Moshing at 60 at the Grand Kerfuffle with MUTEMATH and AWOL Nation

Well, I have experienced the “mosh pit” and lived to tell the tale.

My college senior daughter, Tori, found no taker for her extra ticket to the 2013 Grand Kerfuffle, an outdoor rock concert on the Union Lawn at the University of Utah. So she invited her old man. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

Tori reassured me that “there is no shame in wearing earplugs.” However, when I suggested my noise-canceling headset, Tori’s nose wrinkled. That would be too uncool even for my normally very sensible daughter.

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The first act, gorgeous Katie Herzig, sang with a beautifully lyrical voice, drowned out, of course, by overwhelmingly pounding base of every drumbeat. The earplugs were obviously inadequate, but with only two more acts and three hours to go, I stood my ground.

Katie Herzig rocks the crowd with a folksy voice and overwhelming base

Katie Herzig rocks the crowd with a folksy voice and overwhelming base

These groups are strangely clean-cut, I thought. I suppose I expected the sleaze of the Rolling Stones or the unkempt hairiness of Jethro Tull, my teenage reference points. Although the stage was eventually occupied by two performers that looked a lot like Jesus, everyone was surprisingly well-kempt and wholesome-looking. I was very glad to learn that Katie “loved us.” Her love was well-received by an appreciative crowd.

The next group, MUTEMATH whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Paul Meany, the butch-cut band leader, a natural-born performer, danced standing atop his console piano then leaped to the ground with back arched and microphone above his head before stepping into, and on top of, the front row of the crowd with socked feet on shoulders of ecstatic audience members with one hand holding the mike and the other steadied by the uplifted arm of another adoring fan. Gutsy, I thought, to put your safety in fan hands.

An inflated queen-sized air mattress suddenly appeared. Meany was on it in a flash surfing the crown on a flying carpet.

MUTEMATH lead singer, Paul Meany, surf the crowd on an inflated mattress festooned with Christmas lights.

MUTEMATH lead singer, Paul Meany, surf the crowd on an inflated mattress festooned with Christmas lights.

Ever-present beach balls amused the crowd all night

Ever-present beach balls amused the crowd all night

I have to admit that MUTEMATH was great fun and had by far the best music of the night. Lead singer, Paul Meany, pleased the crowd with athletic prowess, at one point doing handstands on his piano.

The sparse Katie Herzig crowd grew in number and density by the time MUTEMATH took stage. Latecomers constantly pushed through the pit to get closer to front, sometimes allowed, sometimes resisted by those of us that arrived early. I asked Tori why this crowd chiseling was not uncool. She replied that it was very uncool, but they did it anyway to the extent they could get away with it resulting in a density so tight its became increasingly impossible to bend over. At one point, I risked my life retrieving a grounded frisby that I gave to Tori as a souvenir. She took it appreciatively then flung it back into the crowd. Oh well.

The main act, AWOL Nation, performed the only song I had heard before. The song, “Sail,” is so good I used it in my Power of the Picture presentation to accompany the most influential photos of all time. By the time Sail was performed, night had arrived, a light rain refreshed our faces, the crowd in the “pit” had grown happily raucous. Many, many, crowd surfers passed overhead. I learned that the 10 ft square patch of mostly short girls in front of us, is not where crowd surfers want to be. When they did, they usually ended up on the ground.

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AWOL Nation’s performance of Sail was the highlight of the night. It is their greatest hit. It was what the crowd, including me, had come to hear. And hear we did with much more power, and much less beauty, than the Sail I downloaded from iTunes. The base, turned up to 11, garbled all of the music played by all three groups throughout the night.

I came to realize that the pounding base is not meant to be heard but felt. Its sonic power penetrated and vibrated body and bones. But, pit-standing is not about music after all. It is about being there, being part of the crowd, sharing its oddly infectious mob psychology, embracing the constant shoulder-to-shoulder shoving and swaying, keeping aloft beach balls and frisbies, and trying not to drop the crowd surfers.

Although Tori assured me that we could leave the Pit if things got too raucous or dangerous, I was determined to stay. When else would I ever get to experience a mosh pit. But Tori corrected me. This pit never really “moshed” which she defined as deliberately pushing by some crowd members designed to throw the entire pit off-balance usually followed by an equally reactive shove and unbalancing in the opposite direction. We experienced only minor moshes, and not many of them.

What I learned:

•Earplugs are inadequate. I should have worn the industrial-grade ear protection that my son uses when firing guns. Hopefully it will take days, not years, for ear-ringing to subside.

•iPhones are perfect cameras for mosh pits. My 4 pound professional-grade Canon 5D Mark III would have undoubtedly killed someone amidst the shoving.

•Rock performances are not about music (which is bad) but about the crowd (raucous but friendly, dangerous but compelling), the lights, the smell of stage smoke and marijuana, and the rain.

•Mosh pitting can be highly amusing.

•There is an evolutionary explanation for constant raised arm waving in the pit. Having arms raised are essential to balance. With hands in pockets one is liable to topple.

•If you just turned 60, you are not just the oldest in the pit, you are undoubtedly the oldest in the entire crowd.

•It is flattering to be invited, and great fun to join, my classical flutist, music major, daughter, in her other life as a rock fan.

•If MUTEMATH and AWOL Nation can be this much fun, imagine Muse.

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