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Fear and Moshing in Las Vegas

In Salt Lake City, impulsive road trips to Vegas are somewhat of a tradition. Sure, you could settle for Wendover (or as the locals call it, Bendover, since going there will surely get you fucked) and safely be home before midnight granted, you don’t run out of gas on the salt flats, but what fun would that be? Plus, what happens in Wendover doesn’t need to stay in Wendover simply because nothing ever happens there. I lived in Salt Lake City for five years and have never heard a good Wendover story. Occasionally washed up bands like Journey will recruit a new singer to bring all the 50-somethings out of hiding for a one-night nostalgia-ganza, but beyond that, old Wendover Will is pretty lifeless. That’s why when a couple of New York City hardcore bands announced they were doing a benefit show at the MGM Grand in Vegas, we decided the night before to make the six hour drive south to the most debaucherous place on earth to see them.

I got into hardcore music a lot later than most. My love for it is still as strong as ever and the reason for that is a topic for another post. Unfortunately for me, I got into the genre while living in the Utah – the black hole of hardcore – a place that touring bands intentionally avoid due to reasons I may never quite understand. Because of this, when bands like Sick of it All and Madball would announce that they would be performing a mere six hours away, it was a no-brainer to get a group together and make the drive. The first time I saw either of these bands, they did a California tour that prompted me and two friends to follow them Phish-style down the coast of Orange County. This particular show in Vegas was to benefit a pit bull rescue, which I find very admirable now that I have a heightened awareness of man’s relationship with animals. At the time, it could have been to a fundraiser to support pit bull fighting and I still would have gone. That’s how much seeing these bands meant to me.

My housemate at the time was a part of a band that practiced everyday yet never played a single show. The sound coming from the basement would become seared to my brain, and as much as I loathed it, the repeated exposure had me humming the obnoxious tune throughout most of my day. His bass player whom I never heard utter a word happened to know a girl in Vegas that told my housemate that we might possibly be able to stay with her. After a few MySpace messages back and forth, we secured a place to stay with a straight edge girl named Zoe. She was fine with us showing up after midnight, and since we were leaving after work on a Friday evening, we were expecting to get into town very late. But this was Las Vegas; there is no such thing as very late, only early for the next day. We rolled into Sin City around 2 in the morning looking to meet the woman from MySpace that agreed to let four guys into her home for the weekend, none of whom she had ever met.

We found her in some bar in some casino on the strip that I (thankfully) can’t remember the name of, surrounded by rockabilly fashionistas dressed head to toe in Ed Hardy gear. The scene frightened me, as I had never seen so much vanity in one place. Besides the fact that I didn’t have the standard $10,000 worth of tattoos that seemed to be a major part of the unwritten dress code, I don’t drink, I hate clubs, and was hungry and tired, to boot – a perfect recipe for a miserable time. Luckily, we left the club shortly after meeting and headed to a diner to eat.

We took our seats at the diner and after a standard round of casual introductions, we proceeded to look at our menus. Having been trapped in a car on I-15 South for the past 6 hours – and trapped in that godforsaken club for what seemed like 6 hours – the calmness of the diner warmed my soul like not much else could at the moment. It’s amazing how the prospect of pancakes can change a person from a rabid monster to a peaceful sleeping kitten in a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately, that transformation can easily be reversed in the face of conflict. For some reason I’ve always had problems with the British. I blame this on my family history. I was born on the outskirts of Philadelphia and it’s rumored that my family is related to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, which, if true, makes me a direct descendant of a pair of American revolutionaries. The rumor is so strong, that my middle name is Adams (yes, with an “s”, not Adam) and to top it off, I am the fifth of my name. Considering a generation is about 25 years from the birth of a person to the birth of their offspring, that puts the original John Adams Miskey being born somewhere in the mid 1800s. With John Quincy Adams serving as president from 1825-1829, it’s very possible that someone in the Miskey family decided to give their child a fan-inspired middle name of their favorite president, much like someone may name their daughter Clorisa Beyonce Smith. Either way, I have always attributed my contempt for the British to some Lamarckian trait passed down by my patriotic forefathers, and to this day, use it to justify my odd and outdated prejudice against England.

As luck seems to never be in my favor while tired and hungry, Zoe’s friend, a piss-drunk British magician by the name of Luke Jermay, had joined our table for a late night meal. The smugness radiated off of him with an intensity that made me wish he had never been born before he uttered a single word. He too, was covered in tattoos – the words COOL HAND etched across his knuckles – and donned the standard Ed Hardy costume that I grew far too accustomed to seeing that night. Although introductions were already made, old Cool Hand decided to make his own rounds, each one followed by a snappy insult that almost sounded polite, a remarkable ability achieved exclusively by the English. After annoying the living shit out of my friends, he finally got to me.

“En you ova tha’, wha’s your name?”

As much as I didn’t like the bastard from the start, if someone shows me the courtesy of an introduction, I’ll always reciprocate.

