Death Grips

When Death Grips “chose not to arrive in Chicago” for their scheduled set at Lollapalooza 2013, it led to outrage in comments sections, on Twitter, and in real life: Patrons at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge got violent when it became clear the band wouldn’t be performing at the official Lollapalooza after-show party for which they had been booked. Instead of Zach Hill and Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, attendees were presented with nothing more than some pre-recorded music and the projection of a suicide note onto a stage populated only by an unmanned drum kit. That drum kit was promptly destroyed by the furious crowd. It was an apoplectic outpouring perhaps not commensurate with the offense. As Gary Suarez of The Quietus tweeted in response:

A band pulling a no-show shouldn’t be a news event. Says a lot for the sorry state of American music that we value politeness.

It didn’t end there, though: Along with the announcement that Death Grips were canceling additional tour dates, it was revealed that the experience provided to those in attendance at the Bottom Lounge was exactly the show Hill and Burnet intended — and was exactly the show they would be taking on the road. They hadn’t bailed on the gig; they had envisioned the gig as an experience at which a live band or physical representation thereof was totally unnecessary. Even the the equipment left behind for fans to demolish was part of the act — according to DNAinfo, it was merely “a child’s learning drum kit.”

“There wasn’t really a show at all,” wrote Vanyaland’s Michael Marotta, following the cancelation of last night’s Death Grips gig at Boston’s Royale. “Not only would Death Grips not be performing, but they wouldn’t even be at the venue. Or in the city.”

Of course, Death Grips have always been a dick in the eye of the music industry: canceling an entire tour without informing promoters; signing to Epic only to soon thereafter take shots at the label via Twitter, release an album without the label’s approval, publicly share confidential emails from label reps expressing dissatisfaction with the the band’s actions, and finally, be dropped by the label. No one should be shocked by this most recent turn: Death Grips have made a career of confounding expectations, of conflating acts of rebellion with publicity stunts; there was no band in contemporary popular music more likely to repurpose their tour as a defiant set of performance art presentations — or, more accurately, non-performance art presentations.

But Suarez’s aforementioned observation is an apt one, and while Death Grips certainly seem to have crossed a line, it’s difficult to distinguish exactly where that line is drawn. From Sid Vicious to Beyonce, we’ve more or less done away with the notion that the performer on stage must be the immediate source of the music we’re hearing in the room. Only two weeks prior to the Lolla debacle (and in the same city), Lil B “played the most purely enjoyable set of [Pitchfork Festival],” wrote Jon Caramanica of the New York Times, “rapping over recorded tracks.” Musicians frequently take the stage much later than their scheduled set time, or leave the stage much earlier than expected. Fiona Apple famously stormed off the stage at Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom — crying, accusing, apologizing — because she was unhappy with the sound in the room. The Replacements were notoriously, shall we say, unpredictable. “Frequently, the band was barely able to stand up, let alone play,” wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine at Allmusic, “and when they did play, they often didn’t finish their songs.”

Even willful antagonism (or seemingly willful antagonism) is relatively commonplace in live music. To name a few recent-ish examples:

  • In 2008, Smashing Pumpkins did a tour whose setlist regularly comprised “a two and a half hour show that mostly emphasized new material, generally avoided old classics, and included at least 40 minutes of formless prog-metal dirges and artless, atonal drones.”
  • In 2009, after 32 years, Throbbing Gristle put on their first-ever NYC show, which opened with an hourlong set wherein the band played their score for Derek Jarman’s 1980 film, In The Shadow Of The Sun, followed by “a painfully long merch signing session,” and then another hourlong set, which reportedly “unfolded slowly, with the tantalizing prospect that the lights would be turned off at any moment. (They weren’t, much to the chagrin of everyone).”
  • During a 2012 Atlas Sound show, Bradford Cox responded to an audience member’s suggestion that the band play the Knack’s “My Sharona” by playing “My Sharona” … for an hour.
  • This past June, at Minnesota’s Rock The Garden festival — opening for Silversun Pickups and Metric, outdoors, in the rain — Low played “a 30-minute version of the stormy drone epic ’Do You Know How To Waltz?’”

But at least all those bands actually played. Twenty years ago last month — and also at Lollapalooza, coincidentally — Rage Against The Machine “stood naked onstage in front of thousands of revelers at the event in Philadelphia before walking away without playing a note of music … to protest against bosses of the Parents Music Resource Center, who were calling for a ban on explicit content in music.” Rage were pelted with coins while they stood there naked — a peril of actually being present while refusing to play. Death Grips are much less likely to be injured by a shower of tweets.

As Judas moments go, it’s probably accurate to say that Death Grips’ stunt (or statement?) is unprecedented, but is that not itself a worthy achievement? Isn’t crossing the line something to be admired in a musical culture that often seems to be content playing by the rules? Isn’t that what we expect of artists, and more importantly, what we need from them?

I’m reminded here somewhat of the massively influential Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović, whose work has ranged from 1973′s Rhythm 10 — in which she “set out to explore the physical and mental limitations of the body” by more or less ritually cutting her hand to pieces — to 2010′s The Artist Is Present — in which “she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her.”

Most recently, Abramović appeared in Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” video. Apparently she was the inspiration for that project. “Concerts are pretty much performance art,” said Jay, describing his relationship to Abramović. But here, he’s still playing by the #oldrules; he’s really no more than a distant cousin to Abramović. Death Grips are her children.

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Comments (103)
    • Specifically at 1:23

      • Here’s this:

        A year or two ago Death Grips played in Oakland, and apparently they wanted to play an “underground warehouse show”. They played in a space where people actually live, and they used a borrowed PA system from actual local Oakland musicians.

        During their set the Death Grips continually goaded the person at the board to turn it up and up. When the PA was blown out, they took off without compensating the musician who had lent them his PA at all. So that guy was left with busted equipment that would take a huge sum of money to fix, and he didn’t even play at the show, and lent the equipment as a favor. To my knowledge, they didn’t take any responsibility or even apologize.

        So while it’s one thing to try to be rock and roll and give a “fuck you” to label executives or even Lollapalooza for that matter. But in this instance, they really were screwing over people in the local scene, while at the same time they were parasitically co-opting the authenticity of the people who host and organize the DIY underground scene in cities like Oakland.

