Buke and Gase's Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez get the audience warmed up (Photo: Harley Oliver Brown)
It was hard to believe this was a public radio show Wednesday night (Oct. 17) as noise-rap duo Death Grips flayed a moshing crowd with room-rattling bass at (le) poisson rouge. In partnership with WNYC's Soundcheck, NPR brought a self-proclaimed "showcase of singular artists"-who also happen to be some of the loudest-to the subterranean, dimly lit West Village venue for their official CMJ showcase.
Electronic prodigy Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus (and great-nephew of the late pianist Alice Coltrane, wife of John) headlined, A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad was disc jockey and emcee for the evening, and avant-folk duo Buke and Gase opened the evening with something completely different from what was to follow, lulling the audience into a reverie that was shortly thereafter shattered by Death Grip's crushing set.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there were a lot of other stacked lineups that night-including a "surprise" midnight set by Local Natives at Bowery Ballroom and an appearance by up-and-coming Chicago rapper Sasha Go Hard at 285 Kent--so many patrons left after Death Grips' set ended at 11:30. They didn't leave hungry: vocalist Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett flailed shirtless, emaciated, and tattooed as Zach Hill and Andy Morin nailed it on drums and beats. However, Crispin Glover--who, according to Burnett, is supposedly collaborating with Death Grips--was not in attendance.
Other music luminaries included rapper Mykki Blanco, who performed just last week at the same venue. Besides All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen, other attendees on the critical as opposed to the performance side of CMJ included NPR's Marlon Bishop, Amy Schriefer and Emerson Brown, WNYC's John Schaefer, Death Grips manager Peter Katsis, Big Hassle's Ken Weinstein and Sean Hallerman, Lost in the Trees manager/NYU Clive Davis Program adjunct professor Dan Efram, Spin senior editor Chris Weingarten and contributor Michael Tedder, Our Band Could Be Your Life author and concert-goer-about-town Michael Azerrad, and Billboard's own Jem Aswad and William Gruger. And every single one of them got sprayed with beer multiple times during Death Grips' set. [ Ed. Note: Actually, Aswad did not get sprayed with beer; he was busy marveling at Hill's ferocious drum work from the side of the stage.]
As Ellison set up his equipment onstage, Azerrad, who has been to more than a few music marathons himself, tried to condense the long version of how he felt about CMJ today. "It's changed in the way the indie world has changed," he said, "in the tenor of the bands and the caliber of the audience." Before he had the chance to continue, however, Flying Lotus began to drop his sophisticated, jazz-inflected dub-hop fusion on what remained of the audience (which was still quite large, as attested by "motherfuckers lining up around the corner," according to Ellison. "I appreciate that"). He took some requests and proceeded to give Muhammad a run for his money with some Kanye West samples-including Watch the Throne's "Niggas In Paris" and G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy"-he looked to Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' Bout You" and TNGHT's "Higher Ground" to keep things going. Eventually, though, Ellison stopped for a second. "I like you guys, but I'm just going to do what I'm going to do." And for the rest of the night, those other shows across town ceased to exist.