Outside El Rey at 7:15, I plugged in my borrowed headphones waiting in line for the door. I hadn’t yet listened to Jawny’s new album, It’s Never Fair, Always True, which was only released the day before the show. I might as well know what I was getting into: I was lightly battling nerves for my first concert by myself, and my first time shooting photos like this. A mistake at the door almost stopped the night for me entirely, but thanks to the kindness of the usher, I made it inside unscathed. I hustled to claim a spot near the stage.
Devon Again came on as the crowd was still settling, but as soon as the lights went out, she pulled all eyes to the front. My attention first goes to the toilet center stage, but I was quickly distracted by the stiff doll hanging from the mic stand. Devon came on with a bounce and smile, wrapping me up in her first song so quickly I forgot what it was. Next was “It’s All My Fault,” where she charmed the audience with some jokes, and the crowd caught onto her charisma. She surprised everyone with a rendition of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and encouraged everyone to sing with her. Her energy teetered between teen rebellion and twenty-something assuredness that could only be described in the vibe of when she made her bandmates eat Flavor Blasted Goldfish out of the toilet. It was awesome. She commanded the room with her confident and full vocals, and her endearing anecdotes about each song kept the momentum. For “Burn Down,” she told us about her roommate who was in the audience, had us say hi to them, and then explained that as they were moving out of their apartment it caught on fire, and then she wrote that song. How silly! She tapped into the nostalgia of growing up, finishing with her songs “Gum” and “Suburbia.” When the set ended, I made cheerful conversation with the guy standing next to me, and we swapped stories of how we ended up here. He was lugged from Pomona by his friends, but was having a surprisingly good time given he didn’t know the artists. I, having hauled myself here similarly, felt the same.
Wallice hit the ground running with “90s American Super Star,” shouting out Devon at the end of the song, saying to keep an eye out because she is going to be a rock star. Wallice’s next song, “Little League,” had some tech issues that I think threw off her game. Her guitar wasn’t playing for the first song, and she kept pulling on her earpiece while singing out of tune. The other songs from her EP improved as the show went on, but who really caught my attention was her bassist, Alina Sloan, who was only performing with them for the second time. During “Rich Wallice,” Sloan radiated excitement that matched the green light’s glow, and she swayed with the audience through “Japan.” Somewhere in between “Punching Bag” and “Funeral,” I noticed there were cameras in front of the crowd, but I wasn’t sure if that move was in my cards. Wallice finished her set strong with the crowd favorite “23,” recovering by the end of her time onstage.
In between Wallice and Jawny, I slipped out of my carefully claimed spot and asked one of the security guards if I could join the other photographers beyond the barrier. He gave me an assured double thumbs up, and finally I understood the meaning of the “pit pass” taped to my wrist. At least this is learning, I thought to myself, as the lights dropped to darkness.
Leading with my hands, I stumbled into the trenches of the pit. As I blindly landed on a bench, Jawny ran in and the lights exploded. He started with “strawberry chainsaw,” which is when it became clear that getting an in-focus picture might be a difficult task with the level of energy buzzing onstage. The guitarist swinging, Jawny singing, and drums slamming to “Trigger of Love,” the main act had arrived. “wide eyed” and “adios” from the brand-new album matched the goofy energy, furthered when Jawny introduced himself as Shawn Mendes after presenting the band. As he was talking, he got interrupted by a call that came through his mic. On the other side of the line, his girl said there was another guy, and dumped him live. This bit dragged us into “lalala,” where he kept forcing the audience to raise their hands. He blamed this routine on us. “You fucked up because you did crowd participation,” and had everyone keep the beat for “Honeypie.” The tone changed with “i look better when i’m in love” and “selfish hate,” but Jawny had warned us that things would get sad from there. He finished the set with “Tombstone Hate,” a meaningful close with one of his earliest songs.
Madly clicking cameras, the photographer sitting next to me leaned over. I couldn’t hear her at first, so I pulled out my ear plug. “I love the all-female pit going on,” she noted warmly. I said something like oh yeah, so awesome, because this was the first moment I took notice, then we swapped places in the line. Even unprepared, I meant it: the vibes, so awesome.
The night was full of joy, kindness, and gratitude. Everyone there just seemed to be having the time of their life. I wasn’t feeling my most confident heading into it, but after seeing the happiness on stage, it was contagious. Every interaction was loaded with sincerity, on stage and off. Jawny got emotional at the end of his set, just expressing how thankful he was. “You guys changed my life. I was a fucking fry cook before this … The ceiling in your bedroom is not how far your dreams can go.”
Photos by Skye Schoenhoeft