        At that point, they already had a record out on a major label and lots of publicity, they could have played any number of larger venues with professional level sound systems. Play an “underground” show, fine, but built trust and solidarity within the DIY scene, don’t leave people feeling burned, financially and artistically fucked, and wishing terrible things upon you…

        The Oakland incident was about egoism, being selfish, entitled and unaccountable, it was not about being “performance artists”, bad-ass rebels, transgressive innovators or any of that. I actually think that the internet music press feeds into the egoism of “mini-famous” groups like the Death Grips.

        I am not trying to be a hater, already plenty of that on the internet. I can’t truly assume to know the minds of these people. But isn’t it absurd that this group can book Lollapalooza for some elaborate prank, but couldn’t be bothered to help out the guy whose PA they blew out in Oakland? Karma, dudes…

  1. if you’ve been paid to do a gig, or have in any way, shape or form agreed to show up, you fucking show up, OR provide a damn good excuse for not showing. and that excuse better contain a motherfucking apology, not “lol guys we totally planned it this way lmao”.

    it has nothing to do about politeness, it’s has to do with respecting your fans, aka the people who allow you do your thing for a living.

    • Agreed. I’m not paying $30+ ticket just to be trolled for the sake of “art”. That’s utter bullshit, IMO.

    • as for the examples of gig-trolling you listed, a distinction must be made between the bands who were earnest in trying to do something interesting (low, pumpkins I guess) and the ones that were just being passive agressive fucktards (atlas sound).

      as for RATM, they were merely following their misguided path of mistaking their band for an activist group and behaving accordingly at the expense of their audience. nothing new there.

    • Also agreed. You can tell that these guys really idolize the confrontational punk ethos, which, is fine and good, but it’s shit like this that over time taints the performances and efforts of others. Why do you think performance art is despised by so many? Because of assholes, that’s why.

      I’ve never understood this shit. Hate major labels? Don’t sign to one, they’ve lost the battle already anyway. Dislike the corporate structure of professional concert venues? Play a god damned free house show. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing that right now, and they still want you to like them.

      Assholes.

      • Death Grips are no Sex Pistols.

        • That’s true. Death Grips have more than 1 decent album.

          • That’s true. The Sex Pistols were at the forefront of a movement. Death Grips aren’t.

          • Dammit meant to reply to Luke and mock shuffles, not agree with him! The lack of respect for The Sex Pistols on this blog is stupid

          • The Sex Pistols are legends having put out only one real album. I have immense respect for what they contributed to punk rock. Their legacy is set. I’m not even trying to put Death Grips on the same level as the Pistols just responding to the comparison. Death Grips are still writing their story in a musical climate that is very far removed from the era in which the Sex Pistols came up in. I’m just happy they are pissing people off.

          • It could be said that Death Grips and Odd Future bring the punk spirit to our time.. but it doesn’t feel nearly the same. I was just listening to a Billy Brag podcast and he talks about punk just HITTING him as a young man. We don’t have that, we have jangly/morose indie rock and trap rap, and neither of those sounds/genres are very political.

            There’s a lot or backlash against transgressive artists and I think that’s bullshit (at least when I enjoy the music of the transgressor lol). I think musicians should be able to not give a fuck and act like assholes. Most of our politicians, lawyers, cops, public employees, and bankers all do the same on a daily basis. When you’re creating aggressive music, not bills that tell us we have to pay more taxes, THEN you have the right to tell the world to fuck off. It’s like Charles Barkley said, “Basketball players are not role models!” Actually it’s more like everything Charles Barkley has ever said.

            My main point is that when somebody says the Sex Pistols are uneven, suck, or make pointless music, that person wouldn’t know passionate music if it punched them in the face.

            All that being said, Death Grips are at least as obnoxious than OF at this point.

          • I would love to respond to this in a thoughtful way but I drank too much tonight and this article is ancient by internet standards. Thanks for the convo. I really like Death Grips and hate Odd Future but I see your point. As a fan of DG I appreciate that they gave me so much music in the last 2 years. I think they are doing something interesting but I have no way of convincing anyone else of that, nor do I really want to.

          • Hell yeah, thank you for ur thoughts as well. For the record, I agree that Death Grips are pretty cool, both as an idea and in practice. I didn’t listen to their second tape much at all but it sounded better than the first.

          • One time Ian Svenoious went on a rant at one of his shows that kind of blew my mind. Granted I was a sophomore in college and a little drunk…but the gist of it was that “punk rock” was actually the capitalistic peak of rock n roll…because now you have bands who were willfully “self destructing” as part of their aesthetic/ethos; as a result, you got a product that, like a time bomb, would publicly “expire” and continually require more consumption on the part of the audience. Audience has to go out and seek a new band, that band implodes of their own volition, and the cycle of consumption is repeated.

            I’m not sure if the point is valid, but it sure is interesting. I think Death Grips might consider it.

        • I served with the Sex Pistols. I knew the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols were good friends of mine. Senator, you’re no Sex Pistols.

      • Death Grips are no Replacements, either.

        The ‘Mats may have been drunk off their asses most of the time but they cared to show up, and the chaos turned into some legendary shows. Not knowing what you’d get was part of the bargain, and that’s kind of why you went.

  2. This reminds me of the AnCo show I saw in Toronto this year. While no one knew this until sometime after the show, Avey was sick. They played a little over an hour-long set of Panda Bear led songs (and Deakin’s Wide Eyed) . They left the stage and played no encore. The loud chants for their return turned into boo’s when someone finally announced that “that was it”. I still thought the set was incredible, and was and am happy to have given up the cost of the ticket to witness it.

    I can’t say I would be similarly happy to pay money to see Death Grips, only to be intentionally provoked and goaded into destroying fake instruments (that’s assuming I would be happy to see Death Grips at all). It seems like a pretty dick-ish stunt at the expense of the fans.

    If I pay money to see a band play, I would like to see them play (or do whatever they do). That’s the reason I buy a ticket. Fuck Death Grips.

    • what pisses me off is that they only goaded people into destroying fake instruments. if you’re gonna intentionally rip people off in this way, you should man up and let them destroy your REAL gear. a similar concept to what eddie mcmenamin said two comments below.

  3. I cant justify what Death Grips did at all. I cant even consider it an artistic statement. It just them being lazy assholes. People dont pay $50 or so to go listen to a venue play an album while a drum kit just sits on the stage. Fuck off Death Grips.

