By Danny Baraz
Death Grips are like that beautiful woman that won’t fuck you. The more she says no, the more you want her. At some point, (if you have any self respect at all), you must decide you can’t love a girl who won’t love you back. You stop texting her. You stop calling her. You stop liking all her posts on IG. When that happens, she has to decide how she really feels about you and lay all games aside. This is a defining moment in the relationship between two people. I personally prefer crazy women but not too crazy- intellectual, complicated and unpredictable women who aren’t like anyone else. Those also happen to be my criteria for musicians and artists. Death Grips were the perfect girl. I had never met anyone like her. Her relationship with the world was almost satirical. Over the years, I have watched her stand other guys up with bemusement and curiosity. I have seen her defy her bosses at work. I have seen her “give away the milk for free”. I have seen her thumb her nose at fame. Sure, she seemed crazier than most but I’m not the trophy wife type. I don’t give a shit what other people think about my girl.
I was a huge fan of how the Death Grips handled their popularity. The anticipation of seeing them live for the first time at FYF in 2013 was palpable. The 50/50 chance that they wouldn’t show up for that gig made it twice as orgasmic when they did. They were amazing and now that I had gotten a taste, I just wanted to see her all the time. The thought of seeing them open a show for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden was strange and exciting but there was the very real chance that seeing them in that setting would completely turn me off. When she stood ME up for the first time, I started to feel differently about the whole thing. 2 days before my birthday on July 2nd 2014, they wrote a Dear John letter on a napkin and posted it on their Facebook page. I was done. What seemed like such a punk rock approach to thumbing their nose at corporate music started to seem like publicity stunts and a total disrespect for their fans and business associates. The latter could be forgiven and forgotten and even respected, to some degree but the former could not.
But love is love, even in an abusive relationship. When you realize that the woman you love is NEVER going to treat you right, it’s not like you can just turn the switch off. 4 months after receiving the breakup letter, she came calling in October. Since then, she’s been pouring it on. The promise of Jenny Death, the second installment of The Powers That B double record was finally fulfilled in March of this year after much teasing and game playing. Also in March, a tour was announced and she was back in my life like nothing had ever happened. No explanation. No excuses. No apologies.
What is it about Death Grips that not only attracts me to them but allows such rampant disregard for my needs? Outside of the innovation and raw power and culture of the music, it is the unknown that shrouds the band in such mystery and desire. With Hill and Morin (Flatlander) releasing music under the moniker “The I.L.Y.’s” in June, I was starting to think that “the issue” is with M.C. Ride. His lyrical and vocal style suggests a deeply tortured individual that is plagued by the shackles of society, which is only exacerbated by expectations of the legions of disenfranchised youth that worship him and the Death Grips. That somehow, if they had actually gone on tour with Soundgarden and NIN, the mystery, suffering and torment would all be for naught. That some blogger out of L.A. speculating on his motives and dissecting the recent performances that have been witnessed by so many, trivializes the suffering and the blood, sweat and tears that has molded this uniquely original persona. That I may suggest that it’s all an act for publicity completely undermines what the Death Grips are all about. Or does it? I don’t fucking know anymore.
All I have wanted to do since I first saw them live in 2013 is to see them live again. Now that I’ve seen them twice in one week and total of 3 times, I have a concrete opinion of their performances. What works and what doesn’t work. Why their headlining show at The Glass House earlier this week was nowhere near as powerful as the two times I’ve seen them at FYF. And as I type this out, I feel like I’m beginning to understand what might be one of the motives behind all the games and back and forth the band has put fans and critics through the last couple years. Now that I’m able to give an opinion based on fact, rather than speculation, it is almost like they are no different than any other band and I think that might be what they were trying to avoid.
Their set at FYF this past weekend was the most buzzed about set I can remember in a long time- both before AND after. One thing I noticed over the last year is that people who would never have liked the Death Grips are suddenly super fans. People whose favorite band is Mumford and Sons. You fucking second rate hipsters better stay away from my Death Grips. I can almost guarantee that all the manic behavior can be attributed to this- they don’t want some 50 year old Soundgarden fan chanting “I’m in your areaaa”.
The Death Grips set at FYF was scheduled for exactly 9:05. The Death Grips took the stage at 8:59. The band proceeded to butt fuck the festival for 56 minutes. Huge plumes of dust and dirt kicked up by dancing demons floated above fans for the entirety of their time on stage. MC Ride’s tortured bellows of anger and sadness rang out across Exposition Park. He flailed his arms with his signature waving wings, conjuring violence in the crowd like some twisted wizard. Flatlander was bouncing up and down in front of his console as he manifested and triggered all the electronic dissonance he has created since 2010. It didn’t take long for Zach Hill to transform into a dripping mess of sweat and hair as he pounded on his drum kit like a muppet having a bad acid trip. It was by far the craziest I have ever seen an FYF crowd. I couldn’t help but laugh as I remembered Earl Sweatshirts set from 2014 and how he berated the audience and the festival for being so passive. Earl shouldn’t have felt bad or so angry since that is was the status quo for an FYF crowd. There is something about my girl that unleashes all the angst inside when she sings her song. One thing that bummed me out, but only a little is that they only played one song off the newest, double album- Inanimate Sensation.
I left the last day of FYF already obsessing on the Death Grips sold out show at The Glass House. It was only 2 days away. If these last two shows at FYF were any indication, there should be a wave of violence sweeping Pomona on Tuesday night. Death Grips would be the only band that night, which meant that there would be no mix of Morrissey fans coming to check out the Death Grips set in this medium sized music venue. Finally, an intimate moment with the woman I loved.
I got inside the Glass House about 5 minutes prior to Death Grips taking the stage. I was surprised to find that the venue did not look sold out. I had been scanning setlist.fm to see if I could put any patterns together and it appeared that Death Grips essentially play two setlists- 1 for festivals and 1 for headlining shows. No variation. For the past couple of months, headlining shows have opened with “Runway E” and “Takyon (Death Yon)”. Ride, Flatlander and Hill took the stage and immediately, everyone on the floor crammed in tighter, making The Glass House look even less full. To my complete and utter surprise and satisfaction, Death Grips opened with “The Powers That B” off of Jenny Death. The floor started swirling, my head started spinning and my elbows started swinging. Everything was working out perfectly. It appeared as if this relationship was finally being reciprocated. Death Grips were taking care of my needs. I felt loved and wanted.
The show started out perfectly chaotic. A few songs into the set, I felt MC Ride starting to pull away. Angry yells turned into reciting lyrics under his breath. The energy started to slip away from the room. Even though Ride seemed tired and distant, Zach Hill was in a form I had never seen before. Perfectly tight. Perfectly powerful but Stefan Burnett never came back to the overwhelming form that I had seen on every previous occasion.
I wasn’t too disappointed and I didn’t feel cheated. The Glass House show was about half the energy of every other Death Grips show I had seen to date but for the Death Grips, this was a very long tour. After all the abuse I’ve endured in this relationship, I just felt great that this band I loved so much was finally showing up for our dates. Was I fooling myself? Could this ho really become a housewife? Only time will tell but I feel extremely positive about the direction this relationship was heading.