Remembering Riley Gale

Photo from The Collaborative

Power Trip has been my favorite band since the first time I saw them. I love them the same way I used to love bands as a teenager, excited by every bit of news and every show announcement. It never occurred to me that I’d ever feel like this about a band again, but here I am. Despite 30 years in and around the music business, I’m once again just unconditionally, unprofessionally geeked about something.

Blake Ibanez (lead guitar), Chris Ulsh (drums). Chris Whetzel (bass), Nick Stewart (guitar), and Riley Gale (vocals) brought it 100% every time they hit the stage. But that was only half the equation. Power Trip’s fans brought the rest. You had a decision to make each time you went to a show. Were you going to be part of the mayhem? Or simply watch it unfold? Either way good times lay ahead.

I had a really chill talk with Whetzel once when they were touring with Napalm Death. Just two dudes standing in the back of Numbers main room waiting for the next band to come on. But that’s the only contact I’ve ever had with the band or anyone to do with it.

When I heard the news of Riley’s death a year ago today it felt like my head was going to collapse. Beyond being a generational front man, he had been proof-of-concept for the idea that a normal guy, the kind of guy you’d hang in the garage with just to kill time, a guy like ME, could actually do that job at the highest level. Neil Fallon (Clutch) and LG Petrov (Entombed) had both been relatable in their way, but Riley nailed it. Everything the Super-Me front man could be.

This extended off stage as well. One of my favorite social media runs ever was his 2017 Twitter feud with Proud Boys, calling them out en masse as lunatic dipshits long before most had ever even heard of them and inviting them to come down to the show for a talk.

Riley’s passing left a hole in my existential paradigm. It also simultaneously reignited some dormant fires and made me give a lot fewer fucks than I had.

I was actively looking forward to spending the next 20 years of my life watching Power Trip become the biggest heavy band on earth. Given the age difference, I was going to be watching new tours from the nursing home. Hell, maybe until I was dead! That whole segment of my life was locked down. They were on that kind of arc.

Along those lines, I really hope the rest of the band continues in some way. Riley might have been the focal point, but those riffs (drums included!) can’t be touched. Would love to hear more. It’s not like it’s without precedent for a band to return after the unexpected loss of its front man and brother.

In the meantime, enjoy my 10 favorite videos of Power Trip in action live, arranged chronologically so you too can have fun watching them grow.

Metal! The one true path.

PS: I’d be remiss to not express my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Trouble/The Skull vocalist Eric Wagner. A potent, genre-defining force of his own, Wagner died this past Sunday at 62 from COVID complications. The Skull had played Houston just two weeks before, but the band pulled out of its Psycho Vegas slot last Thursday as Wagner’s condition worsened. Hopefully he, Riley, and LG have found each other and are having a great karaoke session. Here’s one of my favorites.

On with the shows…

Together for three years when this was filmed, it’s still the oldest YouTube footage available of Power Trip; roughly 15 minutes of fun from Moshfest 2011 in Tyler, Tex. The aesthetic and setting are definitely hardcore, but metal is already baked into the riffs (not to mention Blake’s headbanging!) Already tighter than most bands and still just barely known outside of north Texas.

Here’s a little bonus fun from just a few weeks later, back home in Dallas at the now defunct 1919 Hemphill. Hammer of Doubt!

Fast forward to 2012 and things are starting to get scary. Dallas festivities surrounding Edge Day 2012. Though not a straightedge band, Power Trip, particularly through Riley, advocated continuously for the rights of the downtrodden. Anyway, check this out. You won’t be able to unsee it.

Just a couple of months after that mayhem, I encountered Power Trip for the first time. They were playing downstairs in the small room at Fitzgerald’s in Houston. Was a free show split between the venue’s two floors, w/Pallbearer, Venomous Maximus, Transmaniacon MC, Omotai, Eagle Claw, Mammoth Grinder, Warmaster, Oceans Of Slumber, and Peasant also performing.

Power Trip opened its set with the newly minted ‘Crossbreaker.’ I’d never heard a note of the band’s before music and hadn’t been part of a crowd like theirs in years. I was instantly and permanently hooked. They became my favorite band on earth that night and remain so to this day. Couldn’t be happier to have captured some of it on video.

Not quite the madness of the early home shows, but still super cool in its DIY vibe, Power Trip played the Metal Frat (Sigma Phi) at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Apr. 15, 2013. It was still two months before the release of the band’s Southern Lord debut, ‘Manifest Decimation,’ but all systems were definitely go.

Winter in Moscow. It doesn’t get much more hardcore than that. A fitting setting then (at the now closed Plan B) for Power Trip’s first ever headlining show outside the US. Sure, Blake’s guitar is super hot on this one, but the overall sound is ultra-live and reminds me of my favorite place to be at a show…anywhere you can hear the backline more clearly than the PA. It sounds just like you’re back in the garage.

Power Trip always kept up a frenetic pace at Austin’s annual SXSW festival, often packing three shows into a single day. 2014 was no exception. PBS’s ‘Everything But The News’ was in the house for the band’s afternoon outdoors Converse/Thrasher Deathmatch set at Scoot Inn, which drew an entertaining mix of true fans and surprised tourists. A few hours later they were tearing up the inside of Beerland as part of the Ground Control Day Party. Outdoors was a hoot as well, APD coming to shutdown Trash Talk’s set on the venue’s patio.

Summer in Philadelphia means it’s time for This Is Hardcore, the annual festival bringing heavy brotherly love to the maniacal masses. As an example of the fun on hand, just the ‘C’s of the 2014 lineup featured CIV, Code Orange, Converge, Crowbar, and Cruel Hand. Power Trip also played. Their set was captured by hate5six (aka Sandeep “Sunny” Singh). His videos always hit, this one is other worldly. Audio, video, editing: all 100/100. Some of the greatest live concert footage ever presented. BEHOLD!

“Spinkick for Jesus.” One year later and back in Philly. Welcomed as old friends in the house of hardcore, Power Trip had spent the bulk of the intervening 12 months on the metal road in North America touring in support of ‘Manifest Decimation.’ Not quite as incendiary as 2014, but the combination of band and videographer remains untouchable. Plus, there’s a guy dressed like a whoopee cushion. And two young women got engaged right before the set.

In 2018 Power Trip got the invitation to appear in Canada on House of Strombo, the concert series hosted from the house (like for real…furniture, kitchen, the whole nine) of CBC music interviewer George Stroumboulopoulos, joining the likes of the Charlatans, Behemoth, John Prine, and the Melvins as guests that year. There’s the occasional pensive face, but what’s going down is inescapable and masterfully captured. It’s likely the band’s most watched live set at 1.4 million views and counting, and it’s easy to see why.

One of the coolest things about watching Power Trip grow was the scale and fanaticism of welcome they got in parts of the world like Asia and Eastern Europe that most US-based heavy bands don’t even get to until they’re headlining the summer sheds and small arenas here. The band toured Southeast Asia in early 2020, and many of the sets are available to watch.

This one from February in Manila is my favorite. The venue’s popping, the band is on fire, and the sound quality might be the best of all of the vids shared here: everything louder than everything else, but all crystal clear.

Power Trip had started writing for a third album in late 2019. Within a few weeks of this set the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live music altogether. The band responded by going into the studio to begin pre-production. The rest, as they say, is history.

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