I’m pretty sure that my gall bladder is gonna explode. Or collapse, or calcify, or disintegrate, or catch fire, or do whatever they do before they turn on you, cursing your body with ungodly toxins and ultimately taking you down like a 3-legged gazelle with a belly full of chammomille, warm milk, and Trazodone. On Wednesday night, my own stomach felt like it was full of beetles and ghost chilies marinating in a thick swirling cloud of manhole steam. I’m probably dying and I’d probably say that even if I wasn’t dramatically half-Jewish. Actually, that might not be entirely true; apparently, gall bladder issues are as hereditary as neurosis. In any case, I was light-headed and faint. My face was clammy and sliding down my skull like a Nazi gawking into the Ark of the Covenant. If I hadn’t promised to cover the Seattle stop for the current Vitamin Water x Fader presented “Uncapped” concert series, then I wouldn’t have left my place to go anywhere.
I charged my camera battery, ate some Excedrin migraine tablets, and gave myself a little time to get my head together. Then I put on my tortoise shell “San Andro” Cool Ray sunglasses–made by Polaroid in the 1970s, blasted the air-conditioning in my 98 Civic 4-door with my infant son’s car seat base in the back, and was out on the town. “Watch out ladies.” I was playing the new EL-P Cancer 4 Cure album, hoping that the intro song, “Request Denied” would supply me with a little energy. I was still in a daze, but feeling a little bit better as I sped up onto the freeway entrance. Not long after that, I was stalled out in traffic. Being a member of the media for this event, I needed to get there by 8pm, so it’s a good thing that I left an hour early. It’s also a good thing that I was aware of the general location of the venue that I was heading to, because I eventually had to abandon my Mapquest directions and break off onto the city and side streets to get there. The general location was enough; the moment I approached the random South Seattle block in the middle of a warehouse district, I saw a ridiculous line in front of the entrance. It took me forever to find parking and, once I finally made it up to the VIP/Media line, it was only a few minutes until 8.
Vitamin Water has been presenting these national Uncapped events in collaboration with Fader throughout the month, with Seattle marking only the 3rd stop in the series. For this show, two very different performers would hit the stage: Cambridge, Mass‘ electro-pop sextet, Passion Pit and 2 Chainz, a Southern rapper from College Park, Georgia. In fact, all of the shows have a similar formula–the L.A. show (6/07) included Rick Ross, The-Dream, Zola Jesus, Omarion, and French Montana, while the Chicago stop (6/14) featured Santigold, Wale, and Melanie Fiona.
Here’s a statement about the project via VitaminWater.com:
“what do rap and indie rock have in common? well, other than the fame, the penthouses, the cars, the jewelry, the money and groupies; absolutely nothing. until now. vitaminwater is pairing up the best and most unlikely artist from rap, r&b, dance, electronica, and indie rock, for a unprecedented nationwide concert series. ’cause when you bring unlikely artists together, unexpected things will happen.”
If anyone’s been looking for evidence that the term “indie rock” doesn’t hold anywhere near the same meaning or weight as it used to, that second sentence should officially drive the nail into that coffin. Still, the concept is the same: take a rap artist and someone from a seemingly “different,” less finite musical genre (read: caucasion and/or band) and host an event with them both on the same bill. And it makes sense; Fader, after all, is known for splitting their magazines in half, so that, regardless of how it’s turned, one of two separate covers is still facing the “right” direction. Plus, these companies aren’t oblivious to the enormous amount of crossover in today’s musical climate and, with an event like this, they’re maximizing their demographic of 18-34 yr olds rather than limiting and dividing it. [Side note: I’m 33.] It makes sense for the artists too, because it gives them an opportunity to grow their fanbase, exposing their work to an entirely new group of people. With these events being absolutely free, this may actually be one advertising campaign that benefits everyone involved.
