Facebook Reclamation #1: NO SHOW DEEP WEB

I will be posting a few pieces that originally appeared (in the same sense that trees originally fall in the woods) as facebook notes. The first is a review of an alleged concert by the Death Grips that almost happened in Chicago. So without further ado, here is NO SHOW DEEP WEB:

I saw Death Grips at the Bottom Lounge once. They were great. MC Ride was an awesome black demon, drenched in sweat and tattoos, shouting incantations to his mad roiling flock. Zach Hill was a strange shaven monk, smoking cigarettes and pounding out stark rhymthms on a bare bones drum kit.

That was months ago. I wanted to do it again. I bought a hard ticket for the August 2nd show from the Bottom Lounge bar itself and put the date on my calendar. Every so often I’d see the ticket on my bookshelf and think “yay! Death Grips!”.

So I was pretty stoked as I strolled down Lake to the BL. As usual I was flying solo, having been unable to convince any of my friends to come with me. I had left a party early to see the show (a bizarre and innocent affair, thrown by young suburbanites in a city apartment). Sorry guys, I have to go shove a bunch of sweaty strangers while a bearded, gangling black man shouts postmodern threats at us over abrasive electronica. Yes, I was feeling pretty smug in my esotericism.

I chatted up some youngsters while we waited for the show to start. One guy had driven all the way from Wisconsin for the event. His friend had come from the suburbs. They said they were new to this kind of thing.

I talked to another guy who was pretty excited about the Death Grips. He said his first reaction to them was close to disgust (his radio show co-host had discovered and shared them), but within weeks they were one of his favorites. He hadn’t been to too many shows. However, he told me about going to Tom Morello at BL and finding not the amplified Rage of Rage, but Morello in his workingman troubador phase, serenading the grassroots.

The opener was apparently (DJ) Charlie Glitch from the Ghetto Division. He started with a nice run of exhilarating hip hop – colossal and detailed low end with jagged synths – songs I didn’t know but should have – then took a wrong turn at house music and squandered his good will. Something about the 4/4 kick pattern and hackneyed song selection enervated the crowd. During the worst of it, I yelled “This isn’t a goddamn boat party, it’s Death Grips at the Bottom Lounge” to the guy next to me. Mr. Glitch either didn’t know his audience or didn’t have time to change his set. Either way, we were not sad to see him go.

Death Grips decided to up the ante and confuse the crowd emotionally by hanging up a huge banner depicting A SCREENSHOT OF A SUICIDE NOTE THEY RECEIVED VIA GMAIL. People began to take pictures with their phones (annoyingly). DG’s roadie, a friendly looking asian man (I think it was the same guy from the last time I saw them) set up Zach’s drums, a giant sequencer/keyboard thingy and did sound check, smiling and bantering with the BL staff all the while. How much did he know and when? Was he in on the whole vicious charade? Smiling stooge, or a cunning deceiver?

We waited. The ticket stated a 10pm showtime, and the opener went on right around 11. It was past midnight by the time the Death Grips were set up. Finally the Charles Manson clip from “Beware” began. Here we go! But oddly,the band didn’t come out, and the full track – vocals and all – was playing VERY LOUD over the PA. Well maybe they are doing something a little different here. “Beware” ended and a second song began to play. People became confused. There was a healthy mosh pit front and center, but those of us who were not involved were still not sure, unready to commit  until we saw the band. After 3 or 4 songs the confusion level was high and one could sense the beginnings of anger in the crowd. “This is bullshit.” yelled a nearby girl into her companion’s ear.

There was a determined and enthusiastic cadre of fans who moshed and shoved throughout the whole “show”. They were determined to get their kicks one way or another. I could hear them outside after the show saying things like “I don’t give a shit, that was the most fun I’ve had at a show in months”. And how can we stand and judge them? They may have seemed like apologists, even knuckleheads, but who am I or anyone else to say they have to react with rage or disappointment or detachment or bitterness when life gives them lemons? I’ll not praise them personally, as I would have preferred a unified front of disapproval (and skipping your own concert without warning deserves disapproval). But to direct any anger at the fans who tried to salvage some pleasure from the wreckage would be regrettable indeed.

