Somewhere around fifty minutes into a ninety minute Justice show at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night I heard a loud thump, as if someone had just dropped a stack of books next to me. I remember saying “What the fuck was that?” to nobody in particular as the majority of the twelve to fifteen people on the second floor balcony on the far left side of the giant ballroom looked up at the balcony above them and down towards the crowd below. There was a guy lying on the floor, not moving, with a crowd of people around him. Some people near me started to leave. After a few minutes, the guy began to move. Luckily for that bastard, he was OK. To say that this wasn’t the strangest thing I saw that night would be a testament to the absurdity of the two hour long set they played – I saw two fifteen year old girls in American Apparel lycra leotards writhing and dancing with each other to the glee of the fraternity brothers around them. A fifty year-old man dressed like an 18 year old boy offered me cocaine in the bathroom – his gray hair poking out of the sides of his red Hot Topic baseball cap. Outside, directly after the show, I watched a 22 year old college kid take a swing at a homeless man and several passersby before walking into traffic to get hit by a bus. Luckily, he didn’t. His friend pulled him away. The night itself could best be described as a horror show. It was what you’d imagine a Saturday night in Las Vegas to be like if the Bible had never been written.
The last time I had seen Justice had been five years previously, in a Chicago nightclub on the North Side that fit perhaps three hundred people maximum. Here, the show was packed, completely, to the maximum – some three levels of balcony and the entire floor were a seething, churning mass of the type of people I had spent all of high school (and the majority of my professional life) avoiding; fraternity guys in Armani Exchange sweaters punching the air to a song I had done lines to five years ago; twelve year-old girls in tutus dancing suggestively to the growling distorted synthesizer of “Waters Of Nazareth.” There were times during the show where you could look out over the sea of people punching their fists in the air and see less a musical performance but something much darker and harder to define.
Justice opened the show with “Genesis” which they played approximately three times during the two hour long performance – such is the set-list for a band looking to fill two hours with only 90 minutes of music in their catalog. The stage show was a far cry from the minimal, two-mixers-and-four-turntables-and-some-assorted-other-shit that I remembered from their Smartbar set: here, there were two giant full-stacks of (fake) Marshall amps; a console which opened up into a back-lit keyboard; a wall of lightbulbs behind them that projected an astonishing array of colors for what was essentially just two French guys in red jackets pressing a lot of buttons. During the end of one song, Xavier de Rosnay (he of the longer hair) got up well before the keyboard sounds from his keyboard had ended. It was all show. It was all spectacle.
EDM is without a doubt the new hair metal – a genre so affected by its own trappings that it has sold its steering wheel for a new engine: bigger, better, and faster than before, but with seemingly no direction. The likes of Madonna are asking “Does anybody know Molly?” (a nickname for a type of ecstasy) at recent shows in a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant. Something shifted dance music away from the party and somewhere along the line in the last few years it has become a beast made of money and drugs and the kind of people that will show up to ANY party; the kind of people that would show up at the opening of a letter if there were drinks involved. The drugs and the vitriol are running the game now; no longer the music. Justice put on a good show. It was the crowd I was worried about. I doubt that many of them were there for the music: moreso, the trappings that came with it. Grown men walked around in tank tops and chains and board shorts as if auditioning for Central Casting role of Venice Beach, CA beach bum… this is New York City in late October.
Where was this music scene going? Is the money and the spectacle going to dictate the audience or is the music going to? Why must mass catharsis like dance music always have a tragic element somewhere?
You can see the guy that fell here being held up. I had my phone in my hand when I heard the fall and took a picture right away. He left making the “\m/” metal hand sign on a stretcher. Security said he had several broken bones including a very broken leg. No word on who he hit on the ground on his way down. I thought about baseball fan Shannon Stone, the guy that died in front of his kid at a baseball game a year ago when he tried to catch a ball so he could give it to his son. I didn’t know what to think after seeing that guy fall. He didn’t fucking move for a while. I thought that was it. There’s some tweets of mine and others here if you want to get a sense of what happened:
Justice played a great set but somewhere between watching a man almost fall to his death and watching girls half my age dance in leotards to the jeers and whoops of a crowd of men old enough to vote Republican… it was the first time I’ve ever felt old at a show. I’ve never seen a crowd that large appear so bloodthirsty before. I’ve never heard a crowd roar before and have it sound as if a gladiator was about to be executed. It wasn’t the roar of a crowd that wanted to hear the next song: it was the roar of a crowd that wanted the next fix at whatever the cost. It was the kind of night that made one shave off the last couple of years of their twenties; the kind of show that makes one want to get into wine and read a good book. It was a Sunday night, after all.
Justice played well. Nobody hung around after. The backstage situation consisted of perhaps eight people. The crowd dispersed almost immediately, spilling out onto the street to an awaiting police presence.
After hanging around for a few more minutes inside, I walked out with friends and saw the guy in a red Justice shirt try to punch several people and walk into heavy midtown traffic. After watching a guy fall three stories and die from (drunken yet) natural selection, here was a guy begging New York City to kill him. His friend threw him against a wall. That kid has, or for all I know had until last night, a damn good friend.
Due to a train mixup I walked by him on my way to the C train at Penn Station. We caught eyes for a couple of seconds. He eyes red like roadmaps, he seemed lost and ashamed. I kept walking. I didn’t want to look back.