Olympia, Wa is a college town swarming with drunken twenty-somethings, but once a year, during their Procession of the Species parade, all of the families and children that you never seem to see throughout the rest of the year, would come out of the woodwork and I loved it. When I saw Harmony Korine do a Q&A for his film Trash Humpers in 2010, he half-jokingly made a comment about how he could never live in Seattle because there are too many white people. Although this will undoubtedly sound racist as fuck, this event was like the equivalent to Olympia‘s Procession festivities, only for Seattle‘s black community, and I also loved it. When I had to fly to Los Angeles to visit my Puerto Rican family earlier this year, I actually texted my girlfriend from LAX just to let her know that I wasn’t the only brown person anymore–we were the majority. It’s possible that I just don’t wind up at as many social functions as the African American people in Seattle do, but even at a Raekwon show the majority of the crowd will be white college kids. Then again, maybe it’s just that 2 Chainz is a grimy Southern rapper who hasn’t entirely blown up to the level of someone like Drake yet (although he has a track that features him). Maybe a lot of these cats rolled out here from the suburbs. Whatever the case, there were a lot of crisp outfits where the ball caps matched the shoes. When I saw Charlie Murphy do standup a few years back, I witnessed the more “mature” old-school version, where men were dressed sharp like Gerald Levert with suits and hats that matched their gators. I appreciate the effort to look sharp in a town like this, where everyone is always wearing a completely different, but equally as obvious, scenester getup (what’s with these burgeoning spooky witch and mad max fashion movements, anyway kids? ). The unavoidable culture shock was amazing to me, but the only reason that the hip-hop crowd was the one that alerted me to the culture clash was because I’ve admittedly (and regrettably) become accustomed to seeing people dress like it was still 1987 again over the last few years. There’s just more boat shoes and collared shirts in this town, overall. I was wearing a band shirt for the stoner metal group SLEEP, so I had my own, “I’m not wearing an outfit for this event” outfit on. Whether it was in spite of or simply because of the initial reasoning that the event planners had behind mixing up the crowd like this, I was into it. Sociologically speaking, it was an interesting scene.
I told my friend Adam to get their by 8 if he wanted to get in with my plus one. He showed up a few minutes after, but just in time for us to get our laminates and be escorted in from the much shorter VIP/Media line. I wanted to invite someone that would be open minded to both sets and would still have a good time and wouldn’t bail even if the night turned out to be obnoxious and terrible. When I floated the idea to him, his response was, “Passion Pit is my 83rd favorite band of 2011! I’m in!” Perfect.
I wasn’t aware that each of these events were being held as somewhat “secret” shows, because I was emailed the lineup information in advance–not to mention the lineup for next month’s show in Portland, which apparently, still hasn’t been announced yet [Hint: there’s a rapper and an indie band on the bill]. The venue information, however, isn’t something that I was provided with until the day before. Of all places, this thing was being held at the building for Emerald City Trapeze Arts. Surprisingly enough, the room couldn’t have been designed better for a function like this. The ceiling was high and there was a stage at the far end of an open floor space. On each side of the room there was a wooden staircase leading up to a balcony that overlooked the crowd and stage below. The one on the right side was the VIP/Media section. It was equipped with two couches and a bar that was stocked with Vitamin Water and Heineken. Apparently, one of the bartenders would occasionally try and whip out some Tom Cruise Cocktail-style maneuvers, but I kept missing it. The other staircase was for the artists and was shielded from view by a curtain. There was an additional bar on the floor level and the drinks were all complimentary. I felt substantially better, but I was sweating like a damn fool in that place. I should have been drinking the Vitamin Water, as I had intended to, but it’s hard not to keep drinking free beer. We were settled in, so I figured that it would be a good time to send out a tweet that included both the terms #uncapped and @vitaminwater. They retweeted and/or responded to endless other tweets that included that hashtag, but, for some reason, mine wasn’t one of them.
Out of the two acts, 2 Chainz hit the stage first. He was dressed all in white and was sporting 2 separate chains, just as advertised. One of the chains was constructed from super wide, circular links. The second one was a thick rope with a massive medallion that almost resembled the type of sporrans and cantles that Scotsman have dangling from chains in the front of their kilts, minus any tassels. Both of them were a classic gold, as was the trim on his Raiders cap and the multiple pieces on his wrists. He rocked a pinky ring and the cuffs of his hooded sweatshirt exposed bracelets so gaudy and chunky that he legitimately looked as if he’d looted a Pharaoh‘s tomb. In other words, I liked this guy’s style.