But for the majority of the rest of us, it was too much. The sham continued on and on. I was tempted to burn some anger in the mosh pit, but it seemed like a giving in, a defeat. Soon angry audience members began to take the stage. One guy ripped down part of the suicide banner. Others pranced around, knocked down the microphone stand and played a few hand strokes on Zach Hill’s drums.

And here is where we should talk about the true victims of the night. Not the fans – who all got refunds and have a steady stream of Chicago concerts and other amusements to indulge at their whim – But the Bottom Lounge staff, particularly security. Death Grips’ little stunt put them in a pretty fucking shitty position, right between a room full of righteously pissed off fans and the facilities and equipment they are employed to defend. Thankfully, security handled themselves with dignity and restraint. They could hardly use strong arm tactics – they knew an injustice was taking place – but they couldn’t allow a riot to form either. They held the middle ground, using tough love to keep relative order.

After a long and painful medley of our favorite Death Grips songs, Bottom Lounge made an announcement, essentially saying Death Grips decided not to show up for their own show and oh yeah, “fuck them”. Some fans managed to grab Zach Hill’s kick drum before the sound crew and pass it away from the stage. A whirling circle formed and the drum was kicked and smashed mercilessly on the ground. Hindsight has made this act look immature and brutish (we probably looked like wild Neo-Nazi skinheads beating down a middle easterner), but at the time it felt like justice, so right and so good.

Articles about the show gloss over the humiliating length of the DG medley (it was at least 10 songs) and fail to capture the long slow boil of the rage in the room. Fans were feeling powerless and duped and frankly, hurt. After all we had been betrayed, not by some big famous drug partying rockstar asshole(s), but by a very esoteric underground “punk” “art” band. I mean, this is why we go underground, to commune with bands who are willing to sacrifice fame and ease and stand up for their art, their vision, their fans. When an artist you carry the flag for – in defiance of the tastes and expectations of both your friends and larger society – stabs you in the back, it hurts, a lot.

Refunds were promised. I got mine at the bar. The Bottom Lounge employee gave me $18 and a warm apologetic handshake. I drove home and went to bed. Disappointing. Dissapointed.

Reaction on the internet was wide-ranging. Writers who weren’t there put forth the idea that Death Grips “cancelled” their show, but cancellation implies warning, or at least notification. Various reports have band members everywhere from California to backstage during the time of the show. DG did not cancel, they played a sham fraud PA mix with a fake soundcheck and embarrassed themselves and everybody in attendance and put the Bottom Lounge’s employees and reputation in harm’s way (DG DID cancel their Lollapalooza apprearance planned for the next day). Another incident I read about in articles was the one where fans “trashed Death Grips’ equipment”. Well, yes, the kick drum was destroyed (I heard it say “come up and get me”), and the mic stand was knocked over, but the other drums were safe, and the giant sequencer/keyboard of doom was left untouched.

Among people who attended, there were several healthy online discussions. Many went with “fuck Death Grips”. Others said the whole fiasco was art, citing the suicide note heavily in their arcane theories. I felt that this exposed unhealthily the very fine line between high art and pretentious laziness. Many others said “Ur spoiled, Death Grips don’t owe you a performance” but when you, the fan, purchases a ticket, is that not a contract, a bond between holder and performer? What about the contract between DG and BL? Yes, there is always fine print and wiggle room, but to not show up, and to not give any reason, or even the barest hint of explanation? Who does that?

In the end I don’t hate Death Grips. Neither should you. In fact, you should listen to them if you haven’t. DG are just too good and unique to hold a grudge against. They invented their own subgenre, which has confounded armchair musicologists since the first soaring notes and revolutionary shouts of “Beware”. I just hope in the future they call ahead if they aren’t going to play a show, instead of pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes. It will make everybody happier, and it will save Zach Hill a few bucks on a new kick drum.

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