  4. Doing this from a distance makes Death Grips giant fucking cowards.

  5. people should just be happy they got to hear all of Death Grips’ greatest hits

  6. Death Grips need to get off their high horse, or whatever the hell they think they stand on. They’re not that important.

  7. I tried to think about this open mindedly but the bottom line is no matter what point they were trying to prove a shitty show is a shitty show. I don’t think I would ever pay money to see them and I’m sure most people feel the same way.

  8. Meanwhile, Killer Mike & El-P are touring the nation, actually showing up, and giving fans an unforgettable concert experience.

    The importance of the artist being there is taking responsibility for your own music. During El-P’s set, there was a drunk guy trying to stage dive, and El-P took it in stride, calling him out, everyone laughing at him. But then he started slam dancing and pissing off some girl’s boyfriend that caused some real commotion. El-P stopped the song, called for security, got him kicked out, and even made fun of his over-sized gauged earrings.

    The artist actually being at a show, regardless of how the music behind them is produced, is part of why WE show up to concerts. WE want to be in the same room as these musicians we admire. So much so that WE shell out $30 for a ticket, $30 for a shirt and sometimes, $45 for a weed grinder.

    So when you get to see those artists live, and even talk to them after the show, AND EVEN get a picture with one of them? You can’t put a price on that. Needless to say, after seeing Run The Jewels over the same weekend this Death Grips shit happened, I can’t help but notice the incredible gap between the two.

    The sooner we stop caring about bands that don’t give a fuck about their fans, the better.

    • You actually crossed my mind IRL when I saw RTJ a few weeks ago Raptor. How’s the weed grinder?

      • I STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN IT!

        I bought the SuperDeluxe Pack from Fool’s Gold back in June. They recently sent me an e-mail saying there was a hold-up with the vinyl, thus the shipping delay.

        Of course that’s harder to digest when you go to the merch booth and see Mike & El signing copies of the vinyl and everything else readily available for sale. I understand getting merch out to their tour is a top priority, but it’s pretty rough having to ask yourself, “Do I spend another $30 for a vinyl I already purchased just for an autograph?”

        I did get the three Mr. Killums howling at the moon, because I thought that three wolves shirt it’s based on was a hilarious Internet joke. Props to El for incorporating it into their own t-shirt.

        Hopefully it’ll come in soon, but I do feel like I have a big comment in me soon about The Current State of Pre-Orders in music. Remember when a pre-order meant you were going to get the album BEFORE its release date? Memories…

        Did the show blow you away plb? I thought it was crazy how all the openers (including that Mike & El character ;) really helped get the momentum going that helped set the RTJ set right the fuck off. Such a great show!

        • My experience was a little different because I saw them at Pitchfork Fest. First Killer Mike did a solo set on one stage. Minutes after that ended an El-P set began at a neighboring stage. I was pretty blown away by his energy. I think I’m a bigger fan of Killer Mike’s music, but maybe would rather go to an El-P concert, he put on a hell of a show. Anyways, he did “Full Retard” and maybe one more song then Killer Mike came out and they did most if not all of Run the Jewels and melted everyones faces.

          • That’s still great that El-P took the time out of his set to Run The Jewels. Such a great guy all around.

            THUS REACHING THE MORAL OF THIS THREAD:

            There are much better artists we could be talking about that actually play their shows. Instead we choose to stare into the void and compare what we see.

          • I did think about how they would decide who wouldn’t get to do a solo set. El-P simultaneously has a huge ego and no ego. Seems like a good dude.

        • Just an FYI… I also was growing impatient about not receiving my RTJ vinyl. I too remember the good old days, when pre-orders would show up before the actual release date, and you could act cool and brag about it to your friends. *sigh* BUT, lo and behold, the record did show up on my doorstep Tuesday afternoon. So hopefully yours will be doing the same any day now!

          • I’m beginning to think the issue with delayed pre-orders lies solely on the old as bones vinyl format that I love so much.

            Just got an e-mail from RVNG about Blondes new album “Swisher”. You may recall the whole album was made available back in June digitally (YouTube-ally?) and pre-orders were posted for an official release date two days ago. Of course I put in an order for the limited edition vinyl, but as the e-mail I just received detailed: it’s going to be a longer wait for those special vinyls.

            This year has been a streak of pre-order delays. First with The Knife, then RTJ, now Blondes. Last year my friend ordered Lemonade’s new album in May (when it was released) and it finally came two months later.

            Except the same year, I pre-ordered Grizzly Bear’s new album nearly two months in advance and got it the Friday before its official release. That was great fun!

            I really need to admit that vinyl is probably a lot harder to make in bulk than I think. It’s probably quite common for records to get screwed up somewhere in the process, thus having to start over. But I can’t help but wonder WHEN those pre-orders are getting sent over to the magical vinyl factory to be made. Do record labels need to start factoring in the possibility of delays into announcing the official release date?

            (The following is a fake conversation between two made up businessmen running a record label)

            Genderless Person 1: “If everything goes right, we’ll have the vinyl release of this new album out in August. But if something fucks up at the magical vinyl factory, it’ll probably be September.”

            Genderless Person 2: “Well, let’s just say the release is in September, and if it all goes right, we’ll send it to them in August. Then they’ll be amped for getting it a month early!”

            (end fake scene)

            Maybe that’s the fix? Just push back the release date to something far down the line. Let people pre-order it, THEN you’ll technically be shipping it to the customer early! Lord knows whatever album it is will have been leaked already anyway.

            Neat. I solved a problem!

          • I have no idea why it won’t let me reply to you RJ, the damn ‘reply’ button has disappeared! So I will reply to you by replying to myself:

            I think you’re on to something! I’m still fairly new to vinyl – started collecting early this year – but it didn’t take me long to figure out the whole pre-ordering delay thing. It’s honestly to the point where I FORGOT I did a pre-order only to be pleasantly surprised to receive it in the mail or get a email saying it’s shipped. It’s kinda like Christmas, except I play the role of Santa for my future self!

            I’m STILL waiting on the AlunaGeorge album and that one said it shipped out last week, a day after it was released. I’m leaving for vacation in two days and if it’s not here by then, I’ll be frantically calling friends to stop by my house and pick it up so it’s not left to be baked in the sun.

            Frustrations aside, I’m hooked on the vinyl format with no intention of turning back… so conform I must with delays.