“John, what’s yours?”

“Don’t you worry about moi name… wha’ is it you do Jone?”

Now I could tell the guy was “havin’ a piss at me”, or whatever the hell it is these people say. If he had just waited until I’d eaten, I would have been a lot more pleasant to toy with, but for god’s sake, my food hadn’t gotten here yet. He was sitting in a very deadly place directly across from a hungry, pissed-off John, in the perfect position for me to lunge over the table and choke him. I somehow restrained myself.

“I do a lot of things. Why don’t you tell us what you do?”

At this point I had no idea he was Cris Angel’s unofficial sidekick, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. The guy was being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole.

“I do a lot a fings, too. Every fing and nuffin, Jone. Wheh aw you frome?”

“West Chester, Pennsylvania.”

He laughs.

“West Chestah? I’ve been ta West Chestah. Its laaaaaaaaaaame.”

The table has now gotten uncomfortably silent except for the exchange between the Brit and I.

“Really? It’s lame? Where are you from Cool Hand?”

“Av you eva ‘eard of Lundun?”

“Yes, actually I’ve been to (in my dirtiest from-the-slums-of-East-London cockney accent) Lundun. It’s laaaaaaaaaame. Just like the rest of England.”

This seemed to strike a nerve.

“Well den! EXCUSE US FOR LIBERATING YOU!” he barked across the table. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Is that what they teach you in school? I’m pretty sure there was a revolution, and America kicked your stupid country’s ass.”

The urge to stand on the table and boot him in the head while shouting, “don’t tread on me” was overwhelming. We were heading into a very immature “my dad beat up your dad” kind of argument when Zoe called him down to her end of the table. From a distance I could hear him continue to mouth off but managed to ignore it for the rest of the night. Luckily, my pancakes arrived, thus diffusing the situation and distracting me enough to discontinue caring about his pompous attitude.

When we finished eating and our British friend had parted, Zoe said that we could go back to her house, so we piled in our car and followed her to somewhere far off the strip. We pulled into an apartment complex in nowheresville Nevada a little after 3 am. Walking towards her place, Zoe apologized profusely about the mess we were about to encounter, explaining that she hadn’t had time to clean for several days. The way she described it I expected we would be walking into a hoarder’s home, which I dreaded, since the only mess I can seem to stand is my own. At the front door, Zoe quickly unlocked the deadbolt for us and ran back to her car, frantically explaining that she had to take care of something very important, but she’d be back in about 15 minutes. We opened the door to find not only the exact opposite of the mess she had warned up about, but rather a completely empty apartment. Actually, it wasn’t completely empty; there was, in fact, a small sofa and a picture hanging on the wall, but beyond that, it looked as if she had just moved in. The four of us congregated in the vacant space wondering if perhaps we were in the wrong apartment. We briefly considered leaving, getting a hotel room, and pretending we never met Zoe, but decided an empty apartment with a seemingly clean floor to sleep on would serve a similar purpose and cost a lot less money.

Zoe returned around 5 in the morning as frantic as she left. We all talked for a little while, laughed about her British friend, and finally fell asleep after the sun came up. Around 8 in the morning, she came out of her bedroom to go to work, instructed us to lock the door when we left, and we never saw her again.

The following day we slept until noon and hung out in Zoe’s empty home through the hottest part of the day. Although it was March, the heat still baked Las Vegas throughout the early afternoon, and we were grateful to have someplace to hang out that wasn’t a casino. The show wasn’t scheduled to start until 10 pm so we knew we had plenty of time to lose our money later that evening. I’m not a gambling man – the thought of giving my money to any person that has more than me in exchange for a cheap thrill reminds me too much of using drugs – but when you have 12 hours to kill in Las Vegas, even the morally opposed will spend a few minutes on the penny slots.

The day was a long, blurred sequence of events ranging from eating plate after plate of bread sticks at the Olive Garden to losing what little money I had on game show themed slots –nothing exciting enough to recall in detail. As the clock ticked down, we found out that the show, originally scheduled for 10 pm at the MGM Grand, had been moved to midnight at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay. This was a potential problem since we hadn’t planned on finding accommodations for the night, nevertheless, a problem worth worrying about after the show. We decided to go to the House of Blues early, as we had nothing better to but wander around casinos and spend money that we didn’t have. When we arrived, we saw that the marquee read Charlie Murphy was performing at 10 pm with the Great Pit Ball to follow at midnight. As most concerts, comedy shows, and the like, the Charlie Murphy crowd didn’t leave the small venue until well after midnight, and the tattooed patrons in camouflage shorts were not allowed to enter until after 1 am. For anyone that has ever been to a hardcore show, this is very atypical. Hardcore is one of the few musical acts I have ever been to where shows generally start and end on time, a minor asset that draws me even closer to the genre.

