A few years after the epiphany that an hour or less of the “labor” of writing can get me into the occasional show for free, I started to run out of synonyms for the word “heavy”.
Needing a break from dancing about architecture, it occurred to me that I could focus my pen entirely on the visceral experience of being there for what a band does to a crowd and the consensual cathartic violence created by their playing, without mentioning if the guitar tone is “very distorted” or only “quite distorted.” I paid full price for the ticket. This is Pit-Report.
What better show to start this column with than the first Philadelphia appearance of Infest in my lifetime? Iron Lung’s opening and I have it on good authority that both of these powerviolence oldheads create pits for the ages. Based on how it went down when I saw Siege, I’m expecting this to be an amorphous tangle of high-energy skinny folk and limbs coming at me from every conceivable direction. Let’s find out!
Aaaaand I’m back. The show took place in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, one of Philly’s smallest and most fun venues. Sold out of its two hundred-ish capacity, ticket holders of all sorts of ages, sizes, races, genders, etc. trickled in semi-slowly. Here I have to apologize to local openers Blackout for missing their set (due to helping a buddy get in on a last minute ticket through someone else’s name on will-call), and in return will tell the good people of the Toilet that their shit’s legit and include this link to their demo:
Pure Disgust came on and spoke to the sleeping beast in the room with oppressive sludge. In their last third of their short set, three to five cats (it varied) stomped around forming a one layer thick circle pit that didn’t involve much contact at all but cleared the space open wide and let motherfuckers know what time it was.
As Wound Man got into the swing of their set, the pit began to pulse with life, stomping slowly through the fog of their doom riffs, and flipping out with gusto when the speed demanded it. We’d more than doubled our ranks and have broken through the dozen-mark of moving bodies. Some brave, high-energy motherfuckers were throwing themselves weaponously, body and soul, into the chaos. It was the third set of a six-band night and already the stage-dive barrier had been broken, albeit by some dude with terrible timing who would climb up right in time for the song to end then jump off in silence…twice. In spite of his unfortunate luck, everyone had his (and everyone else’s) back throughout. The State of the Pit is strong.
Scapegoat’s performance was a passing, ephemeral thing, like the appearance of a ghost in one’s peripheral vision. Was it actually shorter or did it just feel that way? I have no way of knowing that at this time. During those wonderful moments, not only was the stage-dive barrier actually broken several times over, but the pit/non-pit boundaries began to grow fuzzy as the density of the crowd increased. The demarcations of where one could safely stand held out broadly speaking but began to dissolve.
Now we’re starting to really lay things down. While Iron Lung may have toured more in the last two and a half decades, and while way more people in the room were likely to have seen them before, they were still headlining just as much as Infest was in our collective mind. All these years I had no idea they were a two-piece. The pit expanded by way of bodies flinging themselves and being flung further into the non-pit. While a bird’s eye view would still be able to pick out both types of zones, there was less and less of a guarantee that any particular part of the controlled safety places wouldn’t be moshed upon by some skinny, sweaty feral thing charging through rows of by-standers.
Speaking of shit-stirring, I feel the need to put a personal breakthrough I had into this separate paragraph. Normally when crowd-killers do their whole thing, I just sort of hold my own and they pass me by. Last night that changed. One dude I drove with my fists in his back to the other side of the room, and another (whose flappy, slappy spaghetti arms were flopping wildly in all sorts of faces) I grabbed by the throat and held eye-contact with while he did these “gee, what’re ya pickin’ on me for?” gestures which I (and everyone else) ignored until he met my gaze. I gave a “calm down” gesture with a downward-facing open palm moving downwards then released eye-contact and throat-grab. His behavior was not an issue again from that point forward.
Back to the show. Iron Lung moved the hell out of that place. A cool moment occurred when their drummer/vocalist broke the chain on his pedal then told stories of all the times they’d had bad luck during shows they’ve played at that particular church/venue. Right as he concludes his string of anecdotes by speculating that Iron Lung was cursed by Unitarian Jesus, someone hands his pedal back fixed and the show goes on.
INFEST INFEST INFEST INFEST INFEST INFEST! As their music landed in this city for the first time in a quarter-century, we all broke through to achieve perfect pit-singularity. Oh yes, brothers and sisters. There was simply no non-pit, making non-moshing a non-option. If indeed there was a spot where one could stand un-moshed-upon then it was somewhere else in the room and I simply wasn’t aware of it. Within that immediate scope of vision – and it was a scope that very, very often shrank in scale due to survival/necessity – Chaos fucking reigned! Infest fucking reigned!
At one point, I was in such a position that a stage-diving buddy landed with his ass on my shoulder and I bore most of his weight to move him onwards. Some other buds did more or less the same for me at other points. As a one hundred forty pound dude in a pit that dense, I was able to stay up there for a good couple of few. Hell, even my two hundred eighty pound mosh bro (whose very good blog can be found here) was able to get up there several times and I ain’t never seen that happen once! When I talk about density here, I’m talking about the density of the center of a black hole in the form of a sea of elbows, knees, and heads, motherfucker!
Their singer stepped down to join our ranks more than once and held his own in that insanity he and his comrades created, even held his own enough to keep on bellowing true revolutionary hate. In a pit like that, this would be impressive enough on its own, but even more so for someone in a band that broke up in the year I was born.
In all that madness, there remained a very real having-each-others-back-ness that was greater – that HAD to be greater – than one would see in less chaotic pits that’re more about high-impact contact. Still, I walked away with screwed up hands, chin, neck, right bicep, back, right ass-cheek, and a bad muscle injury to the right thigh (from an elbow? a knee? a head? who knows?) that’s got me limping still. Upon asking someone with blood on his face if he was okay, we ended up in a good, wide-ranging conversation in which it came up that he’s in the band Judas. He was a relatable, interesting fellow, so I’m just gonna go ahead and plug his stuff here right quick:
In case the message has been too subtle, go see this band if you have a chance. If you don’t live in California, you’re not going to get many. The only pit I’ve been in that I can even remotely compare this to is the first-ever Agoraphobic Nosebleed set at MDF 2015. Yeah, that good. But hey, you won’t have to take my word for it for long; Hate5six was there filming, knowing in advance exactly what I went to find out. Stay Grind.