If I’d only seen the crowd, I would’ve thought I was at a Lightning Bolt show. The mostly male, white, 20- to 30-somethings on the floor surged forward with every chest-rattling thud, and the occasional crowd surfer flailed above it all like a white cap on a wave. The room never brightened above its dim, red lighting, making the whirl of bodies look even more darkly chaotic. But the men in charge of this mess were not the Providence noise band’s Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson. This was a Death Grips show. So instead, leading the fray were drummer Zach Hill, playing like he had twice the arms, and rapper MC Ride, in all his spindly glory, waving his limbs like some mad conductor.
But first came Mykki Blanco. I knew Blanco’s set had started when the ceiling of the bottom level at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg started rattling violently and I heard the rapper bellow, “Blaaaancoooo!” Wearing knee-high boots and a plaid dress, Blanco was like the club kid descendant of one of the Paris Is Burning drag ball stars. Blanco is transgender, but—as not all transgender women out there are bounding across stages and dressing like candy ravers on a somber day—the comparison has everything to do with the way she performs. She delightfully confused the restrictions of gender binary, bouncing from shout-outs for “All my girls!,” flipping her hair and prancing across the stage to clawing down her dress, thrusting her crotch and demanding, “Say my motherfuckin’ name!”
Blanco’s set featured only her and a DJ supplying the music to her Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss tracks, but Blanco made the show seem more bombastic than what a two-piece usually delivers. Her songs shook you with their aggressive basslines, matched in intensity by Blanco’s equally aggressive, raspy delivery of acerbic lines. “Haze.Boogie.Life” and “Kingpinning (Ice Cold),” two standouts on her mixtape, fell early in the set and felt like they were served too soon. But “Wavvy” found her fully warmed and ready to drag the audience into her blackened basement funhouse.
Blanco’s dark, twisted maze was the perfect path to take to the comparably eerie and ferocious sounds of Death Grips. MC Ride and Hill came out in a black hoodie and a hooded puffy coat, respectively, looking like two cautious dudes creeping around the edges at a warehouse party. But then they ditched the tops (Hill also ditched his shoes) to reveal bare torsos. Thin but cut and unsmiling, Ride and Hill looked like they’d just gotten out of prison, where they spent most of their time lifting weights and maybe stabbing people. Hill’s kit was set up house right while Ride strode around front and center. The only times I heard Ride say anything other than a song lyric were at the beginning and the end of the show: first, a yelled “New Yoooork!” and second, a “Thank you.”
Ride is an expert lyricist, as you can hear on Death Grips’ recordings and see on the band’s (NSFW) site, where you’ll find all of the lyrics. But I couldn’t tell what the hell he was saying live. Not that it really mattered, as the show wasn’t exactly primed for a sing-along, rap-along. Unlike the first time I saw the band, at Le Poisson Rouge during CMJ 2012, Ride had less backing-track vocal support, and that, plus Music Hall being a bigger room than LPR, probably accounted for the more muddled lyrics. I only caught a couple of people in the crowd mouthing along to the words. More of them were just doing an open-mouthed head shake as they tried to remain standing against the push of the rest of the audience.
The band played for about 45 minutes, ripping through one track after the next without a pause in between. Ride’s cry of “Guillotine,” from the Ex Military track of the same name, sounded like it was clawing from the depths of his gut, while his “Aye aye” snapped out of him like a whip cracking on “The Fever (Aye Aye)” from The Money Store. The opening melodic drone and “Push It”-style panting of “I’ve Seen Footage” sent the crowd into a dance panic, as if Ride and Hill had just started playing their version of a top 40 hit. Hill, not content with sitting and hitting his drums, jumped up and stood for some of his strikes, while Ride flopped and shook his sweat-drenched body during the set’s closer, “Lock Your Doors,” from the No Love Deep Web LP. After that, Ride gave a thanks to the crowd, grabbed his laptop, and he and Hill left the stage. There was no encore. They didn’t need it.