          • (Once a post gets replied to a few times you can’t keep replying. I guess so the replies don’t get indented off the page?)

            The baking sun is a real issue! I have to take all records I buy before work INTO work to chill on my desk and taunt me for not having a turntable installed on my computer. I feel your pain. Maybe that AlunaGeorge record was shipped over the pond? I had a BIG delay with Tame Impala’s “Mind Mischief” 12″ because it was coming from Australia I think.

            In other good news: THERE WERE TWO BIG PACKAGES in my door when I left for work! I didn’t even open them so, as you said, I can play Santa Claus for myself when I get off work. (Since I still don’t have a turnta… you get it). So Run The Jewels is in the house! Grind time tonight! The other one is probably After Dark Vol 1 arriving SEVEN YEARS LATER I’M J/K they re-released it and since I’m still waiting for IDIB to put up the order info for After Dark 2 on vinyl… I figured I’d splurge on the first one. I swear I’ve spent damn near $200 at the Italians Do It Better store. WORTH IT.

          • HOORAY!

            I’ve been eyeing the IDIB store for a while now for the After Dark 2 vinyl as well. Hopefully it’ll be available soon so we can enjoy it within the next century. *fingers crossed!* Congrats on snagging the first one! I was too late to that party and now it’s completely sold out.

            Yep, you’re right, pretty sure the AlunaGeorge album is coming from overseas. I wasn’t completely sure since it was shipped from Universal and it wasn’t clear if was the US or UK location. Upon further inspection from the email tho, it’s definitely the UK version… blah. It’s looking like it’ll be in the care of someone else’s home until I return next week.

            Enjoy some RTJ spinnin’ and grindin’ today!

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  10. As both a musician and an art school student, I have a lot of problems with this. The main one being that it doesn’t really seem to have anything to say. Either that, or the meaning behind it is so obscured that no one can really seem to find it. The only point I can gather from this is “How do we define a performance?” – and not showing up at all doesn’t really provide any answers to that question.

    So this is just provocation for the sake of provocation. Nearly every antagonistic act listed in this article was either done to make a point, or was just a band trying to do something different at the expense of a crowd-pleasing setlist. Hell, even Atlas Sound doing “My Sharona,” as ridiculous as it was, had the point of saying fuck-you to the guy who requested it. Death Grips isn’t doing any of that. This isn’t art , this isn’t ‘punk’, it’s just screwing over a lot of people by breaking musical commitments and wasting their money.

    Furthermore, posting a fan’s suicide note as a backdrop is obviously in really poor taste.

  11. It’s just about the most masturbatory thing an artist could do. Bands give the middle finger to their fans in the name of art all the time– the most archetypal instance being Dylan going electric at Newport. We as consumers of art and music should aways give the artist free rein to mess with our expectations, because the results can often be beautiful.

    But this is so different, because it’s fucking lazy. It’s self important. It’s punishing fans for their support. No one is going to look back on this and say, “I was at that legendary Death Grips show where they didn’t show up. It was the experience of a lifetime.” They will only be disappointed, they were supposed to be disappointed, and that’s total bullshit.

    It’s not performance art. It didn’t take ANY imagination. If you asked a bunch of music nerds to make lists (you know, because we love lists) of the most pretentious things a band could do, I guarantee “Not showing up to their own show” would be on there. It’s not fucking meta. It’s not punk. It’s not art. It’s jerking off and getting free publicity.

    I wish Death Grips long and healthy lives, but I hope when they die they spend a decent amount of time in purgatory, where they sit in uncomfortable chairs while Ian MacKaye lectures them on the ethics of appearing at their own performances.

  12. AH haha how cute they are john cage now? Yeah right. Also 4’33″ is awful. You’ve been punked.

  13. “Isn’t crossing the line something to be admired in a musical culture that often seems to be content playing by the rules? Isn’t that what we expect of artists, and more importantly, what we need from them?”

    I don’t understand what you’re proposing “the line” was in the Death Grips scenario. What line did they cross? I mean, obviously they didn’t show up…that was a line. But doesn’t really seem or feel like a line that has anything to do with live musical performance, or musical culture as you put it. I don’t doubt that it could pass for capital “a” Art or artistic performance or, as you said, an act of non-performance. But I don’t think anyone feels Death Grips challenged peoples perception of what a live MUSIC show should or could be. Does anyone, the author of this piece included, feel like they look at what a concert is in a different way after this? Or is it that they look at *performance* in a different way? The people at that show came to see a concert. Not a performance.

    And I don’t think anyone “needs” or wants live bands not to perform live.

    • Yeah that part is poor writing… Asking one question after another, without truly weighing in, doesn’t “deconstruct” anything.

      • Sorry that was intended to be rhetorical. The answer to both those questions is, “Yes.” The implied follow-up is then, “But how far is too far?” And the answer to THAT is, “There is no such thing as too far” (short of causing physical harm to innocent parties, and even that line is probably pretty blurry).

        Death Grips’ actions were (IMO) immensely arrogant, disrespectful, and possibly even hurtful. But whether they “challenged people’s perception of what a live MUSIC show should or could be” is beside the point; they utterly, radically defied their audience’s expectations. I’m not saying it’s GREAT art. But it crosses a line. The difference between a Bon Jovi show and a Black Witchery show (just by way of random example) is really pretty minimal, except in terms of scale: Band plugs in, plays songs for audience; audience buys drinks, merch, applauds. It’s a time-tested formula and it works. But Death Grips presented a rejection of that formula: again, maybe not great art, and certainly not a great concert, to be sure, or even a rewarding experience — and not the actions of two people who seemingly gave even the slightest fuck about the feelings or wallets of their audience or associates.

        But creating art is not (necessarily) about providing a rewarding experience or giving a fuck. I’m a polite person, so I appreciate politeness, but between social networks and a collapsing economic infrastructure that often forces artists to engage — always positively! — on an intimate level (i.e., “crowdsource,” in some respect), we’ve seen an increasing culture of “niceness” in music that seems inherently worrisome. I may not agree with Death Grips’ choice to burn money and bridges (and I can’t afford to do it myself!), but I fucking respect it.

        I brought up Marina (and intended that comp to be the “answer” to my rhetorical questions) because the reaction to her work is frequently befuddlement and rage. A woman takes a bunch of pills .. and that’s art? She cuts up her hand with knives … that’s art? She sits there looking at you silently … art?

