Squaring the Circle Pit

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Exalted Funeral

Near the end of their tight-as-hell, quicksilver set, Dallas thrash-wizards Power Trip laid it out for Boston: “If you want your dessert, you gotta eat your dinner.” The band wanted more audience participation, but while the vibe was solid the fans couldn’t keep up. There was too much omnidirectional collision going on to really crack open the pit, so all that human meat was just flexing on each other without any momentum, petering out early in almost every song into a settled, inert mass.

Vocalist Riley Gale clearly wanted more, and deserved it. The entire band was throwing out bullwhip headbangs while they redlined through each song. During “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” Gale was either heaving his mic-stand overhead like a halberd or doing jump kicks off the drum riser. The rest of band never missed a note, which is a real feat since those notes numbered in the thousands. Power Trip was locked in, giving a clearly polished show but not merely performing—they demanded the crowd give back, to fuel their riff machine as it barreled towards grim, volcanic heights.

What Gale demanded was a circle pit, but Boston couldn’t oblige. Perhaps if Gale had broken it down a little more, provided some diagrams in a slideshow, but his desires could not have been spelled out any more obviously. He held up his arm, pointed down with his finger, and rotated his hand in a clockwise motion, like he was stirring up some whipped cream with an imaginary mixer.

Some folks tried, but they kept getting smashed off track, like ants bounced off the scent, condemned to wander through the rest of their lives in a haze. It was a dismal sight, one so easily adjusted if only there were a true circle pit captain. Power Trip straight up gutted the encore, I wasn’t convinced that we’d earned it.

It’s shameful, because let’s be honest, moshing is the worst. It’s amateur rugby for shut-ins and ex-quarterbacks, almost totally disconnected from the music and a flying middle finger to the personal space of everyone else around. Moshing amplifies the dew point of an already over-humid room and is embarrassingly unsustainable. The flying elbows and soulless karate impresses no one, it just means we have to stop watching the band and now concentrate on our peripheral safety in case some thick-necked boar is slamming all their weight at the poor schlubs who maybe wanted to hear the guitar leads and throw up some horns.

A circle pit, however, can be a powerful expression of collective force. All those sparks cascading in tandem, a maelstrom of communal good-will and electricity. The best metal is theatre and Power Trip’s no exception, and a circle pit is a way for an audience to participate without making the show about them. Maybe all these heavy metal fans imagine themselves as lone wolves separate from the “herd,” and see a circle pit as just another kind of forced assimilation into a societal structure. Many metal subcultures have a hypocritical relationship with conformity, ostensibly eschewing all of society’s rules while expecting fellow showgoers to follow unspoken edicts of moshing.

That’s some serious junior high bullshit though. Power Trip (and so many other bands) deserve more, because moshing is for ex-jocks and drunk bugbears who could give two watery shits about the music. They’re just looking for an excuse to pummel flesh. Circle pits are a seething combine, and so much more satisfying to flow in and out of while the solos unspool and the rhythm section grinds. It’s the kind of crowd participation fans and bands alike deserve, a cascading sea of denim all working together to spew raw energy out into the galaxy, a dance of mutual aggression rather than haphazard antagonism.


Photo by saul torres on flickr

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