The one and only Insane Clown Posse thundered into New York City last night, riding throbbing bass lines and a tsunami wave of Faygo brand root beer for the Juggalo faithful.
Security at Hammerstein Ballroom last night was as thorough as a medical exam for each and every ticketholder, patting, prodding, and possibly even caressing as they searched for contraband before allowing fans in. It’s not hard to understand why – the Juggalo culture, as led by the Insane Clown Posse, is one that revels in drugs and violence, at least lyrically, and the band’s annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival is notorious for hedonistic behavior. But inside Hammerstein, while clown makeup, twisted dreadlocks, and girls stripped to their underwear could be seen everywhere, the crowd seemed pleasant and amiable, to the point where one Juggalo dropped to his knee and proposed to his face-painted girlfriend right on the floor of the venue between acts.
ICP brought labelmates Twiztid and Blaze as openers, who themselves have just been charged with possession of over 100 grams of pot over the weekend in Tampa, according to TMZ. Fortunately, the trio got released in time for last night’s show, and easily revved up the crowd with their heavy bass lines and songs about the joys of getting high.
But the headliners put on the night’s biggest show, in an elaborate display of musical showmanship and carbonated beverages. For those who haven’t experienced an Insane Clown Posse concert in person, Faygo is a Detroit-based soda company, and ICP’s Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope must be their biggest customers. Four enormous displays of the two-liter soda bottles anchored the stage, and within seconds of the rapping duo coming out, root beer-flavored Faygo was spraying in all directions.
Security guards donned ponchos while those of us in the photo pit had to resort to guerrilla style shoot-and-duck runs to avoid getting hit not only by streams of soda being sprayed by the band, but by the actual bottles themselves, which the band shakes, sprays, then tosses into the crowd and the crowd throws right back. To this long-time concert goer but ICP first-timer, it seemed like the Faygo spraying was as important as the music itself, with a gang of fully dressed clowns occasionally running out to assist in the spraying during “Faygo breaks” and bringing out more bottles by the cartonload.
The band, featuring a DJ and guitarist playing behind Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, put on a show which was both musically and visually elaborate. The beats were thuddingly heavy, forcing anyone in earshot to feel the rhythms and grooves, while the face-painted rappers traded off on lyrics and bounced around the stage with a high powered energy. The crowd eagerly sang along on choruses and shouted out favorite lines, and songs like F*ck The World turned into full blown sing-alongs. Some songs were more aggressive than others, but a definite highlight of the night was the slow-paced I Stab People, which saw fans slow-dancing and grinding to the macabre tune.
Even when compared to Sunday night’s bloodsoaked GWAR concert (read my review here), ICP’s elaborate stage show was gripping and impressive. Both rappers connected with the crowd, from the Faygo-drenched die hards in the front rows all the way to those of us hovering just out of spray-range in the rear of the floor, with their catchy messages of psychotic behavior and self determination. The band’s brightly colored stage, featuring huge “I” “C” “P” letters, gave a surreal glow to the entire ballroom, and with the devoted Juggalos massed as one, it almost felt like a religious experience, especially if your religion includes crowdsurfing and mosh pits.
Chants of “Fa-mi-ly” regularly rang out from the Juggalos, who, despite a supposedly nasty reputation, were all friendly and welcoming to this business-casual-dressed Examiner. A further moment of positivity came during the song Miracles, which, while demonstrating a surprising ignorance regarding the functioning of magnets, was as close to a power ballad as the band gets. Gentle blue lighting and a surprisingly powerful vocal harmony from Violent J made it an incredibly moving live experience that soothed the crowd into a gentle sway, if just for five minutes.
Miracles was was topped only by the night’s finale, as dancing aliens in cloaks revved the crowd up, followed by Blaze and Twiztid coming out to help spray Faygo. Dozens of fans were ushered on stage to join everyone in one final orgy of root beer spraying insanity and confetti streamed over those still happily moshing and dancing on the floor. From this Examiner’s perspective from the side of the ballroom, the endless salvos of soda bottles and streamers going back and forth between the stage and audience glistened in the stage lights like an indoors fireworks show, the rhythm of beats combining for an audio-visual experience right out of the end of Apocalypse Now. Even when it was all over, there was still an energetic tension in the air that could be felt and heard for blocks filled with Juggalos in every direction around Penn Station.
Insane Clown Posse’s music is probably not for the average rock fan, nor anyone looking for interesting guitarwork or meaningful lyrics. The bass-y, verbally lashing songs offer little to those who have moved on past adolescent angst or social struggles, and even the catchier fare still barely stands up against most mainstream rap or metal when it comes to stand-out songwriting.
But any fan of live music owes it to themselves to attend at least one ICP show, because there is no denying that the band and their fans have created something unique to the rock concert experience. Dancing clowns and root beer fights might sound immature, and objectively it certainly can’t be classified as higher art, but somehow, even for this jaded New York metalhead, throwing down with the clowns was a wild and liberating experience, thanks in equal parts to both the band’s production and the Juggalo response.
While ICP only hits New York once or twice a year, associated acts like Tech N9ne and the Kottonmouth Kings play with the same frequency, giving local Juggalos plenty of opportunities to paint up and rock out all year long. As always, stay tuned to the Hard Rock Examiner for further information on tickets and all local rock and heavy metal news by subscribing at the top of this page, or follow me at twitter.com/NYROCKEXAMINER.