        Finally, I’m not qualified to parse Death Grips’ non-performance for meaning, but I can throw out some ideas. Maybe they were commenting on the degree to which we have, as a culture, degraded the experience of live music. Maybe they were objectifying suicidal ideation, or personifying their own artistic suicide (suicide is a pretty common theme in their work). Maybe they were putting on display and into clear focus the darkest thoughts of their most devoted fans (or stans, as we call them nowadays, in reference to another rapper who did the same fucking thing in song). All seem plausible. And frankly, all seem compelling. Not too many live shows — even the BEST live shows — leave so much to the imagination, do they? (Again, rhetorical!)

        • Thanks for the thoughtful response, and, as I said before, I can definitely appreciate this stunt (because that’s really what it is) as a form of artistic expression or non-expression or whatever you want to call it. And I agree when you say creating art is not about providing reward or experience or concern for your audience. And while music is definitely “art”, I think it has it’s own set of inherent characteristics that, when taken away, it ceases to become music or performance of music and is now just Art.

          To me the creation and distribution of a recorded song and the performance of the song are inextricably connected. So the creation of art in any band’s case (whether it be Death Grips or Bon Jovi or whoever) is that recording. And in that sense, the artist has free reign to make something as melodic or dissonant or cacophonous or silent a work as they want (Beck’s sheet music comes to mind, or perhaps what people thought when they first hear Eno’s ambient stuff). And if an audience rejects that, fuck ‘em. THAT is the line that gets crossed or pushed or walked along in the Art of Music. And at the artist’s show or performance, they’re free to change or rearrange or perform or not perform whatever songs they want in whatever way they want. Again, those are the lines that can and should be pushed. But not showing up removes the music and the performance from the event. Completely. Then it’s just Art or whatever. And the ties to music become only tangential because it’s a “band” that is putting on this “exhibit”. And that’s cool. That’s great. But that’s not music. That has nothing to do with music anymore. The line being crossed or pushed becomes about performance. Not about the performance of music. The music is dead. And I guess if that’s the band’s ultimate statement, great. But it’s still not a show.

        • I appreciate the response, and I wish to back pedal in calling the above “poor writing”. You’re responsible for some of this site’s best reads, so I shouldn’t have hurled that criticism so carelessly. For the record, I understood the questions were rhetorical, I just have a pet peeve about rhetorical questions serving as the linchpin of one’s argument. It’s not as effective as the way you subsequently weighed in with this comment.

          While I completely disagree that Death Grips’ stunt deserves any respect, I get what you’re saying. I may be wrong, but I think people are putting more thought into this than Death Grips put into coming up with it. When they were dropped from their label, the whole thing struck me as a melodramatic cry for attention, and I don’t see this incident any differently. They’re jerking off to their own edginess; not showing up to your own performance as some kind of “statement”, or breaking a contract with your major label doesn’t really take any imagination. I don’t see any lines being crossed, because it’s not the least bit challenging to be a douche bag.

  14. Hmmm. Well, to chime in, I do think they’re very talented, at least sonically. The drummer is very very good and they have some chops going for them. However, the whole elaborate hoaxing/self jeapordization is becoming increasingly front-seat, and their artistry is taking a back seat, at least in the public eye/press spectrum. When you allow shenanigans such as the aforementioned to be your band’s calling card, its tacky at best. Death Grips are NOT the Sex Pistols. Different era, different vibe, different scene. To me, simply not showing up for gigs where your fans suffer the consequences is a jerky move. It showcases a real contempt and an incredible arrogance. If anything, Death Grips should respect their fans and the fact that their fans support their screw you to the industry. That’s fine. But actually screwing the audience/fans…..not fine. Hope they understand that line of demarcation. The industry in and of itself will crash and burn and already has, a victim of its own careless excess and tepid music output. Death Grips are fresh and exciting to listen to. But if they feel justified to become just as alienating as the industry by doing the same type of bratty tactics that major labels do, i.e., screw the artists, then its hypocrisy. Why screw your fans, death grips? They love you, support you and want to see you play so why deny them that? Many bands would fawn to have a slot on Lollozpooloza and you cheated yourselves and your fans. All in the name of …exactly what?

  15. *Lollapalooza

  16. Okay, this is nonsense. You can’t just namedrop Marina Abramović in the last paragraph and expect that to legitimize the Death Grips thing, or any of this. Sure, it’s a performance art thing. But I think that too often we stop investigating these things further once we’ve decided that they’re “art”, as if it’s enough to have high aspirations. So sure, the Death Grips thing is performance art. But does it say anything substantial? Is it contributing ANYTHING to the culture? It’s art, but it’s also passive-aggressive, childish, and DUMB. Art can be art and also be really, really dumb, and this is stupid. They’re pissing in our ears and telling us it’s raining.

  17. Meaning is soooo overrated.

  18. Death Grips just announced a new album, and much like NO LOVE DEEP WEB it’s totally free. To hear it you just take a cd you already own, write “DEATH GRIPS” on it with a sharpie, and throw it at the wall for 45 minutes while shouting “THIS IS NOT A GAME.”

  19. Maybe Death Grips projected that suicide note up on stage as a reference to the fact that they are actively attempting to commit career suicide.

    I’m no fan of Death Grips, but I’ve been passively aware of them over the last few years – aware enough to maybe check ‘em out if I hear about a good album or good show etc. but hearing about these stunts just makes me want to avoid this group altogether.

    I can’t imagine any other “music fan” being attracted to or supporting this kind of shit. It’s hard enough making it these days as a musician, so I guess it takes some balls to pull stunts that make you completely unattractive to labels, promoters, venues, fans, potential fans, and people in general etc.

    Bravo! So avant garde!

  20. Doing something unprecedented is not really something to be admired for that reason alone. That’s a shitty attempt to give “art” more credit than it deserves. Also I wouldn’t compare all the shows you mentioned with the Death Grips debacle.

    I was actually at the Low show where they played one 27 minutes drone song (to set up saying “drone, not drones”) and I was really annoyed by it. It wasn’t just the one song, it was that they only played 27 minutes and played in a very disinterested way. I felt as a Low fan that my money was being used by Low to make a statement that I didn’t feel needed made (although I agree with sentiment). I won’t be paying to see them again because I didn’t feel respected as a fan.

