Is there any metal genre that persists as doggedly throughout the ages as thrash? Many young bands attempt to harness the exuberant, no-shits-given attitude of thrash’s golden age era, but far fewer manage to pull off.
Power Trip (Dallas, TX) is not one of those. Their first full-length “Manifest Decimation” sent ripples through the rowdy world of crossover thrash back in 2013 — but I give all the credit to this year’s “Nightmare Logic,” a cunning, concise cut of slammin’ jams that hark back to a time when metal’s ascension seemed unstoppable, for completely recapturing that old sorcery. It’s authentic, executed with a serial killer’s craft, and I knew I’d be crazy to miss seeing it played live.
I had just that chance on April 9th when Power Trip steamrolled through the West Coast on their latest tour. I’d be visiting an old haunt for a tacked-on “after party” of a momentous two-day indie/emo festival themed around “when we were young” — appropriate, then, for a night of thrashy throwback goodness.
The Constellation Room is a satellite (heh) venue of The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. I’d spent many late nights there watching the biggest names in power metal perform on the main stage back when it was known as the Galaxy Theatre. The venue was now under new management, and this would be my first time visiting the much-smaller side stage.
After giving twenty bucks to a sketchy parking lot attendant, I sprinted several blocks to the venue, weaving through former (and current?) scene kids, wondering not for the first time whether or not this show would even happen. My skepticism was at an all-time high, but I soon joined a short line in front of the box office, where illegible band logos and long hair overtook the look of dyed hair and lip piercings. I was in the right place after all, among my people.
Once inside, the first thing I noticed was how damn small the Constellation Room was — a single high-ceilinged room, with the stage to the left and tightly packed merch tables to the right. Ahead of me, a wall of alcohol bottles rose high like a bulwark, backlit with the flow of soft, jack-o’-lantern light — the constellations, I guess? As people packed inside, squeezing me up against the back of the merch table, I thought if anything, this would be an intimate experience.
Opening band The Dark (Los Angeles) was readying themselves onstage, itching to play. They blazed through their set of metallic hardcore punk with reverb-heavy vocals and a rock-solid rhythm section. Next up was local group Mizery (San Diego) — older gents in contrast to the younglings in The Dark, but they commanded the stage with the attention deserved to them. They drew a respectable amount of their own fans — the crowd loved them (me included) — pulsing with every tempo shift, shouting along with the lyrics, and just generally going nuts. After that was Destruction Unit (Arizona), a psychedelic punk group whose fat, fuzzy wall of sound didn’t quite get the crowd going. They clearly had a focused vision of what they wanted to accomplish in a live setting — their final moments onstage had the three guitarists removing their gear while it was still plugged in as the drummer whirled around his kit, creating eardrum-hammering feedback and noise like an imploding jet plane. Unfortunately, they seemed part of a different menu than what the audience had come to eat up, and the main course was being served shortly.
A three-piece drum kit was shared among all three opening bands. Cymbals and snare drums were swapped with each, but the kit remained the same, and that persisted when the members of Power Trip came onstage. Yes, those humble Texas boys set up their own gear like small-timers — whether they chose to do it that way out of artistic integrity or as a result of their Dallas-born ethos, I couldn’t really say. Either way, it let me put faces to the band members who were going to explode the Constellation Room like a supernova.
It was past 1 AM — the time the show was supposed to end — but the room buzzed with anticipation. The crowd was ready to move again.
Trippin’ It Old School
Power Trip opened up the show by unleashing Soul Sacrifice, the first song off “Nightmare Logic,” upon the audience. A blast wave of energy rippled through, churning us into a storming sea of swirling, headbanging hair and pumping fists while the whirlpool of martial arts wannabes roiled in the center. A bolt of lightning cracked overhead, and I saw stars — wait, that was just a stage diver whose proximity I’d failed to estimate. We both fell to the floor, but it wasn’t long before I was back in the thick of it, bobbing to the beat like a storm-tossed buoy.
Power Trip surged ahead with Executioner’s Tax, an homage to thrash’s early days with its pounding percussion and infectious riffing. Guitarists Blake and Nick were relentless — downpicking devastation incarnate — as they accented their notes with the crowd’s cries of “SWING OF THE AXE!” Chris and Chris, the drummer and bassist, held the rhythms down with easy aplomb while vocalist Riley Gale spat fire, his hardcore delivery flooding the room with red-hot magma. True to his namesake, he riled the audience up, charging them with electricity every time he shoved the mic into the front row to let them cover the gang vocal parts.
This was a metal show unlike any I’d been to in over a decade, since I first saw Megadeth for the first time in 2004. I’ll admit I’ve spent much of the last ten-ish years watching bands safely from a distance, drinking in the musicianship from afar rather than getting pulverized in the pit. I’d forgotten how much of a character the crowd could be — and what a fucking character it was! Power Tripping people were constantly clambering onstage to hurl themselves into the audience, which ebbed and flowed with the crashing and rumbling of more mosh-worthy crowd-pleasers like Nightmare Logic, Firing Squad, and Manifest Decimation. When intrepid stage divers, drunk on adrenaline (and probably other stuff), would hurl themselves off the stage, taking the mic stand with them, Riley would abandon his spot on center stage and full-body headbang until the stand washed back ashore. One guy even took on vocal duties for a measure, doing his best to do Power Trip proud before diving back into the audience. Looking back, “audience” doesn’t seem like an appropriate term for those animals — where I was, they weren’t passively watching, but were expending a hell of a lot of effort themselves in the name of good, wild fun. I spent a good portion of the show focusing on the crowd, not only to watch for where the next elbow would come from, but because of how into the music they were.
Near the end of the set, Riley took a moment to compliment The Dark, which he said was his favorite band in California. I got the feeling he wasn’t just pandering — although that would certainly be his right. But between that and his down-to-earth onstage antics, moving deftly between each side of the stage to keep the crowd energized, you could get a sense for his genuine enthusiasm.
The crowd-favorite Crossbreaker was the closer, and people began leaping off the stage like goddamn salmon — their final flight before splashing back into the current toward home. And despite the chants for one more encore, the lights turned defiantly on in the Constellation Room, and the spell was broken.
Planning for the Next Trip
Power Trip’s live show, even more so than their excellent album, exemplifies the grassroots-origins of the thrash genre. That wild night in the Constellation Room formed in my mind a perfect fusion of thrash’s aggression and pace with the DIY mentality of hardcore punk. That nonchalant acceptance of “shit happens” with the storm-tossed mic stands; the hostile takeover of the vocals; even sharing stage-time with their fans — that’s all stuff I’ve rarely seen with a big-name band, much less tolerated by one. By comparison, Power Trip setting up their own equipment just half an hour earlier didn’t seem so strange.
Without a doubt, that night in the Constellation Room was hardly even a blip on the shit Power Trip has probably seen during a show, but I was impressed anyway. And although a week later my bruises are finally starting to heal up, watching their set from inside the pit, shoving and getting shoved alike felt like the right place to be. To share a night with a band and its fans, to cut loose and experience the music the way it was meant to be experienced and the culture that surrounds it — that’s what going to live shows is all about, isn’t it?
The show ended at 1:40, and the crowd trickled out and drifted through the remains of the festival. I sprinted back to the now-empty lot my car was parked in to find a parking violation stuck to my window. Swell. At least I didn’t get a serious concussion from a high-flying fan. I won’t hesitate to see Power Trip again when next they come through, but maybe I’ll stay out of the pit this time.