience members respond not by lashing out at others but by turning sometimes-violent motions -- crowd surfing, pogoing, slam dancing -- into acts of communal exuberance.
And then they giggle about it the next day in geometry class.