Friday June 9th, 1989 Exodus are headlining Trenton, New Jersey's City Gardens. The opening bands were Faith Or Fear and the one that I came to see, Sick Of It All. Now first off, Friday night shows at City Gardens were kind of odd. The majority of the hardcore shows that I would go to see there were on Sunday nights. I guess because this particular show was being billed as a metal show, they did it on a Friday night. Going into this show I was a huge Sick of It All fan.
I actually have to go all the way back to the 7th grade to get this started, that would have been somewhere around 1986. I had a math teacher named Kevin Koller, or Mr. Koller as I knew him. I'd come into class with my denim jacket on, covered in punk and hardcore pins. Agent Orange, Descendents, JFA, 7 Seconds, pins like that. I was a die hard skater, so that was the soundtrack to my skating back then. One day, Mr. Koller say's to me, "I see those pins you have on your jacket, you're into punk ha?" I look at him with a surprised and bewildered look and reply, "Yeah I am, why do you ask?" I guess one thing I should point out is that Mr. Koller was a pretty straight laced, clean cut, normal looking red headed teacher guy. Looking at him, you would never think the guy even knew what punk was. Mr. Koller than goes on to tell me, "My cousins Pete and Lou are in a hardcore band, I should get a demo for you". My response was, "What's the name of the band, where are they from?" Mr. Koller says, "The band is called Sick Of It All, they're from Queens, NY".
At the time I had never heard them, but kind of recalled reading about them in Thrasher's Puszone at some point. Mr. Koller said he was going into Queens this upcoming weekend and would get me a demo. The following week, as promised, Mr. Koller brings me in an original Sick Of It All demo. I remember looking at it intently during lunch and after lunch during recess. I couldn't wait to get home and give this thing a listen. There was something about checking out a band in their demo period that seemed very cool and interesting back then. You really felt like you were getting a jump start on something that could end up being special. When I got home I popped the tape into my boom box and jammed with the volume way up. This stuff was much heavier, angrier and faster than the majority of punk I was listening to at the time. I dug it though, no question, I was an instant fan.
As the next couple of years came and went, Sick Of It All virtually became a house hold name. From their 7" that went on to be released on Revelation, to their tracks on Revelation's, "The Way It Is" compilation, I continued to be a fan. As their popularity grew, my interest in New York Hardcore was also growing, as was my interest in all that was Revelation Records. Getting an early tip on such a great band was pretty cool and because of the teacher / cousin connection, it left them with even more of an allure.
Now back to that Friday night in June of 1989, this would be my first chance at checking out Sick Of It All live. I had seen a fair amount of good bands before this, bands that I had really loved. For some reason or another, a lot of those bands, although incredible live, rarely seemed to exude the energy that all the photos had documented. Coming up you see so many photos of bands jumping around, diving into the crowd and appearing to look like madmen on stage, but in person it just doesn't come off as extreme as those photos.
Sick Of It All on the other hand, they had an energy and stage presence that was virtually unmatched at that point. From the minute they stepped on that City Gardens stage, they just went insane. Pete jumped around all over the place. Off the drum riser, off the monitors, wherever he could launch from. Lou, just the same, but often using the crowd as his landing area as well as the stage. Lou was also big into the whole stage mosh at that time. Rich, the long haired bass player from that era, although not much of a jumper, still had a powerful presence while on stage and plucking away at that bass. The songs were played to perfection live. Solid, tight and heavy in a way that the recordings up until then, never seemed to properly capture. I can't recall for certain, but I'm pretty sure the LP, "Blood, Sweat And No Tears" had not been released yet. The material that I remember hearing them play that night was demo and 7" songs, but they very well could have played some LP tracks as well.
The combination of the build up to seeing Sick Of It All and the incredible set had me extremely adrenalized and fired up. At one point, which I believe was during "Breeders Of Hate", I put my hands on someone's shoulders in front of me and pulled my self up for a sing along. To my surprise, whoever was in back of me took it upon themselves to fully launch me up on top of the crowd. Now another point I have to make, at that time, City Gardens had a strict "No Stage Diving" policy. The second you got yourself up on top of the crowd, be prepared to be dragged off, roughed up and tossed right out the side door by one of the gorilla looking bouncers that lurked in any given corner.
At that time, I was 15 and probably weighed about 130 pounds and was about as hard as bowl of Jello. The thought of one of these gorillas getting their hands on me and roughing me up had me scared shitless. Once I was up there on top of that crowd though, I had no options. I did what only seemed fitting to do. I climbed to the stage, took a quick run across it and launched myself off a monitor and deep into the crowd. This was my first official and actual stage dive at City Gardens.
As soon as I hit that crowd, I immediately saw no less than 3 bouncers catch me in their view and head towards me. I knew I was in for it, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. Then out of no where and at the last second, I see this one dude who stood head and shoulders above everyone else. He looked at me, reached up his hand and pulled me down through the crowd. He screamed in my ear to stay down beneath the crowd until he pulled me back up. His plan was to keep me hidden under the crowd so that the bouncers couldn't find me. Once they gave up, as long as they hadn't kept a mental note of what I looked like, I would most likely be in the clear.
Thing is, as I was down there, beneath that crowd, it felt like 200 degrees. Between the extreme heat and my nerves, I could hardly breath. I thought I was going to pass out. After what was probably less than 30 seconds, but what felt like 15 minutes, the tall dude that pulled me down off the crowd, grabbed my hand again, told me I was in the clear and pulled me back up. I said "thanks man", looked around and started to catch my breath. Right smack dab in front of me was a total metal head. All I could see was this long, kinky, dry, frizzed out hair running down the back of this dudes leather jacket. For a second everything went into slow motion and I felt vomit hurling up from my gut and quickly making it's way out of my mouth. Before I could turn or even think about it, I threw up all over the back of this metal heads black leather jacket. A load of orange vomit flowed into his hair and down his leather. As quickly as the vomit came up, I got the fuck out of there and made my way as far away from that metal head as possible. Although he probably didn't feel it happen, it wasn't going to take long before someone pointed out to him and I wasn't about to stick around for an apology.
A couple of years later I actually became good friends with the random tall guy that pulled me down off the crowd that night. The dudes name was Jay Kilroy and went on to be known as The Regulator. Thanks again Jay. As for the metal head who's black leather jacket I covered in orange puke, sorry buddy, hope it came off. And to Sick Of It All, that was the first of what seems like hundreds of incredible sets by them. Never a let down live. Although I haven't seen them in quite a few years, when I get that chance again, I'll try to get myself up there on top of that crowd. My nerves have calmed down quite a bit since those days, I'll keep the vomit for a bucket. -Tim DCXX