Death Grips. Ogden Theatre. 06.24.15
“I’ve got the powers that B, running through me!” A shirtless MC Ride was marking his territory on the large, spacious stage in front of a violently enthusiastic audience. Zach Hill, also shirtless, was doing his best Animal impression behind the drum kit. Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) was stoically standing behind his station, while his fingers were hard at work decimating thousands of eardrums with the deafening sounds of Fashion Week. “My favorite color is OH MY GOD BITCH!” Ride, seemingly not giving a shit that OH MY GOD BITCH isn’t a color, and that he was bellowing this nonsensical declaration over what was supposed to be an instrumental track, created microbursts within the crowd. Small pits would form and disperse as waves of bodies broke along the railing. The performance had just begun and Ride had already commanded control of the chaos.
Death Grips are a band (sorry, I mean a ‘conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vison’) that is notorious for showing a complete lack of professionalism when it comes to meeting obligations. The fact that they were on stage at the Ogden Theatre was a wonder in itself, but to see Ride, Hill and Flatlander performing in full 3D was the equivalent of witnessing villains climbing out of an old comic book and then proceeding to pillage your hometown. Death Grips are only three men, but they came equipped with the noise of legions. And although they don’t like to fuck with the physical world all that much, they were completely successful in dragging the depths of the Deep Web to the surface last night. I can’t claim to understand who or what Death Grips are. I just know I have a not-so-healthy relationship with their music. It just hurts so good. They were only a minute and a half into their hour and a half set and they were already dishing out enough pain and humiliation to make any masochist happy.
Dirty water was racing down the gutters on Colfax, only to be blocked at the finish line by leaves, branches and trash. Cars that had been wallpapered with foliage were slowly making their way down the street like examples of urban camouflage gone wrong, while pedestrians were trying to find the dry path through the aftermath of the latest flash flood. We were in line to get into the Ogden Theatre. Doors were supposed to open at 7:00pm. It was 8:00pm and we were still on the street and the rain wasn’t done with us. The human centipede was occupying space well past Downing Street and there was only one thing in its collective mind…”will the band actually show up?” There was a time when Death Grips were known for their music, if known at all. There was a time when the exact dimensions of Zach Hill’s penis weren’t public knowledge. But those times had long since passed.
I saw them perform in Austin in 2011. There were less than 100 people in that air-deprived automotive garage when Ride started screaming about being a beast worthy of worship. Literally standing at the makeshift stage as it was overrun by a pit that had bled past its boundaries, I was caught up in something I hadn’t anticipated. Having been to countless metal and hardcore shows, I had never experienced anything so intense. There was a primal, animalistic element to Ride’s rage that I was actually frightened of. He started swinging his long skinny arms around and I was sure his fist was going to connect with my face at any moment. You could see the attack-mode building in his eyes. But the connection never came. Instead, someone else’s boot connected with Ride’s head and caused him to eat his mic. Blood started coming from his mouth, but the injury didn’t stun him or even slow him down. He just spit that shit out and continued to rage against the night.
All anyone could talk about back then was the music…and the violence it embraced. The Exmilitary mixtape sounded like it had been unearthed from a time capsule where it had been waiting for a world fucked up enough to handle it. Tour cancellations, no-shows at festivals, middle fingers and erect dicks thrown at Epic Records, flaking on NIN, break-up notices on napkins posted on Twitter, dropping music on the Deep Web, cryptic messaging about the future of the band — all the drama around Death Grips became louder than their music. If there was a message the band was trying to get across, it was lost in a sea of proponents (who explained everything with a ‘punk rock’ clause) arguing with critics who deemed the band a bunch of unprofessional fuck-ups who were overrated in the first place. All of that shit, combined with doors that remained shut on the Ogden Theatre, and the lack of information provided by the venue staff, caused anxiety to run high. “I’m getting wet! That’s it! I’m done! Fuck Death Grips!” was the joke on the street. As if a little rain would break someone’s faith in a band that’s made a name for itself by fucking its fans in countless way.
Many haters are sitting on headlines about how the current Death Grips tour imploded, but fortunately for the Denver fans, they can continue to sit on those words until their asses are sore. Spoiler Alert – Death Grips showed up last night! Not only did they show up, they performed a non-stop set that encompassed material from every album. Doors opened around 8:30pm and the band took the stage an hour later. There would be no opener. I’m not sure if the absence of another act can be blamed on no other band being worthy, or if Death Grips just had a hard time finding anyone who would want to commit to a tour with them. Either way, an opener would have been unnecessary.
