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The first time I accidentally ended up in a mosh pit was also the first time I was mistaken for a drug dealer. I say accidentally for I suppose there is no other way to first end up in one other than by blindly stumbling forthright into it. It is only by not having not a clue as to what is exactly is happening that you can only introduce yourself into this tradition, and it is of my belief that anyone else I’ve ever slammed, stubbed, smashed, or just generally messed up a bit in a pit did not enter their first one consciously of their own volition either. As to the drug dealing bit, I seem to be getting a little ahead of myself.
Anyway, it was the eleventh of February 2012, at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn when all of this aforementioned confusion occurred. There were four bands playing that night, and in order: Habibi, Bleeding Rainbow, The Black Belles, and Bleached. I forget that it’s hip and cool to arrive fashionably late at these shows, so although I arrived on time I was one of the only people there aside from a guy carrying god knows what in a Joy Division tote bag for god knows why (“I don’t know about you, but whenever I shop at Whole Foods, I like the cashiers to know what kind of music I listen to by the bag they put my organic zucchini in”), and another man who brought his little daughter to a show that I have already prognosticated with suggestions of drug use and mosh pits all because she was in love with The Black Belles (yes, even then it immediately seemed like a terrifically reckless idea). There’s nothing quite like a father who overachieves at underachieving.
I think the Knitting Factory is a great place to see a show, but I tend to stick towards warehouses and house shows, and as tacky as that sounds it’s because a venue like this always tends to bring out the worst of the leeches and any other assorted euphemistic placeholder you can desire. It’s actually a good thing there’s a backstage at these types of venues so the musicians can hide away from the usual lonely middle-aged men—typically journalists and photographers—huddled together in a circle talking about Jack White, and halfheartedly hitting on female band members as they pass by. They are always hitting on the bands. They live to harass any woman with a guitar, bass, drum kit, or even so much as a tambourine (“hey, you’re pretty good at playing that”), and they wouldn’t dare be caught dead with the male drummer of the band or the merch boy unless it’s to get closer to a woman or even the idea of one. Is that what my future looks like?
The first band to play is one of my favorite bands, Habibi. I have tried to find some way to describe their perfect balance of primordial rhythms and jagged surf-guitar riffs, but I always seem to be unable to write well about the bands I love the most. Instead, I’ll leave Jonathan Richman to save me once again with what he wrote about The Velvet Underground:
“Played less notes and left more space
Stayed kind of still, looked kinda shy
Kinda far away, kinda dignified.
How in the world were they making that sound?
The good thing is, if that just came off as really cheesy and dumb, I can just place the blame on Richman.
Bleeding Rainbow came on next, and the crowd was really getting into the music. By this time the little girl on her father’s shoulders was giving the devil horns to the bassist. Okay, it was actually really adorable. I’m only human. Unfortunately, much like most sets that night, there was something else going on that forced me to focus all of my attention on something other than the music that I would and should have been listening to.
On the other side of the stage, however, there was an older woman head banging it out, and I am almost allowed to say it was quite literal, because while she was ferociously head banging to Bleeding Rainbow she almost went right along and head banged her forehead on the front of the stage a couple of times. It was quite poignant and beautifully profound in a weird way: On one side was the embodiment of youth screaming joyously at her new favorite bands, on the other side an image of age tripping the light fantastic, and in the middle a crowd of vague twenty somethings dressed in suspenders and pinafores with barely enough energy to rustle up even a slight shuffle as they all had their cell phones out, texting veraciously to their friends. It was the night Whitney Huston had died.
As I shook myself out of this illusion of profundity, Bleeding Rainbow sidled off the stage, and The Black Belles played next. I feel another moment of apologies is of importance here, for although I drew you in here assuring this is a concert review, I am aware that there has been little if any musings on the actual concert, but more emphasis placed on its surrounding atmosphere and I’m afraid to say it’s not about to get any better.