    However, I did understand that it was their right as an artist to perform in the way that they saw fit, especially because the show took place at a modern art center. They took a risk and they likely lost fans from it. That’s their choice. I likely won’t support them anymore because of it.

    Death Grips on the other hand didn’t even perform. If they did a shitty job, well then it would have been up to the audience to decide if it was worth their money. That’s not what they did though; they took people’s money and didn’t render the service. Hell they didn’t even go to the fucking city, which just reeks of lazy and cowardice. A performance, no matter bad or good or for what reasons, allows the audience to decide the artists worth which is exactly the way it should be.

    I don’t fucking want to pay musicians to make me think. I already payed a whole shit-ton to my college for that.

    • Also, hilariously, I took a class called Music Performance Studies and this is something we actually touched on briefly, although it was a few years ago so I don’t really recall, but basically everyone agreed it would just be a dick move.

      We also almost went to a Death Grips show for part of the class. Really glad we didn’t.

  21. Intellectualizing this to a point where you’re trying to admire it is ridiculous. I’m okay with calling it performance art (barely), but don’t expect anyone to like it no matter how much you intellectualize it into somethingt groundbreaking. Let’s have no one show up to any gig now? How about that? This’ll be as groundbreaking as the Beatles. No one shows up to any gig anymore. Just press play on the stereo and we’re good. Wait, why’d we show up again? Huh?

    Also, I have a bone to pick on the whole “do away with music not immediately coming from the performer” or the whole do away with “rockism”. This is silly. Go ahead and gloat that you won. But now you’re so distant from the music that it doesn’t even impact you that the artist didn’t even show up. It’s okay when an artist brings an audience close to the music by playing it directly from their hands and throats to the person standing in front of them. The oppositie of that is what we have here. The artist not being present, and then being appluaded for it. Madness.

  22. Even more than lazy, the whole thing just seems empty to me. Call it performance art — but then there’s good art and bad art and also there’s really fucking bad art. To me this seems like the latter because there’s absolutely nothing on the line. Michael’s right — all Death Grips actually has to fear is bad press and pissed off fans. There’s no real danger.

    And somehow, to me the worst part has to be the toy drum set. Nothing lost by destroying it. They come off as not only trying to be punk (which in itself ain’t punk), but as too conscious, pussy, etc. to actually risk losing something of value in displaying their art.

    All in all just a weak move that’ll nonetheless do great things for them in terms of publicity.

  23. If I may chime in, I think it’s pretty hilarious knowing that it’s intentional. But I also didn’t pay money for a show that nobody showed up to.

    I’m not big into Death Grips, but part of me wants to respect the statement. Then the other part of me thinks “Well…what the hell IS their statement?” Then another part of me just laughs when I remember I’m not a big fan of their’s anyway. A lot of parts, doing their thangs.

  24. I disagree so hard with Gary Suarez’s pompous statement. A band like DEATH GRIPS, whose entire shtick is mayhem and rebellion, SHOULD have its shit destroyed for failing to show (a fact that even they knew, seeing that they put the kiddie stuff on stage). I don’t think the crowd’s actions speak anything about “the sorry state of American music” but only that fans tend to reflect the musicians in temperament and so on. I highly doubt this would’ve happened at a Bon Iver show – people would’ve been pissed, and rightly so, but it would’ve been expressed as grumblings and blogposts.

    Gary, I don’t think it’s being overly polite to expect bands who you pay to see show up. You pay money, take time off of work, find a babysitter, spend gas money, WHATEVER, you expect to see a concert. As for the whole “it was art, man” approach – highly entertaining to me as a viewer, but if I was a fan I would be rip-s**t to be taken for granted like that.

  25. Ok, I really want to defend Death Grips here because I like them a lot and think that they have a promising future but this shit is silly. I’m sure a bunch of people will know that their no shows are stunts and their “fuck-you-to-whoever” statements are just statements made in the name of art. But, then there other people who don’t understand their brand of anarchy. Either way, at this point, it is angering fans (including myself) to the point where you question everything that they do. Will they release another album like they said they will? Will they ever tour again? If so, will they actually show up? Do we, as fans, put trust in them to make good on their intentions?
    Again, I really like Death Grips but at this point, they are the ones themselves who are putting the noose around their own necks.

    PS- To add to more of their arrogance, check out their website.

  26. Hey! Who else likes these “Play like a Champion” ads?

  27. im not really sure what the big deal is. Venues and whatnot do deserve a show if a contract has been signed, but taking the point even further, an artist really has no obligation to put on any type of show. The contract was for them playing at the venue. They did. basically. Its just not the performance fans or the venue expected. This is a performance art piece. We know for a fact the band is very concious of how they are marketed, percieved, and viewed. I have no doubt all their videos are carefully crafted. Its clear Zach and Ride aint just spewing out nonsense. The whole band is carefully constructed, every message is carefully constructed. They know what they are doing,

    Death Grips seem to not give one damn about fans or the media. Its like going to see a Dylan or Neil Young show. If I go see either I know i aint gonna see them placate and make fans and audiences happy. Their whole careers have been based on doing what they want to do. Anyone who listens to DG and doesnt view DG in the same light is out of their gourds.

    I think the performance had many layers to it. Maybe a statement on the fans suicide. Its clear they feel the set was art and a performance unto itself, and as the article states, they;ve been planning this, and publicly for years. They’ve done nothing in their 3 albums worth of dischography or their professional lives to indicate they give a damn about anything other than their art. Pleasing fans or critics, labels, seem to be the anitheisis of the MO of the band.

  28. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I think the bottom line is, people expected DG to do something. And expectation is art kryptonite. DG has never done ANYTHING, labels, the masses, or critics expected them to do. Thats just not them.

      People came to a show, expecting DG to play in person. Evidently, not aware of the fact artists can do whatever they want. And evidently not aware they spoke about doing this for years.

      Id be disappointed to if DG were my fav band and I traveled to see them and paid money, or if I was the venue and had booked them expecting them to play in person, but the fact is an artist can and does whatever they want.

      If DG wants to record a rockabilly album and release it via their website in 5 months they can and will do so. If DG wants to disband tomorrow they can and will. If DG wants to never make an album again, they can and will.