2 Chainz is from the Dirty South and he’s
all about it ’bout it. He’s unapologetically street about his shit, rapping primarily about bitches and money. He’s also noticeably proud of where he’s from. At one point he asked if anyone had ever been to the Atlanta airport, which I found hilarious, as someone who has. The airport is huge and I’ll never forget walking through there for the first time and seeing a young kid (9 or 10 years old, tops) rocking a basketball jersey, a huge chain, and a blinging watch that was way too large for his wrist; it matched the outfit of his dad, who was accompanying him. Another time that I was there, we had just been asked by a police officer to move along, because we were waiting for someone in one of the no parking areas. As he went to inform the car in front of us of the same policy, the dog in the backseat of the vehicle began to bark and the police officer pulled a pistol on the animal. Our car was still trapped behind the threatening cop and the pleading owner in a screaming match with a drawn glock. When I think of the ATL, I also think about how we saw a rap battle at a bar in a super shady neighborhood where sketchy motherfuckers tried to sell me stolen packs of menthols in the alley outside. I think of seeing a ridiculous amount of stands selling varying Redd Fox t-shirts on the way to the Greyhound station. 2 Chainz was undeniably ATL and I appreciated it.
2 CHAINZ (real name: Tauheed Epps) originally performed under the moniker of “Tity Boy” and, alongside long-time collaborator Dolla Boy, made up the rap duo Playaz Circle. The Playaz Circle project lasted for over a decade and was even signed to Ludacris‘ Disturbing the Peace label for a period of time. The story is that situations such as Epps taking a bullet and his co-member getting locked up, created some setbacks in their career. They did, however, have one hit in particular with the song “Duffle Bag Boy” which featured Lil Wayne on the hook. Popular rap music doesn’t generally do anything for me, but that song got lodged in my head for quite a while after I first heard it. Epps made sure to exhume “Duffle Bag Boy” for his Uncapped performance, as well as various other post-name-change jams that were also about his mission to “get money.” That’s one thing about an artist like him playing such an openly corporate affiliated event: there is absolutely no conflict. Without any attempt to tone down the vulgarity of his subject matter, whatsoever, it was also clear that the rapper was performing the exact same show that he would have put on if he was scheduled to perform anywhere else. You’re gonna get the same jams if you fork out the dough for a high-end bar mitzvah or a paid appearance at Magic City. Whether you’re a fan of the type of superficially based rap music that 2 CHAINZ creates or not, it would be difficult to deny that he came across as 100% genuine and forthright in his presentation of it at the trapeze arts building on Wednesday.
2 CHAINZ currently has a mixtape out and a lot of people seem to be familiar with the tracks off of it, but his first official full-length doesn’t hit the shelves (virtual and otherwise ) until August. In the meantime, he’s popping up via cameos on tracks by everyone from Kanye West to Ciara. While the most successful portion of his career still seems to be in front of him, the experience he’s gained and the devotion he’s had to get to this point was more than evident on stage and in the way that he controlled the crowd effortlessly. But what I really like about 2 CHAINZ is his entire swag. While many of the suburban kids in attendance that have absolutely no reference point to the culture that Epps is drawing from may have enjoyed the set based purely on the novelty of that disconnection and hearing somebody rap about “pussy” and “money,” I actually really enjoyed the music that he’s creating. He’s been in the game for a minute and his tracks really have a throw back Southern sound that I wish more people would pursue. The first time that I heard Juvenile, it came with the almost incoherent lyrical delivery of the song “Ha,” but by the time “Slow Motion” came out, his shit had been substantially polished up in the studio. 2 CHAINZ is releasing songs like “Spend It” that have those rapid fire beats and deep spaced out kicks featured on old 90s underground Southern gangsta rap tapes, while “No Lie” and “Riot” are stark songs that even bring back those classic Three Six Mafia-style ominous horror movie piano lines. Back in the day, it wasn’t always enough to hear a joint with some rich guy talking about his cars, guns, and money; sometimes it was necessary to create a bit more of a tweaky, malnutritioned serial killer with a rusty hatchet vibe. I’m glad to hear it making a comeback, even if only a minor one.
Before leaving the stage, Epps made sure to vocalize his appreciation for one particular artist that he stated was a big influence on him, by giving a quick tribute to Pimp C of UGK. Then, after making sure that all of the “Haters” knew that they could fuck themselves, he wanted to offer his condolences once more by saying, “Rest in piece to the muthafuckin’ stage.” He just murdered it.
