Holiday cheer found in the oddest of places: a mosh pit

Holiday cheer found in the oddest of places: a mosh pit

Christmastime is here again, accompanied by its ever-marketable assortment of trappings— Santa, eggnog, mistletoe, “spending time with family.” These things are all good and fine, but I’ve recently found myself craving something a little more visceral, maybe a little sweaty, and definitely a little raw. It’s something that will give me holiday spirit I won’t be able to get rid of. So, to quench this aggressively festive desire of mine, a close friend and I decided to head down to the Tabernacle to catch the hometown sludge-metal heroes of Mastodon, who are currently on a nationwide tour in support of their latest album, with the sufficiently metal title, The Hunter. What we got was a version of Christmas spirit tempered with all things masculine: shirtlessness, physical confrontations, and of course, absurdly loud music.

Sharing the stage with Mastodon that night were five other bands, but only three of which—Red Fang, Dillinger Escape Plan, and the Black Lips—were of any consequence. Red Fang played what was essentially a slightly less aggressive version of Mastodon’s music. They seemed to draw a crowd of people in their late twenties, bearded and partially bald dudes not hesitant to flash a world-weary smile between songs. Your dad would probably like a few Red Fang songs if he caught them at the right time.

The same cannot be said for Dillinger Escape Plan. The group’s set consisted mainly of impossibly ripped and perpetually stage-diving lead vocalist Greg Puciato shrieking maniacally into his microphone while his bandmates made the awkward attempt to groove behind him to alternating measures of 11/4 and 16/9.

Regardless, I sensed something brewing in the crowd somewhere amidst Dillinger’s frenetic bedlam, and I think some of the heavier bits of Red Tide’s set sparked it. The throng began to hollow out in the middle, as a mosh pit formed. Those who could either clung to the railing near the stage or fled to the balcony. Others flocked to the aisles, only to be brushed back by security. And a third, wretched group stood doe-eyed and clueless as the circle began to expand around them. My friend and I, our backs pressed squarely against each other’s, watched in horror from the eye of this metal hurricane as two identically stocky guys peeled off their shirts, wrung them of their impressive perspiration, locked arms like oxen in the yoke, and began lumbering toward us.

Despite being cast in the same barrel-shaped mold, these two guys had wildly differing shades of body hair–one sported a thick flaxen coat, while the other’s was black. Deep, stomach-churning, glistening black. I mention this because it really was their defining feature, and they appeared to be proud since they were so quick to get topless. The blond guy’s wispy goatee gave him the appearance not unlike that of the mythical faun. We were surrounded by sharks in the open ocean: dead meat.

As they drew closer, we were able to make out their expressions clearly for the first time. They were not as overtly hostile as I had expected, but I still couldn’t quite read them accurately. Before I had the chance, the titans were upon us. Heavy limbs dropped onto our shoulders, and we were momentarily attached to their blubbery yoke.

“You dudes havin’ a good time?” the black haired one demanded in a crisp, New Jersey dialect, giving my shoulders a meaty squeeze. The stench was overbearing. My eyes met my friend’s for an instant, and it was clear we had to act. He moved first, ducking down quickly while simultaneously lifting his captor’s monumental arm up and over his head. I followed suit and was pleasantly surprised to find that their sweatiness made it easy to wriggle free from their grasp. We bolted for the edge of the circle, slipped in between two bearded guys, and heaved sighs of relief.

Our new neighbors, whose tattered denim jackets seemed to be gasping for air beneath the innumerable band patches covering them, had been watching our encounter with the Faun and Pauly D. “Those guys?” one of them asked, sensing our terror. “Yeah, those guys are at like every show here, looking after the pit, making sure no one gets hurt and everyone’s having a good time.”

I looked back over my shoulder toward what I knew was the mosh pit, only to see it quickly closing in on itself–Dillinger’s set was over, and they had just left the stage. The Mosh Kings, as I had come to call them, were nowhere to be found.

The Black Lips came on next with little fanfare. The crowd was clearly there for a metal show and really had no interest in seeing four skinny guys up on stage prance through cutesy songs about building sand castles and holding hands. I had no problem with it, but that’s just the kind of guy I am. Anyway, they played for about forty minutes and then quickly exited. Save for a girl with the Skrillex haircut, no one was really dancing or moving at all. Definitely no moshing. The crowd, possibly me included, wanted something more.

Mastodon was the next and final act. A gargantuan banner emblazoned with their name was unfurling from the ceiling of the venue, and their roadies were just beginning to fiddle around on stage as the middle of the crowd began to stir again. “PUSH IT BACK! PUSH IT BACK!” people cried out. My stomach churned. Despite what our weathered new metalhead friends said about those two hulking figures, whom I now caught sight of again as they threaded their way to the middle of the forming pit, moshing still terrified me.

The lights dimmed, and before I knew it, Mastodon busted into their first song. I made a mad dash from the pit, hoping to make it to the edge before being gravely harmed. Too late. I felt a crushing blow to my sternum and fell to the sticky, plastic cup-littered floor. Mustering what energy I could, I crawled to the fringe of the pit and peeked out to catch a glimpse of my attacker. Just then, a hulking, hairy man in the midst of all the moshing picked up another slightly smaller figure by the legs, whirled around once, and flung him clear of the pit a good ten feet into the crowd behind him. The guy I derided as “Pauly D” earlier in this column had come to my rescue. As this happened, his pal was patrolling the pit, scanning for similar infractions. Both still shirtless as ever.

I got up, somewhat bewildered, and just tried to focus on the show for the rest of the night. But before I could, I felt a familiar heavy hand on my shoulder. “You alright bro?” That acrid Jersey accent suddenly seemed as comforting as a mother’s loving touch. I turned around. “Yeah, thanks,” I said, still a little shocked by the whole ordeal. He gave me a resounding knucks and walked back to his noble duty, back into the fray.

So it turns out I received a lesson in holiday spirit in the most unlikely of places. Maybe seeing a flagrant mosh pit offender hurled through the Tabernacle air was really just what I needed to get in that Christmas mood. So much for eggnog. Merry Christmas from the mosh pit.