Once you unlock the power, nothing is gonna stop you
Grand Buffet + B. Dolan + Beatards
April 20, 2008
“That cocksucking Nazi piece of shit the Pope was in town today,” said Lord Grunge, one half of the Pittsburgh whiteboy nerd-rap duo Grand Buffet, from the Mercury Lounge stage last night. “Fuck Catholic guilt; that’s like me still believing in the fucking Easter Bunny.” The two members of the group then went on an extended riff about how the Pope didn’t even reach out to Cam’ron or anyone from Dipset, how he didn’t even come down to Second Avenue for crinkle-cut fries. Later in the show, Grunge called Hitler and Barack Obama the two biggest assholes in history. It can be hard to tell when Grand Buffet are joking and when they aren’t, mostly because the group never makes any meaningful distinction between jokes and non-jokes. Their website has a shout-out to Ron Paul, and I actually believe that they probably love Ron Paul and hate Obama and the Pope, but they’re never going to give you straight answers on any of this stuff. They seemed really annoyed that they had to announce that their best-known song, “Americus (Religious Right Rock)” wasn’t actually a serious right-wing anthem even though the song’s sarcasm is pretty obvious: “We think abortion is pretty messed up / If you don’t want a kid, then don’t be a slut.” But then, “Americus” is probably their best-known song because it’s the one that makes their satire most overt; the rest of the time, their lyrics are all ADD image-montages and random jangled pop-cult references and vainglorious power-metal nonsense. On the surface, Grand Buffet should be the worst shit ever: two white dudes who turn rap into an exercise in goofball irreverence, bringing guttural nu-metal choruses and dinky synthpop beats. But Grand Buffet are about a billion times better than every other white joke-rap group in the universe, partly because they never rely on the easy punchline and partly because they’re really, really good at what they do.
Somehow, last night’s Grand Buffet show was the first I’ve seen since moving to New York nearly three years ago. I used to see them all the time in Baltimore, where their association with frequent tour-buddy and onetime joke-rapper Cex has helped them find a weirdly rabid cult audience. Baltimore’s almost a second home for Grand Buffet. New York isn’t. Most of the crowd at the Mercury Lounge last night seemed to be there for the opening acts, and the place was barely half full by the time the headliners’ set started. They mentioned at one atypically honest point how hard it was for them to get booked for shows in this city. They also mentioned, just as their set was starting, that “some of the earlier bands clogged up the shitter downstairs.”
But even if Grand Buffet look at everything else in the world as an absurd joke, they take their live show very, very seriously. They’re both extremely charismatic dudes, and they’ve got their show down to a science: playing off each other, busting out synchronized dances, never losing their place even when they’re rapping while standing, literally, on their heads. Grape-A-Don, for some reason, rapped half a verse with a cinderblock balanced on his head. And the group’s big choruses were legitimately thrilling, both of them wailing heavenward with absolute fury even when their lyrics were basically just glorified video-game jargon. Every critic has one group to whom they’re eternally devoted to the point of total irrationality, and Grand Buffet is mine. Critical faculties fail me when I’m talking about them. I don’t know which album is their best or which live show I’ve seen has been the most fun because the group’s entire existence just sort of congeals into one giant melted neon puddle of awesome. I’m a total cheerleader, and I’m OK with that. But even when I recognize my own herb status, I can’t get why these guys would have any trouble finding shows around these parts. People are sleeping.
I basically had to be a full-on Grand Buffet stan to make it through their openers. Consider, for example, B. Dolan, a huge bearded guy who started out his set in a rubber Hillary Clinton mask, ranting unintelligibly over the “Mighty Healthy” beat. I was getting very, very strong Sage Francis vibes off this guy even before he announced that he shared a hometown (Providence) and a record label (Strange Famous) with Sage. Grand Buffet have opened for Sage Francis more than a few times, and maybe Dolan’s inclusion on this bill was a favor repaid. Or maybe they really like him; as overblown poetry-slam crust-rap goes, Dolan was mostly fine. He doesn’t like Jesus or Hot 97 or, um, Immortal Technique. (Immortal Technique is homophobic.) The first of his two straight-up poetry-slam pieces was actually pretty stirring, even for someone who’s spent a lifetime studiously avoiding poetry slams. The second, though, was something else. The last time I saw Sage Francis, he and his entire band ended the set by kneeling and extending their arms toward the DJ, who was chopping up the Hendrix “Star-Spangled Banner” with Martin Luther King speeches, and Dolan’s big finale made that look subtle. Dolan started out this piece by talking about minstrel shows, about how white people deserved to be mercilessly parodied via minstrel show way more than any other race. Then he strapped on a bloody apron, slathered himself in white clown makeup, and delivered a poem where he was supposed to be the embodiment of America’s dark side. This means I spent part of my Sunday night, a night during which NBA playoff games were taking place, watching ironic whiteface evil-clown slam-poetry. This was a bit much.
Ironic hipster-rap trio the Beatards started off their set by inviting a human beatbox up onstage, which oof. That beatbox wasn’t the last person they’d invite up onstage; about half their set was taken up by guest-spots. I sort of liked the two guys who rapped like Busdriver who came up for a spirited little posse-cut. I didn’t like the embarrassingly sincere singer/rapper duo who sang and rapped a love song to each other, sounding like a fake-ass City High or something. I also don’t think it was a great idea for the two rappers in the Beatards to let their DJ sing so often. This was pretty much rap show as NYU dorm-room party. I liked a couple of songs, the ones where they’d rap all vulnerably over blissed-out summery beats about growing up skateboarding or whatever. But when they tried to do sexed-up club-jams, which was often, they came off like a poor man’s Plastic Little, which is a frightening thing to contemplate. They also talked a whole lot about moving from Baltimore to Brooklyn; as a Baltimore-to-Brooklyn transplant, this should’ve been something I’d be amped to hear about. But they also talked about listening to go-go on WPGC, which is straight up Montgomery County shit; people in Baltimore overwhelmingly tend to hate go-go. And not even Marlo Stanfield could’ve made the one guy’s white-on-white Orioles hat work. I’m not one to call other people out on authenticity issues, but I’d love to know where in Baltimore these guys come from.