Photos: Ariele Hertzoff
There were many decent acts at Pitchfork’s unofficial CMJ showcase last Friday night at the Williamsburg warehouse space Villain – Hundred Waters, Merchandise, Le1f, and Metz were all highlights – but if that show was a high school textbook, Death Grips’ 2:15 a.m. closing set deserved not only highlighting, but underlining, asterisks, recopying into your notes, and maybe even a tattoo on your arm.
With complete respect for the nine other acts that went before them (except for maybe Holy Other, whose 11 p.m. set was an incredible buzzkill), Death Grips made everything that preceded them irrelevant. While the group’s tech-whiz Andy Morin was nowhere to be seen (a backing track of their songs played throughout the 45-minute set), Zach Hill banged furiously on his fairly simplistic drumkit on stage left while frontman Stefan Burnett (aka MC Ride) rapped, yelled and screamed his ass off in front with Mac computers flickering images from the band’s music videos in the background.
Burnett’s outraged taunts whipped the audience into an immediate frenzy, the steel barricade that separated the band and the crowd lasting a mere two minutes before being completely pushed forward onto the stage. There was plenty of security working the show, but they dared not try to resituate the barricade for fear of their own safety. Being in the front of the crowd was like a religious experience, with Burnett’s occasional thrusts of his bottled water feeling like a baptism. Being pushed, punched or stepped on never registered as pain, but as an exhilarating part of the ritual.
The poor few that jumped on stage were not there for very long. If one happened to be up for more than three seconds, Burnett would violently throw them back into the crowd. One naïve dope even tried to give the frontman a high five while he was up there. Burnett grabbed the guy, said something in his ear, and the fan dutifully ran off the stage, probably because his life was just threatened by the lead singer of the scariest band in existence right now.
As a testament to the group’s power, they refrained from delivering many of what one consider their “hits,” essentially meaning they did not play “I’ve Seen Footage” or “Hacker” but their run through of “Guillotine” morphed the pit from a frantic jumble to a throbbing wave, imitating the song’s slow death-march. As for those two poppier numbers in their repertoire, the set had no room for them – this was not a place for dancing – it was an all out manic exorcism.
I’ve personally been over the concept of clapping for an encore at shows as they’re typically built into a band’s set anyway, but when they finished at 3 a.m., I along with the rest of the crowd, was screaming for “one more song.” The house lights went up though and the previously absent security guards returned to kick us out. In a way, I liked the idea that they didn’t come back for an encore — the band that spited their record company by giving away their new album for free with a picture of an erect penis on the cover is going to play another song because you want them to? Death Grips do what they want. Period.