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Backstage, Valient Thorr singer Valient Himself is splayed out on the pavement, but it's hard to tell if he's stretching his quads or trying to get more wiggle room in his bun-hugger leather bellbottoms.

Avenged Sevenfold are also doing some last-minute prepping, checking the black streaks under their eyes, pulling on their teased hair and, in the case of bassist Johnny Christ, putting suntan lotion on his heavily tattooed arms. As Snoop Dogg's "Murder Was the Case" pumps out of the bus' stereo, the boys do a final hair check, grab a few beers and begin the long walk to the stage.

Meanwhile, singer M. Shadows hides his eyes behind mirrored shades and nurses a paper cup of hot tea while he cradles a tape recorder to his ear. He listens intently to his vocal tracks while doing warm-ups that sound like whale calls. With 10 minutes to stage time, drummer the Rev does some air drumming and practices his drumstick tosses. His girlfriend, wearing a designer slip dress and a pout, looks cold, so he valiantly takes off his black shirt and drapes it around her shoulders.

Hours later, as the last notes of My Chemical Romance's set fade into the distance, the party is finally beginning backstage. After 10 hours of sun, sweat and signings, this is when things really heat up. Tents are coming down, trucks are being packed up, but what you won't see from the parking lot is members of your favorite bands lining up in their flip-flops for a hot shower.

You also won't see Tim Armstrong from the Transplants giving Shadows a hug and chatting him up on the way to the mess tent for dinner. You won't see the dozens of barbecue grills being fired up for the evening chow ritual. Bus call is midnight, at which point most of the circus has packed up and the haul to the next stop has begun, where the whole thing will start all over again. In 1994 the tour had three band buses and three production buses. Now there are nearly 50 production and band buses, 19 semi trailers and 800 people on the move every night.

June 21, St. Louis

Even though thousands of kids will be screaming along to their songs in half an hour, Atreyu are practically anonymous as they weave through the crowd toward the stage. The group chats about an upcoming hometown Halloween show and the possibility of getting on a bill with Danzig. Some are in favor of playing with the horrorcore legend, others wonder if they should just stick to headlining their own show. The conversation seems to help them take their minds off playing in front of one of their biggest crowds ever.

As they make their way up to the stage, singer Alex Varkatzas listens to a roadie explain the optimum time to put on sunscreen. Unfortunately, he says, an hour ago would have been ideal. Varkatzas looks down at his pale arms and shrugs. With five minutes to showtime, a roadie asks if they're ready, and they agree to "wait the five minutes" before their appointed stage time to let the crowd reach maximum hype.

Emerging from a cloud of smoke on the bus just 15 minutes before, Varkatzas admitted to having a severe case of social anxiety. "It's probably not the greatest choice to become the singer in a band, I guess," he now jokes as he climbs up into the sweltering trailer of a semi, which serves as the default green room for all the mainstage bands. He grabs the mic and somehow lets 'er rip, screaming his lungs out, exhorting the crowd to do the same and bouncing up and down on his toes.

Over on the My Chemical Romance bus, things are eerily quiet a few hours before showtime. Too quiet. That's because the band is sequestered in the back of the bus, rehearsing. Not just rehearsing, actually. As singer Gerard Way walks past a set of bunks with sheets that range from SpongeBob SquarePants (his) to Spider-Man, Nemo, Batman and NASCAR, he pulls back a heavy curtain to reveal MCR's portable recording studio.

The band's other four members are playing intensely with headphones on and don't look up as Way peeks in. They're actually playing the entire set, in order. While Way doesn't join them, this level of intensity stuns just about every other band I talk to. A few brush it off as unnecessary preparation, but the majority are either impressed or surprised, and, in the case of one band, clearly self-conscious about their slackitude.

"I used to need two hours to get ready," says Way as he pulls out a plastic bag containing eight hair and makeup products. "Now I just get in my uniform and makeup and get my head space right."


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Photo Credit: John Squires

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My Chemical Romance
"Helena" (MTV.com LIVE)
Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
(Reprise)



Transplants
"Gangsters and Thugs"
Haunted Cities
(Atlantic)


Fall Out Boy
"Sugar, We're Goin Down"
From Under the Cork Tree
(Island)


The All-American Rejects
"My Paper Heart"
The All-American Rejects
(Dreamworks)



Avenged Sevenfold
"Burn It Down"
City of Evil
(Warner Bros.)



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