Among boys: Living, dying at Ken Carson’s show

Concert highlights comradery between women in male-dominated spaces, bonding through moshing

  • Ken Carson on stage in the background, other audience members holding their phones in the foreground.
  • A crowd standing in front of a concert stage.
  • One of the concert performers standing on stage in front of a large audience.

Before we begin, I feel I must inform you: This is a review not of Ken Carson’s performance, but of the experience of attending a Ken Carson concert; more specifically, attending a Ken Carson concert as a woman.

 In broadly male spaces, there is a sense in entering them as a woman or nonbinary person of intruding upon something. It is easy for you to forget the specifications of the body you occupy, less so for others. At times, it is frightening; my concert partner, disturbed as they were by the general atmosphere cultivated in the theater, left before a single note of music was played. However, I find that to be present in these spaces, even as an other, is not charmless.

The first thing I notice after arriving at the Ken Carson show is the homogeneity of the concert-goers: skinny white frames covered in T-shirts and topped with shaggy brown hair parted in the middle. The average age here can not be over 17. I do not see a single woman.

The second thing I notice about the line for the Ken Carson show is how long it is. It spans two blocks, and Hawthorne Theatre employees patrol its boundaries, yelling at us to stay on the sidewalk and stop spilling into the street. Once the doors open, the line moves fast, and soon I am inside the venue. Near the entrance, a booth sells shirts emblazoned with the slogan “BAD BITCH PUSSY FOR LUNCH” for $50. Regrettably, I do not buy one.

I make my way through the crowd. The concert hall is filling up fast, but right now the crowd is easily maneuverable, and I achieve a spot close to the stage with little difficulty. Somewhere ahead of me, a man holds his phone high above the crowd, displaying his Bumble queue. 

“Left or right?” he yells, waving a picture of a pretty, brown-haired woman. 

Boos erupt from the crowd around me. Nevertheless, he swipes right, confirming his interest. This continues for several minutes as he works his way through the profiles, the crowd offering their opinion each time. Usually, the crowd tells him not to swipe right, but usually, he swipes right anyway. I notice that he receives no matches, but it does not seem to matter to anyone else. Here, this crowd of men, mostly unknown to one another, are judge, jury and executioner over the women of Portland Bumble, or at least, they can convince each other that they are. They are the ultimate arbitrator of the worth and desirability of these women, and it does not matter at all if the women care about their opinions in the first place. 

The DJ set begins. Instantly, the crowd pushes forward, closing the small gaps that separate us, and suddenly there are bodies pressing up against me from all sides. I lock my arms in a defensive position in front of me to ensure that I will continue to have at least a few inches of breathing room. A pair of boys in front of me joke about the crowd surging at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, and I hope their words are not premonitory. 

We jump asynchronously to the sounds of rage music. Occasionally, I am pushed forward or sent back along with the five or so people alongside me in any direction. We are the crowd and yet we are at the whims of the crowd. It is more than the sum of its parts: We have made something.

Among the shortest in the crowd, I only know Lil88 has begun his set by the opening of the mosh pits. My compatriots instantly begin sprinting at one another with all the pent-up rage you would expect from high school boys. I throw myself into the fray. I can not explain the thrill of moshing, of hitting and being hit, catching your breath and then losing it again the next second. We are all completely at the mercy of each other. 

Time after time I slam into a body then redirect myself, feeling like a rabid Roomba. The pits ebb and flow. Occasionally, I find myself once again within a solid mass of people. At these times, the temperature and humidity level of my immediate surroundings mimic the conditions of the Amazon Rainforest. I am at the edge of a pit, catching my breath, when I feel a hand on my elbow.

I turn to see who it is. A short, curly haired girl smiles up at me. 

“Do you want to be mosh buddies?” she yells over the music.

“Sure!” I yell back. 

I ask her if she is here alone, and she tells me no, she is not, but her sister (who she came with) refuses to mosh. She slips her hand into mine, and we will barely let go for the duration of the concert. There are many downsides to existing in our society as women, but there are upsides too, and this is one of them. There is an unspoken but inherent camaraderie between women, particularly in male-dominated spaces. We are on the same team. We trust one another and assume implicitly that we have each other’s best interests at heart. 

Emboldened by the presence of my new friend, I grow bolder. I am shoving, jumping and (dare I say) raging with the best of them. I am liberal with my elbows. Destroylonely begins his set, and the crowd becomes wilder and wetter. Shirts come off as hair and bare backs begin to shine with perspiration in the dim lights of the stage: It is as if the population of the venue has been caught in a flash flood.

Eventually, my new friend and I grow tired, and retreat to the foyer for water bottles and unpolluted air. We stand by the entrance, sipping water and making conversation, when people begin to troop out of the concert hall. I wonder if the show is over, though I can still hear music playing, until I hear one boy tell another that someone threw up. 

We return to the hall. Finally, it is Ken Carson’s turn on stage. He is wearing his very own “BAD BITCH PUSSY FOR LUNCH” tee.

“Are you tired?” he asks the crowd. (I am.)

The crowd responds with a nebulous mass of sound, and he launches into his first song. I could not tell you what it was. My newfound friend and I once again enter the mosh pit, but soon leave; it has only grown hotter and more humid, and before the first song is over, we find ourselves unable to catch our breath. We retreat to the edge of the crowd, where my friend’s sister has taken up residency, perched on a ledge built into the wall. We exchange introductions, and I take some footage of the performance, but I am too far away and far too short for it to be any good. 

So I return to the crowd. This time, I avoid the mosh pits, and instead work my way up as close to the front of the stage as I can. The closer you get to the stage, the thicker and more closely packed the crowd becomes, and I am about five people back when I find I can no longer easily move forward. I snap some pictures and turn to leave when two hands strike me firmly in the back. I stumble forward, and turn to find my assailant: a tall, shirtless boy. I ask him what his problem is. He shrugs.

“Stay out of the pit if you can’t handle it,” he says, which would be sage advice if either of us were anywhere near the pit. 

Soon, the show is over. I bid my new friend goodbye.

“Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime,” she says, though I know neither of us believes it. 

I am damp with sweat, and I shiver when I step outside, even though it is not that cold. I call my Uber and wait for it to arrive, surrounded by throngs of teenage boys. We all look like we have just climbed out of a swimming pool, and I wonder what the people driving by in their cars think. I realize that I feel a strange tenderness for these boys, for the PG-13 rated haven of masculinity they created in the concert hall. Violent, but not bloody; crass, but not vulgar. Exhilarating, yet never scary. 

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the Ken Carson show. I wonder if the music was any good.

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