As the opening bands played, it was obvious that security was tight; this has always been the case at other House of Blue brand shows I’ve attended. The “no moshing” signs didn’t seem to be for decoration, but an actual ordinance that was to be enforced by the ten or so security guards stationed in front of the stage. This resulted in many ejections during the first few bands, something I was completely fine with, since the rowdy ones were people who had been drinking most of the evening and in all honesty, didn’t have the spatial awareness to be slam dancing anywhere near me. By the time Madball performed, the crowd had thinned out significantly. Freddy Madball told the crowd that this was their show and that the bouncers couldn’t stop them from moshing. This got everyone riled up and even more people kicked out. When the headlining band, Sick of it All, was about to go on, the people still on their feet were outnumbered by bouncers two to one. This included me and my few friends, a guy named Jake I had previously met in Salt Lake City (and have since seen at shows in Brooklyn), and a few other stragglers that had not given up on what was sure to be a great night. They took the stage around 3:30 in the morning. Lou Koller opened with a beautiful scream achievable only by him, “WHAT’S UP EVERYBODYYYYYYY!!!! WE ARE SICK OF IT ALL FROM NEW YORK CITY!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL DOING AWAKE?!?!?!” At this point, the small crowd was rowdy, ready to mosh, and didn’t give a damn about getting kicked out. Here we were, hundreds of miles away from home, awake for 20 hours, and ready to see a band that hadn’t play in Utah since the 90’s. My favorite record was an album recorded at Gilman Street called Live in a Dive. It’s an album I recommend to anyone listening to SOIA for the first time, since 90% of the songs they are likely to hear at a live performance, and anyone who knows hardcore music knows that albums are simply to learn the songs for when you go to a live show.

Good Looking Out, Call to Arms, Just Look Around, Step Down, and of course, Clobberin’ Time were some of the hits I remember them playing that night, but the encore, Us vs. Them is what really sticks out about this particular show. All night, every front man was inhibited by bouncers from stepping off the stage and into the crowd in order to give the audience a chance to sing along, a practice very conventional of hardcore shows. During the encore, Lou jumped off the stage to let us sing. This naturally turned into what is known as “the glorious pile-on” as depicted in their 1994 Step Down video, where the crowd climbs over each other in an attempt to have their chance at singing a word or two into the microphone. Of course, as was the theme of the evening, this glorious moment was met by the Gestapo violently pulling people off of the pile in a final attempt to enforce their silly rules. As the lyrics were being sung, and the pile grew larger and more aggressive; an overwhelming feeling of passion for hardcore music took hold of me.

Brother! I’ll always look out for you, if I feel it back.
Sister! We’ll brave the outside world, off the beaten track.

The pile of people clawing to reach Lou seemed to climb to the ceiling, regardless of the fact that there was only about ten of us. Even though we were heavily outnumbered, our oppressors were motivated by the fact that their jobs required them to keep people in line, whereas we were motivated by much more. In a flurry of chaos, a gargantuan security officer started ripping kids off the pile two at a time. My friend Greg seized the opportunity to use this man as a prop for which to vault onto the very pile he was attempting to dissipate. He hung onto the man’s shoulders and rode the monster into the middle of the dance floor like a raging bull, which allowed the pile to grow more powerful and uncontrollable by the smaller, less dedicated bouncers. The mountain of hardcore kids formed like Voltron – fewer in numbers, yet stronger in synergy – to finally take control of what was theirs from the beginning.

When it’s us versus them, you can always count on me.

When it’s us versus them, it’s a global unity.

The show concluded around 5 in the morning. The adrenaline produced by the early morning riot ran heavy in our blood, and riding this wave, we decided to make the trek back to Salt Lake City that day. By the time we hit St. George, one of Utah’s southern-most cities, the rush had worn off and alternative plans were decided. We stopped at a hotel around 7 am and after speaking with a clerk, managed to rent a room until 11 for $40, an amount well-worth not dying in a car accident on I-15 through some of the most boring desert scenery known to man.

The following day, we told the story of our trip to Justin’s girlfriend who had urged us not to go, saying that the entire plan sounded like a bad idea. Imprinted on her face was a look of “I told you so” as the details of our voyage unfolded. Justin, the most soft-spoken of our group –who was not actually into hardcore music at all, but simply joined us for the adventure – was known for frequently submitting to his girlfriend’s requests of what she thought would be best for him. In a rebellious, uncharacteristic act, he protested her disapproval of our trip, stating that although things didn’t go as planned, they went exactly how they were supposed to, which made for a fun and exciting weekend that would not have happened if we had listened to her. Justin didn’t mosh, stage dive, or partake in the glorious pile-on; however, the spirit of the weekend had impacted him, if only in a small way. I have always been a believer that the most rewarding experiences have no plans, most likely because planned experiences have certain expectations, and expectations, even when satisfied, diminish the returns gained from experience.

More information about The Great Pit Ball can be found here.

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