The most amusing and absurd part of the evening came between sets. I was standing up towards the front left side, at this point, and I witnessed an incredibly dramatic shift in the crowd, with one fanbase being almost entirely replaced with another one. The crazy thing was that, from where I was standing, I couldn’t see the Passion Pit fans until they were right next to me. I didn’t see where they came from or where the other crowd went. The floor didn’t clear out before it was replaced, either. It was almost like someone flipped a light switch and the audience members all turned into a a mob of young white men.
When Passion Pit came out, lead singer, Michael Angelakos was wearing a button-up shirt and a tie that it looked like he had swiped from the cover of 50 Shades of Grey. I was worried that their tour bus had made an accidental detour, winding up at the trapeze arts studio when they were supposed to be on their way to perform at a John Hughes-themed house party. There was a drum kit and synthesizers all over the stage. Angelakos, mostly just gripped his mic and stumbled around on the stage. I’ve never been too familiar with the group, but I’m fairly sure that they played a set at the Sasquatch! Music Festival a couple of years ago and I skipped it. The only thing that I ever remember about them is that they have a song in a commercial and that the song totally sounds like it should be in a commercial.
Based on a setlist that I saw, they began the show with the song “Moths Wings” and then went into “Take a Walk.” For a group that had enough keyboards on stage to fill the back cover of a Herbie Hancock album, they sure did sound like a regular ass pop band. “Take a Walk” is slightly more synthed-out than the opener, but the amount of keys on stage still seemed a bit like over kill for what they actually utilized them for. Maybe each member just holds down one key and sustains it. Next came the song “The Reeling,” which Adam pointed out that he’d definitely recognized from hearing it before. That track’s a little more upbeat and a little more along the lines of what I’d consider to be Depeche Mode inspired synthpop, but I still wasn’t hearing a great deal of variation in their overall sound from one track to the next. Listening to the studio versions now, I can understand why a certain type of people might enjoy these as pop tunes, but there’s obviously nothing groundbreaking here. If you knew all of the lyrics and recognized the songs, then you might get psyched up about each track as it came and be able to catch the little nuances that differentiate them. I wasn’t and I didn’t.
The problem that I find with Passion Pit is that they seem to be all nuance. And when I say that, I don’t mean that they are all full of complex subtleties as much as they are mostly one mediocre subtle sound that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s as if the song got pulled out from beneath the little additional accents like a tablecloth from a place setting. In fact, Passion Pit is probably the most apt name that these characters could have chosen. There are moments when the sound begins to crescendo, but it always seems to plateau prematurely, like a rocket running out of fuel. It’s as if this crew of “passionate” young musicians are set on trying to make people feel adequate at all costs. I suppose that a nicer way to phrase it would probably be to use the term “content.” Another way to put it would be “meh.” “Hey, you guys want to snort this ritalin instead of icky coke? How about if I roll a blunt out of this wizard smoke to go with it? If you hold your breath for a long time and concentrate really hard, it almost feels like you’re about to get a really weak and legal buzz!” There’s no risk in their sound for me and, in turn, no reward. Each song reaches that same point and then levels out; before any real “passion” is achieved, the tracks seem to trail off into a void, or a “pit,” if you will. It’s like riding a roller coaster for children. These guys are like bunk acid. Fortunately for those that are into them, this doesn’t prevent them from falsifying a similar intensity in their live show as well.
I saw an interview with Roger Daltry from TheWHO once, in which he spoke about how he began swinging his mic around by the chord. He said that he needed to find some way to occupy himself on stage, since he wasn’t playing any instruments and he didn’t want to stand around looking like a jackass. Angelakos has adopted the mic chord swing, as well, but he doesn’t do it with anywhere near the same pizzazz or conviction. Plus, he tries to mix in some sort of spastic flopping around the stage routine in what, I can only assume, is an attempt to feign that he’s truly lost himself in the lukewarm dud firecrackers that his band is lighting off behind him. The irony might be that the rapper who didn’t give a fuck about if he was coming off as ingenuine or like a sellout, came through with a strong performance, while the group that’s clearly going for a more “artistic” and indie approach, just felt really forced and contrived. Not to mention that they are the ones raking in that Palm Pixi and American Express money. I’ve said it before during jr high school pep assemblies and I’m not afraid to say it now: there is nothing more depressing to me than fake enthusiasm. I will admit that Angelakos‘ voice was pitch perfect the entire night, but I just wish that he had more than that one pitch, which he rides out the entire time. Emulating the lurches and stumbles of Dick Van Dyke Show or Chevy Chase pratfall, while gnashing your crazy muppet head up and down like a Pez Dispenser, doesn’t actually make the music sound anymore exciting or high energy, it just makes you look forced and suspect.
