Total Fest IX: Notes from the mosh pit

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I have a confession that may hurt my status with the hip and happening of Missoula: I have never before been to Total Fest. Despite the fact that I love live music and certainly don’t object to tossing back a few, circumstances have kept me away from one of Missoula’s quintessential music events. That is, until now.

My first order of business was to catch Japanther at the Missoula Art Museum. This is the first year that the museum has been used as a venue, and sure enough, a blisteringly loud punk rock show amidst some of Missoula’s best artwork is an experience all its own. I gave Japanther’s latest album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Ice Cream, quite a positive review, and the duo lived up to their fine recording with quirks like telephones converted into microphones. During the band's set, some poor hipster kid jumped backward and wheeled around into me. He looked at me for a moment with big, brown, empty cow eyes. If there was a sentient thought in that noggin, it was thoroughly masked behind a glaze of pot and booze.

An artsy photo for an artsy venue: Japanther plays the Missoula Art Museum
  • Cameron Rasmusson
  • An artsy photo for an artsy venue: Japanther plays the Missoula Art Museum

Japanther’s set concluded the music at the art museum. The rest of the night’s events moved over to The Palace. I switched venues straight away, only to wait around for about an hour cooling my heels over a beer. The first band on my schedule, Ah Holly Fam’ly, was nowhere to be found. We missed you, Ah Holly, but wherever you are, we wish you all the best and hope we don’t see you on the milk carton some morning.

The Skurfs, then, were the first band to play the Palace for Total Fest this year. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a good surf rock band, but these dapper rockers decked out in formalwear filled the void, drawing in the early Palace crowd with their blazing instrumentals.

Afterwards, Belt of Vapors took over on the secondary stage. The band didn’t particularly impress me based on their tracks on the Total Fest sampler CD. But listening to a sound file through headphones is one thing, and actually being flagellated by thundering basslines and drums is entirely another. Suffice it to say their live show was an entirely different experience.

I ended my first night at Total Fest with Street Eater’s set. One of the night's more anticipated acts, they were the most effective band of the evening at inspiring sheer moshing madness among the audience. At one point, I and the guy next to me had errant beer sprayed in our faces. My neighbor and the booze-flinger subsequently engaged in a struggle to determine who could extend their middle finger more vigorously. Evidently the loser, my neighbor sulked away. If you’re reading this, buddy, don’t give up on that middle finger. I saw your potential.

I noticed that one of the moshers, a skinny guy in a white t-shirt, wore a Machiavellian grin on his face, as though the dancing shenanigans perpetuated some larger malevolent scheme. He must have needed my help, too, because he motioned me into their jostling numbers. I gave him a good shove, and he seemed to enjoy that. Thank you, Strange-Kid-In-White-T-Shirt-Who-Wanted-To-Be-Pushed. I’ll never forget you.

I dug Street Eaters’ insane punk rock, but I was spent after all that beer-dousing and kid-shoving. After some deliberation, I decided that I best head home to preserve my energy for Friday’s festivities. Even so, my very first Total Fest show was a memorable one. No doubt it will return to mind every time I deign to enjoy a music festival or strong-arm my peers.

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