DANNY BROWN and ACTION BRONSON at the Danforth Music Hall, Tuesday, October 1. Rating: NN
I've waited a while to see Danny Brown perform. I've seen almost every other rapper I care about in the last year or two. This summer, when every emcee worth his bars came through town, it seemed odd that someone so close (Detroit) was staying away.
Then, finally, a tour date with Action Bronson was announced. Good news because Danny was coming! Bad news, because I find Bronson to be, within a genre of music that often takes flack for its treatment of women, particularly revolting (see: his photos on his twitter).
Later, it was announced that Brown wasn't coming because he couldn't get across the border. Then, on the afternoon of the show (that was now billed as Action Bronson and Trash Talk), news came that Brown did, in fact, make it into Canada.
Emails started coming in. Twitter went crazy. Phone calls. Texts. Everyone was excited. I was excited.
All this to say: I was in a sparkling mood on my way to the Danny Brown and Action Bronson concert lastnight. It was in one of my favourite venues, and as soon as I pushed open the doors, the DJ was blaring Worst Behaviour. (A good omen, I thought.)
Action Bronson was actually close to being on time for his scheduled 9 pm start, and I was willing to give him a chance. The former NYC chef who often raps about food and sex is a very talented lyricist after all: Blue Chips was good, and, just compare his verse on A$AP Rocky's 1 Train to all the other guest verses.
And he started strong with Alligator and Strictly 4 My Jeeps from his recent EP Saaab Stories. Sure, he was behind on his delivery, but he possessed a certain je ne sais quoi that made him OK to watch. And then, it happened.
During one song, Bronson brought a woman onstage, threw her over his shoulder, put her down in front of him, and proceeded to grope and shake her breast for...like, a long time. Then he tossed her away like a piece of trash.
Who was this girl? We never learned. But if you're Bronson, it doesn't matter. She served the purpose of giving him a half-stiffy and almost-whole crowd-approval. (It should be noted that she was game to participate.) It irked me that she was a nameless nothing, un-introduced. And yeah, worse things happen all the time in strip clubs and behind closed doors etc., etc. But this was a concert that young people and women and everyone had paid money to attend. Bronson said he fucks with everyone who bought a ticket that night. Well, not everyone.
And while the act was shocking - yes, even though Bronson puts out revolting cover art like this, it is still shocking to see such a thing happen 10 feet in front of your face - the most disturbing part was the uproarious cheers from the mostly college-boy crowd.
It made me sad.
A cursory glance through twitter made me sadder. There was a little bit of good:
Like, in what world is that okay? What the fuck?
- Stephen Carlick (@stephencarlick) October 2, 2013
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But a lot of bad:
- dude with the cam (@taythestoner) October 2, 2013
And mostly ugly:
When @ActionBronson jiggled that asian girls titties i knew i was seeing an act of god
- El Passio (@SkopeTheCub) October 2, 2013
I was told last night - a few times - that I had to expect that from Action Bronson. Well, no actually, I didn't. Everyone has their threshold. And mine was crossed.
And that's why I'm employing the Godspeed You! Black Emperor rule.
After all the hubbub over the band's statement and denunciation of their Polaris Prize, it appears to be the general consensus, as per excellent pieces by Liisa Ladouceur and Carly Lewis, that sure, GY!BE have done, and will do things in their career that might compromise their beliefs, but that doesn't mean they're not allowed to hold strong convictions. Just because they play corporately sponsored arenas, for instance, doesn't lessen the validity of the concerns they outlined.
We all must pick and choose our moral battles.
And so, while hip-hop - and popular music in general; rock and pop can be just as chauvinistic - can be treacherous ground for a feminist, I would have to remove myself from the world entirely if I wanted to avoid music that offends or degrades women (or homosexuals or anybody). I'm not willing to do that because the majority of the musicians I like are introspective, fair and intelligent, and above all, they make music I love.
But that doesn't mean Bronson gets a pass for being a pig. If it makes me a hypocrite to detest his cover art, lyrics and onstage antics - and the way he delivers it all without a lick of awareness, apology or humour - and still get behind Danny Brown (for all his controversy), then I'm a hypocrite.
(For Bronson fans: he ended up previewing two songs from his forthcoming Bluechips 2, including one with a Tracy Chapman Give Me One Reason sample that sounded really great.)
Between sets, I tried to shake the image, and the hurt that hundreds of young people with sisters and mothers and girlfriends were cheering for a woman to be molested and disrespected onstage. But I couldn't.
So even though it was super-rewarding and affirming that the crowd was hella more packed and way louder for Danny Brown - I was not the only one who wasn't planning on attending the show had Brown not made it across the border - there was always this weird discomfort, coupled with the fear that something else gross would happen.
And Brown was great, and high-energy and his signature squawk was amazing to behold live. And he did as I had hoped and played the made-for-live-show song Dip from his brand-new album Old. And spat old favourites like Radio Song and Blunt after Blunt, all while reminding us who the original tongue-sticker-outer was (Miley, you copied!). And he even finished with the perfectly appropriate Kush Koma. (Though, weirdly, there was no encore and the show was over semi-abruptly at 11 pm.)
But it was too late to enjoy any of it. The earlier Action Bronson problem felt so insurmountable that it depressed me. Which, I suppose, is how Godspeed You! Black Emperor felt when they won the Polaris Prize. A huge mix of feelings that ultimately, one cannot be quiet about.