      • DG may not have done “ANYTHING” labels, the masses or critics expected, but at least they’ve done THINGS (recorded music, released it on their own, etc.). In this case, they didn’t do anything and expected people to appreciate it (in a way) for it’s artistic merit – of which, of course, there is none. It’s like those artists who call a blank canvas art. You’re not being clever or original or revolutionary or deep – you’re being a lazy hack,

        Also, yes, an artist can do whatever they want. However, I can’t sit around NOT performing and call myself a performer whose performance art is not performing. That’s stupid. This stunt was stupid.

  29. this has nothing to do with Marina Abramović, you can’t just telephone in a grand artistic statement and avoid any responsibility. Abramović puts herself through her art and inhabits it, for a much longer period than she expects any of her audience to do.

    You can try to say that they are challenging expectation of music and live performance all you want, but at the end of the day, all it is is a dick move aimed at people who actually care about and respect what you do. It’s Death Grips laughing at their fans for liking them in the first place. Fuck them.

  30. John Cage 4’33″ kind of a modern version no?

    Definitely not how I choose to express myself, but I do think that everything a person says or does is a work of art. You’re whole life is a work of art (a story really). Even the most horrific acts whether they are real or depictions .. Art… Self expression.

    If you’re mad at them…then you’re only mad at half of the participants. Take a good look in the mirror angry death grips fan.

    That said, I’d rather give $30 to a homeless person who puts a smile on my face.

    • No. Nothing John Cage did was meant to be antagonistic. 4’33″ when it was composed and premiered (in 1952, with Cage present) was a sincere artistic statement about presentation, perception, ambient sound and the nature of music itself. People focus on that one piece out of context, never considering how it fit into a career that spanned six decades and included hundreds of compositions. No matter how much people might hate that piece and hold it up to ridicule, it clearly wasn’t borne out of laziness or intended as a middle finger to the audience.

      The word for what Death Grips did here — and I’ve yet to see anybody else use it — is “fraud”. You lead a venue to believe you’re playing live, and convince people to pay money to see you perform live, knowing full well that you have no intention of even appearing at the venue, let alone playing. Even if they intended it as some kind of artistic statement, that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s fraud.

  31. It’d certainly make for an interesting story: “I attended that legendary non-show”

  32. “Even willful antagonism (or seemingly willful antagonism) is relatively commonplace in live music.”

    There are hundreds of thousands of live shows a year. Citing, like, 6 over the past four doesn’t mean it’s commonplace, it means the people who pull that shit are douchebags. It’s not art to fuck over your paying fans.

  33. and so it was, that the outrage spawned by death grips’ no-show played out as if pre-written by the band itself.

  34. So is it safe to assume they won’t be playing at FYF?

    • They’re still on. Amid the press blowup over their no-show, they posted one Status Update on their facebook, and it just said the date they’d be playing FYF Fest. FYF Fest shared that Status Update on their page, seemingly confirming that the stunt wouldn’t be affecting their scheduled appearance with them.

      On one hand, that’s good news for FYF Fest attendees, but on the other hand, it’s kind of douchey for them to — for a lack of better words — play favorites as to which fans they actually play for and which ones get screwed over. I know that the Boston date was the second time they cancelled on the city.

  35. **Cover Image Changed**

    Where to start? The Cheetos beard? The cool pentagon tattoo? I don’t know…

    Honestly, Death Grips seems to want to be “hard”, and they are hard, yet they will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be as hard as they want to. No matter how many sharpie’s they put to dicks.

    It’s just too bad for Death Grips that Death Grips gives a fuck.

  36. Honestly, even after reading the main article and the comments on this post I still am a fan of their music. Sure if I was one of the audience members at these Death Grips show or any show I’d be disappointed but there is no need to over-analyze this fuckery. As long as I get my money back that is all that matters. The internet is awesome in the sense that anyone can comment or give their opinion on just about anything but right now I prefer to not let the actions or views of any artist or entertainer affect me when it comes to listening or viewing some form of work they are involved with. If they said something that might offend me personally sure I’d say fuck ‘em but the less we pay attention to what people involved in pop culture do or say the less time we spend being angry over people we won’t even care about the following week.

  37. If I’m going to pay for borderline offensive pretension, I’ll go to the MOMA.

  38. It seems to me that Death Grips succeeded very well in making a point about how quickly supposed “fans” can turn on an artist if the artist upsets the expectations of fandom/ consumerism.

    • If the artists are whining about the “expectations” being showing up to a place they said they’d be, then fuck them. Honestly. I can say honestly that if one of my favorite bands did that, I’d no longer be a fan. It’s not even about “art”. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do.

      DG’s behavior is self-righteous pretension at its most insufferable.

      • It’s not the artist who is whining. I’m not even an avid fan of Death Grips, yet I was aware that they have been toying with the live format in various ways, such as using Skype to include a band member not physically present. Add the fact that they have been cultivating a persona of not giving a fuck about anything, and a stunt like this shouldn’t come completely unexpected. But oh, they crossed the line by blowing off a show. How grave! There’s a disproportionate emphasis in current media culture on pleasing fans. It’s their money, after all! I welcome a little pushback on that line.

        • Fans can be spoiled brats, don’t get me wrong. But without people paying money for performances, almost no musical artist could do what they do. DG’s behavior doesn’t qualify as “pushback”. The expectation was completely reasonable- you let someone put your name on a bill, fans see the bill, fans pay money for an appearance, and you do it. It comes off as an attention-grabbing stunt, and in that aspect you’re absolutely right that it worked. But it was little more than that. It wasn’t gutsy, or even retaliatory.

          I’ve known bands to walk off the stage when audiences are unruly or unresponsive. I can’t blame them for that. I wouldn’t blame DG all that much for standing on stage, silently, for five minutes, and calling that an appearance, because technically they’d have done what they said they were going to do. Perhaps they could have come on stage and done horrible, off-key ballad karaoke. The band could have served drinks and played a looped video of a bearded transient jerking off into a fedora for all I care, but the line that they crossed went from plausibly empathy-inspiring statement into full-blown narcissistic hissy fit. It’s no one’s fault but your own if you give the impression that you’ll be somewhere and then just aren’t- you yourself set the expectation, not the media or the fans. That part is just an excuse for the behavior.

