The Executioner, The Beginning and the End

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In response to the Gale family’s request for memories with Riley, here are mine.

The first time I saw Power Trip was in 2017. My friend Matt and I were on a two-hour car ride to Baltimore for the Battle Of The Bays tour, so named because of co-headliners Obituary (from Tampa Bay) and Exodus (from San Francisco). Meeting them in the middle, Power Trip were the touring opener. Matt is easily my most plugged-in friend on matters of metal, collecting records and tracking release dates with the same precision that actual scientists track the migration of birds or carbon-date fossils with. I keep a silent, proud tally of top-notch bands that I manage to discover and introduce to him before he’s given them a listen, and I knew it was going to be a great night when he mentioned he hadn’t listened to the opener before. Suddenly, I had a great surprise for him, because I had gotten my copy of Nightmare Logic in the mail just a week earlier. An artillery shell slotted into the cannon, waiting for a flick of the switch.

For some reason we never learned, the local openers no-showed that night. We arrived at Baltimore Soundstage, still cramped and stiff from the car seats, only to get blasted right in the face by the sweetest, meanest, most razor-sharp pit callout yet measured by science. Blindsided with no warning by the man himself, the tireless and fearless Riley. “Gimme a hell yeah!” he bellowed like a scraggly, pajama-pants-wearing Stone Cold Steve Austin, before swinging his mic stand right over our heads like he meant to lop them off at the shoulders. Matt was an instant convert, and I was an inspired believer, and Reverend Riley kept fueling our ferocious fugue with that infectious liturgy. If he was tumbling and leaping even with those exhausted bags under his eyes, so were you. I passed out on the ride home, and it is a credit to Matt’s endurance that he didn’t join me.

The second time I saw Power Trip was in 2018. Matt and I had done well to spread the good word, and we clearly were not the only ones. This time they came to DC, headlining a tour all their own at the Black Cat, bringing our hometown favorites Red Death along for the ride. This was thankfully more in our backyard, and thus more easy to catch a metro to and hopefully catch our breath on the way home. We knew from experience we would need it. We brought a new first-timer with us, my guitar buddy Adam, though he was already inducted into the faith beforehand. Executioner’s Tax was too good a riff to ignore, and too simple a riff to ever stop playing at our practices. All of our secondhand concert acquaintances were there, too, those people you see at a show now and then, and learn to recognize and chat with, even if your head is just a bit too rattled for the names to stick. The congregation was only growing, waiting for divine intervention.

We were tossed about like broken branches in a summer storm. Even though Red Death got us warmed up this time, Hurricane Riley pulled us out by the roots, knocked out our lights, and whirled us back around the circle-pit with Gale-force winds. In the low ceiling venue, people were leaving the ground and left hanging from the ceiling, human waves crashing against the shore of the stage. You honestly had no choice but to match his energy, bottomless as the barrel of a firing squad’s rifle. In the moments between songs, the eye of the storm, he reminded us to take care and have fun. Then the next track started and we were in the maelstrom once more.

The final time I saw Power Trip was in 2019. A year ago, I had moved across the country to Seattle, leaving my fellow faithful behind. But this show was still a celebration, my one-year anniversary with my new boyfriend. Well, maybe I had fibbed the day of our first date a little bit to match the date of the concert. He didn’t mind. Concerts were what knit us close together, just like me and my old friends. Seeing new shows with a new companion pulled me out of a deep depression, brought me to a new high-water mark. I could think of no better officiant to our love than Mr. Gale, even if it would involve getting the shit kicked out of us.

I’ll probably look back on that concert with the most sadness, now. Not just because I was sharing that beautiful power with the most important person in the world to me, not just because it was the last concert we saw before COVID and quarantine turned life into a blurry murk of indistinguishable days, but because it was the one time I managed to give Riley Gale anything close to the thanks he deserves. During Executioner’s Tax, I finally clawed myself free of the pit and tumbled up on stage. I was only up there a few heartbeats, and they were fast ones, too. With no hope of being heard, I turned to Riley and gave a bow, one beat-up thrasher to another. And then I was airborne again, hitting a surface of hands and being subsumed back into the crowd.

We didn’t even have the energy to stay for the headliner. In the Seattle December air, I was stripped to a t-shirt, lugging my sweater and vest behind me like a flak jacket riddled with shrapnel. My boyfriend had spent the night imbibing near the bar, and I still felt like I was in worse shape to drive (but did so anyways, being sober and all). Suffering the mother of all bangovers, we basically crawled up our apartment stairs and dribbled into bed.

Since then, the world has only gotten more stressful, more strained, more anxious. Normal life feels like a lifetime ago, and even if we are on the cusp of a newer, better world (X to doubt), it sure doesn’t make growing into it any less painful. Riley didn’t stay quiet about it, even if there was no stage to shout from, as proven by his feature with Ice-T and Body Count, raging about police violence boiling over into naked revolt. With a new record tantalizingly close on the horizon, we can now only wonder what stinging truth he was preparing to scream at us, and every other idle body waiting blindly to be saved from without. Even with just 2 albums to his name, Riley is already going to be remembered as one of the finest ever in his field, and that only elevates the tragedy of how much there was still to come.

Just before quarantine began, my boyfriend and I invited another partner into our lives, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s now a Power Trip devotee as well. But he’ll get no first show with them, at least not at their fullest power. And that’s really the name of the game, isn’t it?

In accordance with the wishes of Riley’s family, consider kicking a few dollars to Dallas Hope Charities, one of his favorites.

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