There was a point where the frontman wanted to give “props to 2 CHAINZ” for performing and I couldn’t tell if he was just trying to sound cool with the hip hop crowd and failed or if there was some subtle pretentiousness that he failed to adequately mask. Either way, there was a slight level of awkwardness with the transition between acts. During 2 CHAINZ‘ set, he’d asked the crowd to throw up a piece sign (representing a 2), at one point, and the middle finger, at another. Everyone complied. Early into the Passion Pit set, they simply asked the audience members to raise both of their arms, as if we were all heading down Splash Mountain or something. The crowd complied with them too, but it somehow actually looked even more ridiculous than having everyone flip off the stage.
It’s possible that the band themselves didn’t feel 100% fluid with trying to transition the whole room from a hip hop vibe to one of milquetoast electro. Before they came out, Adam actually questioned how they were going to swing that segue. Here are a couple of suggestions that I have. The first would be for Angelakos to have taken the stage with 2 ties on and drawn attention to it. The second would have been to have announced one of the tracks by claiming that it was all about “pussy and money!” As for his wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man routine, I think that he should probably just stand behind one of the one-million-and-six different synthesizers that they have on stage with them and simply pretend to play it with the volume turned down. Hell, Pig Pen pulled that move often, as the Grateful Dead‘s music became more and more complex for him. Plus, I’m pretty sure that’s what half of the other band members were doing anyway.
[here’s some footage of a new song that they busted out for this event, real special like]
It was getting later and we both decided to bounce a little early. It was nice to get some cool air and, from out in front of the acrobatic arts space, we could hear Passion Pit playing their smash Palm Pixi commercial theme, “Sleepyhead.” We parted ways and I headed home listening to Liquid Swords, one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
Overall, I enjoyed myself and there definitely were a few surprises. First off, the crowd during the 2 CHAINZ set was actually a lot cooler, whereas the Passion Pit fans would just aggressively push their way right in front of you and stand dead in front of my camera, while I was shooting. Also, I didn’t expect myself to be more drawn to the hip hop act on the bill, proving to myself that I still have an affinity in me for superficial raps about getting money and fucking hoes, as long as they’re well constructed. Remember: I left the house feeling like shit and I actually came home in a pretty good mood. The best thing about the Uncapped series for me is that everybody actually does win. The drinks are free. The music is free. Even Fader magazine’s are free (I forgot to grab a copy before I left). If you’re concerned that “free” actually means that people are going to try and market you to death, don’t be. Not one person at any time tried to sell me anything or convince me to sign up for a single thing. Taking the money that could be used for other marketing tactics and putting it into throwing free concerts is a great plan in my book and, if you’re able to catch one of the upcoming Uncapped performances, you might as well do it. I’ve been to a lot of corporate sponsored events, but they usually run out of drinks and rarely put so much focus on the actual performances. Usually, the music is just the spoonful of ice cream that gets you to take the pill. This time, Vitamin Water and Fader weren’t just sponsoring something by putting their name on it, they were actually presenting it from the ground up and it just all seemed like free ice cream. And even if Passion Pit wasn’t my favorite flavor, I didn’t leave feeling pissed off that I tried it.
View the full list of event dates below and make sure to check out the Vitamin Water Uncapped youtube page for more videos from both past and future event.
UNCAPPED EVENT DATES:
- 06/07/12 – Rick Ross, The-Dream, Zola Jesus, Omarion, French Montana in Los Angeles at Hollywood Legion
- 06/14/12 – Santigold, Wale, Melanie Fiona in Chicago at Marquardt Truckin Co.
- 06/27/12 – 2 Chainz, Passion Pit in Seattle, WA at Emerald City Trapeze Arts
- 07/11/12 – Surprise Performances in Portland, OR at Lumberyard BMX Skate Park
- 08/08/12 – Surprise Performances in Austin, TX at TBA
- 08/23/12 –Surprise Performances in Detroit, MI at TBA
- 09/24/12 -Surprise Performances in New York at TBA