From what I remember, The Black Belles’ set was a fantastic, thunderous tour de force of a performance, except some of the middle and most of the end is somewhat blurry to this day. Now, admittedly, the reason for my temporal forgetfulness is due to the influence of pot, yet not at all in the way I know you are so quick to assume. It was then that I got a fateful tap on my shoulder, and upon turning around I saw a short, squirrely guy—his eyes already red—who asked me “Are you selling anything in that backpack?” He was referring to my grey Dickies backpack I wore, and in my naivety of course I thought he just wanted my cereal bar I was saving for a snack. When I was about to tell him no, because I was actually looking forward to eating it, it occurred to me slowly in increasing waves of realization like Edith Bunker on All In The Family what he actually meant. He was upset when I told him I wasn’t selling anything, and as I turned back around I heard him tell his friends that he thought I looked like a drug dealer. To this day I’ve been insecure about that. Do I look like a drug dealer? Do I?
Lastly, Bleached took the stage. Everything about their set—the effortless coolness of the entire band, the moments to be described shortly experienced communally by the entire audience, and overall just how mind-blowing the music was—made for the greatest show I have ever seen up to that point. By all means buy their records and please do because it’s among the greatest music being put out today, but seeing Bleached live is an entirely different beast altogether. I hesitate to lay claim to such an idea that follows, but I believe it may be due to the Clavin sisters having perfected the ins and outs of a live show from their tenure in Mika Miko. They began playing all the songs from their 7“s, as well as some great new songs, and to me it was like they were playing back to back hits because I had listened to those songs perhaps a hundred times each.
It was about halfway through their set when an immaculately tall male wearing a sleeveless shirt, sporting a mustache and the blue eyes of Paul Newman, appeared from the back of the stage and leaped. Now I’m still not sure to this day why no one caught him, perhaps they were scared of this towering behemoth jumping at them too big to ever possibly fly, but for whatever reason he crashed. And not only did he crash, but the sound resonated so loudly that not even the noise of electric guitars and gut-thumping tom-toms could stifle it’s quake; I thought surely by the fall he must have died.
As friends picked him up, lead singer Jennifer Clavin called out the audience for not catching the immaculate, now bloodied, Newman-eyed Brando. It was then when a girl in front of me called out the most simple, yet beautifully poetic phrase that I’ve ever heard to this day: “Nobody dances in New York.” It was like she was some all-seeing, all knowing absolute being capable of piercing directly through the heart of the matter with a single sentence and making everyone around her feel ashamed and horrible for it. It was then I first felt the anxiety of something larger happening: the audience had resolved to make it up to her.
I’m still unsure whether I like mosh pits or not. I think when I’m in the middle of it I do, but it is the anxiety beforehand that I hate. However, this was my first time, and I had no idea what was going on. I just thought a couple kids were getting particularly randy as I saw a plume of billowing smoke rise in my peripheral vision, and my nose connected the smell that came with it. But no, the pushing became more frequent, and then the shoves themselves grew more violent. Then they played a Ramones cover, and it burst like a bubble. A pit had emerged. I thought it was the entire crowd that was involved, but as I was being thrust out and then back in to the pit, I realized it was just about thirty of us, and I was the idiot in the middle. Beer was thrown, and people were tumbling on its mess, but everyone was incredibly happy.
Then, it was over. Bleached finished, and we left as if it never even happened. Before I knew it I was stumbling out the door, stepping and half-slipping over crushed red beer cups, the bouncer patting me on the back (I have a strange relationship with bouncers—they always treat me like their favorite, yet sensitive child), perhaps thinking I was high in my glassy-eyed exuberance, telling me to “be safe and have a good night kid.” I continued to stumble my way down the street, and somehow found my way back to the train. The toes of my Chucks were scuffed, and, proudly, like the rings of a tree, I can point out the marks on my shoes from the events of that night. I still can’t listening to Bleached’s “Electric Chair,” without feeling a sudden attack of anxiety.
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