A dump-truckload of fun punk and metal shows threatened to stomp Houston flat(ter) in 2012, from the gritty environs of the White Swan to the high-priced hill in the Woodlands Pavilion. Which one was the best? That depends on your perspective, naturally. It's kind of hard to compare doom metal to pop-punk or powerviolence, but whatever flavor of loudness you prefer, it was out there for the listening this year.
One easy way to judge the quality of a show, of course, is by the chaos in the pit. Whether driven by three chords and a nasty attitude or by wrist-snapping time-signature changes, Houston audiences had a lot of fun pounding the snot out of each other over the past 12 months, often creating as much spectacle off the stage as on.
I didn't catch every mosh pit in town this year, but I caught a lot of 'em. Plenty were rather sad affairs with two or three meatheads shoving people around who wanted nothing more than to sip a beer and watch the band. More than a few, though, turned into tornadoes of fists and knees that made me blanche a little.
So, here they are: Houston's Top 10 mosh pits of 2012. If you survived 'em, congrats, you're officially tougher than me:
10. Korn at the Woodlands Pavilion, April 21 The designated mosh pit up front during Korn's set at Buzzfest was notable for being the only time I've seen such spirited slamming for a Pink Floyd song. The spontaneous bumping and grinding got intense during the nü-metal godfathers' cover of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)," a sight as bizarre as it was brutal.
9. Power Trip at Walters, July 2 Dallas' crossover thrashers Power Trip bring dedicated followers with them every time they make the trek down I-45, and we're not talking about passive observers, here, either. The band's fans aren't afraid to get their knuckles dirty, instigating violent ruckus with hardcore "dance" moves ripped straight from Sick of it All's classic "Step Down" music video.
The audience at the Southern Lord showcase tour's Houston stop quickly learned to keep their elbows out at all times lest they eat a forearm delivered by a mosher with few fucks to give.
8. Havok at Walters, October 17 Whipping audiences into a hair-flipping frenzy is the raison d'être of Denver's Havok, and the shaggy kids who came to see them open for Skeletonwitch at Walters this fall were more than happy to oblige. Young dudes with plenty of juice left in their joints bounced off of one another like snooker balls in the pit when they weren't circling furiously like stock cars or rushing the stage like G12 protestors. The younger the mosh pit, the better in most cases, and by that standard, this was a good 'un.
7. War Master at Fitzgerald's, August 24 When Fitzgerald's throws open its doors to a split-level punk and metal extravaganza with free admission, you can pretty well bet you're in for a wild night. That was certainly the case this summer, when nine aggressive local acts took over the old club for Bury the Crown's EP release show.
While every band on the bill was received enthusiastically, the crusty death merchants in War Master pummeled the crowd the most thoroughly, sending the pit into hysterics and even inspiring a stage diver or two with their jackhammer guitar riffs. They'll be back at Fitz Friday night, debuting a new singer at another free show headlined by Little Rock's Pallbearer, so start limbering up.
6. As I Lay Dying at the Woodlands Pavilion, July 11 There was no shortage of moshing this summer at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival, despite the early weeknight start time. Whacked-out wage slaves were more than happy to take out a few workday frustrations on their fellow metalheads in the pit, particularly on the open concrete in front of the side stage.
Metalcore stalwarts As I Lay Dying whipped up the gnarliest pit of the evening over there, highlighted by big circle pits and a "wall of death" maneuver that found as many concertgoers rushing toward the mayhem as away from it.
5. Skeleton Dick at Fitzgerald's, August 24 Remember that free show at Fitz we discussed earlier? The one with War Master? Well, they were far from the only band of the night to engender some wicked slam-dancing. Local punks Skeleton Dick were all too happy to cause a scene of their own. I was trying to snap a picture of the band when I was leveled by a body that I never saw.
The batteries exploded out of my camera and disappeared into the dark crevices of Fitz, never to be seen again. It was slightly annoying and slightly cool. Sort of punk rock in a nutshell, I guess.
4. deadhorse at Fitzgerald's, August 3 The two-night When We Ruled H-Town showcase kicked off with a bang in August with a set from the legendary locals in deadhorse, whose fans easily packed out the Fitz floor and proceeded to mosh like it was 1991 again.
The slamming, surfing and stage-diving got so hectic that a couple of roadies or club staffers planted themselves in a crouch at the front of the stage, tossing headbangers back into the pit and doing their damnedest to keep them off of the monitors. That was a sight I hadn't seen for a lot of years, and don't expect to see again anytime soon.
3. Negative Approach at Warehouse Live, September 20 I don't know when the last time was that Negative Approach played Houston before coming through with OFF! in September, but a hell of a lot of mean-looking punks clearly had the show circled on their calendars. The pit in Warehouse Live's studio was as furious as I've ever seen it, and for all that scowling singer John Brannon appeared to care, the audience could have brutally torn each other apart as the band cranked out hyper-speed classic after classic.
2. Converge at Fitzgerald's, November 3 When Converge comes to town, the pit is a show unto itself. As I wormed my way up front to snap some photos during the band's soundcheck, I tried to prepare myself as best I could, but naturally it was a futile effort. The very instant the band struck its first menacing power chord, I was immediately carried off my feet and crushed against the wall downstairs at Fitz, where I remained pinned until I was able to wriggle free and run away like a little girl.
My buddy Joe wasn't quite as lucky. I guess singer Jacob Bannon took umbrage with having his picture taken or something, because right off the bat he grabbed my friend's camera right out of his hands and smashed it into a zillion pieces right on stage. Even your gadgets better be ready to mosh at a Converge show, it would seem.
1. The Black Dahlia Murder at Warehouse Live, April 11 One of the indisputable headbanging highlights of 2012 was the Houston stop on the Black Dahlia Murder's tour with Nile and Skeletonwitch. The Warehouse Live studio was packed to the rafters with certifiable nutcases ready, willing and able to pit it up from the first note until the last, and that's precisely what they did.
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While every band on the bill saw their fair share of moshers, the biggest, most relentless pit of the night (and year) exploded for the Dahlias. In fact, a strange sort of competition seemed to erupt between the moshers and the band as to who would quit first. Even as TBDM seemed to play every song they knew, the contest ended in a happy stalemate. Round 2 can't come soon enough.