    • yeah, i guess so, but i feel like the right way to make that point would have been for death grips to show up and do something absolutely offensive/stupid/repulsive/absurd/whatever. i dunno, jerk off in a pool of cow shit while screaming profanities at the audience, or something…. or anything! i just can’t buy into this idea that pulling a “no call no show” makes any sort of point other than “we don’t care.” and hey, if that was the purpose to all of this – and i suspect that it is, because that’s DG’s whole thing – then, okay. but not giving a fuck IS NOT art, it’s just not giving a fuck, pure and simple. and it applies way beyond the art world, too. example: i don’t show up to my scheduled meeting tomorrow, my clients call me to find out what the deal is, and i say “piss off, i’m not even in town.” okay, well i’ve shown to them that i don’t care, i lose business, my reputation suffers, and i’ve also established that people will turn on me if i upset their expectations. voila!

      and of course, artists have substantially more room to defy expectations than non-artists do, but this “lol we didn’t show up” bullshit is WORLDS different to me than something like cale’s 4’33″, low’s 30 minutes of drone, or kooky lady staring at strangers for hours on end. and while i personally think those examples are bullshit as well – certainly nothing i’d ever be interested in seeing – i’ll concede that they’re something. the artist was there. so i suppose my argument is, if we’re gonna let someone sit at home and not show up and call it art, then i’m fucking picasso. not literally.

  39. There’s a lot to be said that this is the most commented on event during the whole Lollapalooza weekend. It’s probably easier for me to appreciate, if that’s the right word for it, this from afar than those who decided to attend the DG show.

    There seems to be a lot of narcissism that is brought in from the audience. I watched some of the stream for the NIN show and felt dismayed at the sea of Iphones in the audience. It looked like almost half the audience was there to capture that they were there so that they could go post it on Facebook later. If that was the intent, those who went to the DG show hit the mother load. I’m sure there were plenty at the show who actually came to see the “band” and I certainly can sympathize with them.

    I am probably coming off as cranky aging hipster but there seems to be some vitality missing from these festivals. I wasn’t there so I could be wrong. Probably deep down I am just pissed of that Mumford and Sons headlined one of the nights.

  40. Hey, look how many people are talking about Death Grips.

  41. so when’s the live album coming out?

  42. Thinkpieces like this are what happens when ‘breaking the rules’ is literally all journalists can recognize. There are several ways to analyze when DG did that deliberately undermine this piece, but here’s one: in the contract they signed, I guarantee that their being present at the show was explicit. In other words, by not showing up, they voided their contract by not showing up.
    They also misled fans into giving them money under the false presumption that the band would actually, you know, perform for them. Being a dick to your audience is breaking the rules, but in a way that isn’t limited to ‘ground-breaking’ ‘art’ like DG; famous artists do it every time they charge $1000+ for a ticket. It’s not radical to deliberately fuck over your fans. If anything, Kid Rock charging $20 for tickets is far more radical, and doing something far more interesting.
    But seriously, this is one of those arguments that also come down to semantics, which idea-bereft music journos love to hop on. “Don’t you love breaking the rules? Aren’t you all for messing with audience expectations? Isn’t it about the artist?” Those are all things I would, in a sense, agree with, if we were arguing someone doing something new, not being the petulant, exorbitantly-paid likes of DG, who themselves seem to be a performance art piece for just how much stupid shit they can get away with until people finally realize they’re being ripped off and leave. Hopefully soon.

  43. I think it’s fairly clear that death grips are the children of idiots.

    Dick on the cover of an album – Wow, really groundbreaking shit.
    Organizing a show and not showing up – Wow, really groundbreaking shit.
    Rage against the machine standing on stage naked and making money for it – Wow, really groundbreaking shit.

    This isn’t some John Cale make you think shit – this is uninspired “art” at it’s least erudite. WORD A DAY, MOTHAFUXXXA!!!!!!!

    • “Don T, why aren’t you at work?” – boss
      “Performance art, you mark. Making you reconsider your preconceived notions of “attendance” and “compensation.” Keep up.” – don
      “You’re fucking fired, stupid.” – OBVIOUSLY

      Byeeeeee!!!!!

  44. I’m sorry, but selling tickets to a show where, up until a while AFTER the show was supposed to start, people still think that it’s a normal show and then purposely not showing up and calling it “art” is douchebaggery to the nth level.

    I do like their music, but I’ll be downloading it and not going to their shows. If you can’t treat your supporters with respect, they don’t deserve any either.

  45. Boy, is this article reaching or what? I have not “done away with the notion that the performer on stage must be the immediate source of the music we’re hearing in the room.” Speak for yourself.

  46. there is this thing… the greeks were about the first that started to put their gods up on a stage.
    as far as my studies go this was something like the root for the concepts we today call art. it was one of the steps (like also thales and anaximander did for geometry and maths) leading to a culture living in higher abstractions and symbolic regimes.
    we have some music sociologists that point out that we lost something within this transgression. to listen to music is something fantastical. we fall into some space and ground..whereas it was the realm of gods and spirits for other folks and rites it turned out to be something very lost and strange for us.
    even if this has nothing to do with this band or show, it comes to my mind pretty often and just thought to share it.

  47. I’m not going to defend Death Grips’ artistic integrity, because they aren’t artists. In fact, very recently I referred to them as “atonal shit peddlers” on this very site. However, anyone who goes to a Death Grips show knowing what they are deserves to get whatever happens. I don’t want to come off as trolling anyone, but all the whining and name calling is fairly Charlie Brownish. How many times does Lucy have to move that football before we start holding Charlie accountable?

    Lookit, these guys are absolutely devoid of any redeeming musical talent. They have little recourse in terms of relevance except to continually pull bullshit stunts. I tend to side with the author here, because I think there needs to be some evaluation of what musical performance “is” if music critics are going to continue to pile acclaim onto hacks. Expect some pretty weird/awful/disappointing shit if you pay money to go and see these kinds of acts. If they could stand in front of an audience and essentially provide a display of their art, then they would. (Oh, and I get that they play “shows”, but middle schools also have “shows” and have the audacity to describe them with the word “talent”. Same concept.)

    The only similarity between Death Grips and any of the bands mentioned above is the crowd disappointment. I think it’s interesting that the line from the Smashing Pumpkins effrontery “and included at least 40 minutes of formless prog-metal dirges and artless, atonal drones.” could be used as a description of any number of concerts in 2013. Yet we’re not so pissed at these acts.

    And just one note for the author, I think that the best comparison, in terms of asshole stunts by an act, would be DOOM. Though I just love that sonofabitch, he consistently does some fairly childish and discourteous things to his adoring fan base.

  48. Please tell me this from The Onion…

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