After my experience in Austin, I decided to witness the spectacle from the comfort of the balcony this time around. And I’m so glad I did. Watching the climate change below me when the band took the stage was like watching a storm build from space. The packed floor became a singular mass. The more hip-hop oriented tracks saw arms in the air with hands reaching for the ceiling. The more aggressive selections saw small pits form around agitations that had sprung up like hot spots. The movement was constant, the collective crowd was powerful, and the brutal nature of it was beautiful. The violent dance was happening in darkness, while the band was bathed in a static, blood-red glow the entire set. Ride was a dark shadow through the majority of the performance. He was such a formidable (and in my face) presence at the last show, that Zach Hill was literally hidden behind him. Being the frontman, his status could not be denied last night, but Hill demanded attention of his own. The man is seriously a monster behind the kit. Like a shark who can’t stop swimming, Hill’s arms never stopped moving. He beat his kit so hard, for so long, that staff had to keep stacking stuff in front of him to keep the drums from slipping. They had to make those adjustments under the cover of his rapid fire, because he did not take a single break during the entire 90 minute set. The guy is literally inhuman.
Death Grips music isn’t what you would call melodic or catchy, but there are snippets of songs that have become signatures in their repertoire. Even if you had never heard the band before (as was the case with the friend I brought with me), it was obvious when they hit those hot buttons. The aforementioned part of “The Powers That B”, the “Oh shit I’m feeling it” of “Takyon”, the “Blown out…bass!” of “Inanimate Sensation”, the ‘hustle bones comin’ out my mouth” of “Hustle Bones”, and of course…
“Get get get get
Got got got got
Blood rush to my
Head lit hot lock
Poppin’ off the
Fuckin’ block knot
Clockin’ wrist slit
Watch bent thought bot”
…but it wasn’t until “I’ve Seen Footage” when people were really able to sing along for any length of time. It was also during that track when I realized how blown out Ride’s vocals were. Everything was turned up past 11, so Hill’s drums and Ride’s vocals met Flatlander’s production in a hurricane of noise. Nothing got out alive, but the style didn’t affect the overall power of the performance. The essence of each track was captured and conveyed – even as they all bled into each other without pause. We were eleven tracks in when “Spread Eagle Cross the Block” came to a finish and Ride finally took a pull off a bottle of water, thus allowing us all to catch a quick breath.
After just a tiny bit of hydration, Ride was back to snapping his fingers and skipping and bouncing along like a black Sinatra to “This Is Violence Now”. “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States” was one I had been waiting for, and if I was 20 years younger I would have dove from the balcony because “I don’t’ care about real life!”, but I’m not 20 years younger, so I was still on my seat when things wrapped up with “I Want It I Need It”. Ride broke it all off before spitting the word ‘bitch’ out of his mouth like it made him sick. Then he dropped the mic and led the others off the stage. The house lights came on instantly, assuring us there would be no encore. No member of the band had spoken a word to the audience the entire night.
I don’t have an opinion on the importance of Death Grips. I don’t care about their politics or their message. I don’t care if they like posting dick pics and I don’t care if they pissed their label off. I don’t care if they don’t have openers and don’t do encores. I don’t even care that they don’t show up to shows they don’t feel like playing. I like their music. I like their noise. I like their energy. I like how they make me feel. They aren’t like anything I’ve ever heard before, but that’s because they are a blend of everything I’ve ever heard before.
I’ve read message boards where suicidal kids have claimed Death Grips have saved their lives. I think that’s awesome. They haven’t saved my life, but they’ve made it more interesting. I’ve also read glowing thinkpieces about the band and I’ve read scathing reviews about the band, and I’ve found truths in each. At the end of the day, music is only important if it’s important to you. I think Ride said it best when he said “make my blood flow through you, mane — you got no business questioning a thang.” If you like Death Grips, then last night was an awesome experience. You should have been there! If you don’t like them, then it would have sucked…so I’m glad you stayed home. I thoroughly enjoyed the show. So did my friend who had never even heard them before. And I’m looking forward to seeing them again at Riot Fest. Assuming they decide to show up again.
Runway E / The Powers That B
Takyon (Death Yon)
Come Up and Get Me
I’ve Seen Footage
You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat
Spread Eagle Cross the Block
This Is Violence Now (Don’t Get Me Wrong)
Lock Your Doors
Up My Sleeves
Why a Bitch Gotta Lie?
I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States
The Fever (Aye Aye)
I Want It I Need It (Death Heated)