Concert t-shirts are an art form. When worn properly, they're basically social filters. They can say the right thing to the right person, forging a connection that might otherwise never have taken shape, while at the same time instantly repelling people you want to avoid. Though it's been several years since I've worn mine, I still have every one of them, and will leave them stacked in the bottom drawer of my dresser until my apartment burns down or the sun dies, whichever comes first. Neatly folded, they lie in anticipation of the day when I need to bust one out and say, "Back off, pal! One time I saw Smashing Pumpkins!" I've had an unusual level of exposure to concert t-shirts over the past two nights, because a friend's extra ticket put me at back to back rock events for the first time in quite a while. Last night in particular, ascending the concrete steps of Giants Stadium, I was surrounded by graphically imprinted pre-shrunk cotton. It was hard not to recall Jeremy Piven's condemnation of such behavior in PCU: "You're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Don't be that guy." However, I've always felt that to be too much of a blanket statement. There are many species of individual who wear concert t-shirts to a concert, and as I waited for the lights to dim, a field guide of sorts came into distinct focus.
A Field Guide To Identification and Classification
Class I: Those with a t-shirt of the band from a previous tour • The guy wearing a shirt from the last tour before this one. Shows interest in their recent material, and is the only way to establish street cred if you only recently started listening to them. • The guy wearing a tour shirt from a perceived hey-day which we are to interpret as the wearer's judgment of the band's artistic peak. "This tour is alright, but Zoo TV in '91 was transcendent. You wouldn't understand unless you were there." • The guy wearing a shirt from a tour that would have been mathematically impossible for him to attend. We appreciate your pluck, dude with the "Unforgettable Fire" shirt from before you were born, but you're not fooling anyone.
Class II: Those with a t-shirt of the band from the current tour • The guy who arrived in the shirt, having clearly got it at an earlier show. We're happy that you have disposable income, but if you breathe a word about what's on the set list, you will be kill-murdered. • The guy who just bought the shirt and is wearing it over the t-shirt he was already wearing. • The guy who just bought the shirt and is wearing it over a button-down shirt, with the button-down puffing out at the sleeves and waist. • The girl who obviously went into the restroom and changed into the new shirt. • The girl who coordinated ahead of time, wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt to the stadium and buying a shirt that goes well with it. Instant ensemble. There is an 85% chance that this girl owned three or more pairs of Doc Martens in high school, and saw the first Lollapalooza. • The guy who got a shirt that's clearly too large for him. Look, if they don't have your size, walk away. It's not your night.
Class III: Those with a t-shirt from another band entirely • The guy in a shirt from a band that is connected in spirit to the one playing. This is the sweet spot. This communicates very clearly that you belong, but have other horizons. • The guy in a shirt that is meant to convey how cool the wearer is, e.g. Sleater-Kinney, The Replacements, Wilco. • The guy in a shirt that is meant to convey how current and hip the wearer is, e.g. Vampire Weekend, TV on the Radio, Fallout Boy. • The guy in a shirt that is an overt attempt to win a contest, "Farthest away from the act playing here tonight." Seeing Billy Joel? Wear Tupac. Seeing The Dresden Dolls? Wear Motörhead. (Motörhead shirt guy wins this contest fairly often.) • The guy in a shirt that is deliberately meant as a middle finger to those in attendance, e.g. Celine Dion, NKOTB. Also a candidate to be kill-murdered.
Class IV: Those with a t-shirt from the opening band • The guy who heard the opening band play and bought the shirt because he was blown away. • The guy who showed up wearing the opening band's shirt, a definitive "Hey look, I know who the opening band is" proclamation to all within ten yards radius.
Class V: Outliers • The guy in a jersey for the sports team that plays at the stadium. • The guy wearing a shirt that is somehow connected with the band's origin, e.g. a Guinness shirt for U2. • Anyone under the age of twelve with a brand new shirt that hangs off her/him like a tent, gawking around the stadium with eyes wide and mouth agape. Welcome to the show, kid.