For those that care maybe a little too much about the Clipse, last night’s free, RSVP-by-text show in the basement of Webster Hall was less than encouraging: the same set, plus or minus a song or two, from increasingly undifferentiated past shows at the Knitting Factory and CMJ; the same smattering of intensely excited but also clearly download-the-record-for-free type fans; that same look of near-panic in the eyes of Pusha and Malice — is this it? There was a moment when these tightly packed, reverent shows felt like they might mean something, crowds screaming that “I’m sorry to the fans, but them crackers wasn’t playing fair/JIVE” line back at Pusha right before Hell Hath No Fury came out and sold 80,000 copies, which is about as hard as a major label project can brick. Records sell better than that in 2009.
So that whole, “I see you guys, you know all the lyrics, you’re the ones that got us here” schtick that Pusha has been doing from various stages for the past three or four years has a noticeably uncomfortable level of irony to it now. An irony only exacerbated by the fact that Webster’s show was promoted almost exclusively online, coupled with an essentially tech-heavy routine — text your email address, get an email back, reply to that email, wait for confirmation, etc. — just to get in the door. This group has tried this before. It didn’t turn out particularly well. This deal with Columbia is pretty much their last shot at making a record with a budget and promotional team behind them: If not now, then never, pretty much. “Kinda Like a Big Deal,” the first single from Til the Casket Drops, has Kanye on it; it also sounds like any number of other songs they’ve done that haven’t gone far beyond the geeked-out hard drives of dudes like myself.
Not to say it’s anything but a pleasure when these two walk out on a stage and do what they do. “This record wasn’t really our record,” said Pusha, at one point: “But we the only motherfuckers who count on the record, so…” That’d be “What Happened To That Boy,” with Baby being the guy who doesn’t count — the Clipse/Wayne beef, evidently, simmers on. They did “Grindin'” and a total stranger yelled in my ear, “I love this song!” Onstage, Pusha is as fierce as ever, even if it seemed like in spots both he and Malice wished they were elsewhere. “I’m talking about…this shit is amazing!,” Pusha said about Til the Casket Drops at one point,” to which someone who’s clearly on the internet a fair amount shouted back: “What’s good with Rick Rubin!??”