Words By Phil Chevalier, Photos By Franz Mahr
“What time should we leave for the show you think? Tickets say doors open at 9.”
Pusha T’s concert at Echostage had been on our calendar for over a month. I was anxious to get moving, as evidenced by the long strides my legs were making across the entirety of my friend and fellow concert-goer’s Foggy Bottom apartment. I was enacting an anticipatory ritual referred to most commonly as “pacing”. It would have been time for a cigarette, but I’d just smoked two. My watch read 8:45, and the evening was still very much in utero. My body, mobile without a purpose, was clamoring for a C-section.
“Rap concerts start late, man. And the guy I asked said shows at Echostage start at, like, close to midnight. So let’s head out at 10:15ish, cool?” He said this with the weight of his past experience behind it, which is substantial when compared to my own, next-to-non-existent level of exposure to live rap. “Also, could you just fuckin’ sit down? You’re killing me with this pacing shit.” My friend was right: I needed to calm down. But neither he nor I had the foresight to know exactly how ridiculous wanting to arrive at the show by ten o’ clock was, considering Pusha T’s now well reported post-1AM start time. “Here,” he said. “Take a shot.”
I drank it, and it got me to sit down at least. But pregnant people – and my friend and I were about to give birth to what we hoped would be a really great night in this case — are advised for excellent reasons not to drink, lest their baby come out retarded.
This concert would be two ‘firsts’ for me: 1) my first “real” hip-hop show, and 2) my first visit to the mammoth NE, D.C. venue. Echostage had been made familiar to me over the past year in name only, almost exclusively in the form of weekly Facebook invitations to rave-ish type deals that, mysteriously, each seem to be marketed as some variation on the ‘Dance Party of the Century!’
I shouldn’t need to point out to you that it would be impossible for there to be more than one real ‘dance party of the century’. It’s also glaringly obvious — and shouldn’t come as a profound revelation — that the process for determining which dance party was actually the best one of the century couldn’t possibly be anywhere in the ballpark of scientifically verifiable until after this century — and each one of its dance parties – is over. Even then, it could (and probably should) be maintained that the results of any such survey would be fairly meaningless, dance parties being the highly subjective experiences that they are. Whatever the case, it follows from my having so regularly received this sordid type of Facebook invitation that, prior to attending last Saturday night’s concert, I suspected Echostage of being the most annoying venue on the planet, perhaps even of the century – only time can tell.
We arrived outside of the venue somewhere close to eleven o’ clock. My fear was that I’d already missed some of Pusha T’s set. This, in spite of my friend’s assurances that we’d set ourselves up to walk in with “just enough time.” Just enough time, perhaps, to get drinks (they were $10, and really, really small) and find a good spot in the crowd (good luck) before Pusha would take the stage. Neither of us, it would gradually become clear, knew what the fuck we were talking about.
To the entrance we sauntered. Thankfully, neither of us had any stray contraband anywhere on our persons. The people waiting at the door — those handsy, no good people – would have found it judging by the rigor and sophistication of their search techniques. Security is what you would call a ‘severely no-bullshit operation’ over there at Echostage.
After a grueling entry, which involved a girl literally feeling around my crotch, you’d think that the scrutiny paid to my nether regions would have been discontinued. However, both times I went into a bathroom stall to pee a flashlight shining over the top of the door was quick to greet me, assisting a pair of hollow, prying eyes, belonging to one of Echostage’s many guardians. This wasn’t “security” going on here; this was a yellow-shirted paramilitary organization that must be chartered similarly to Blackwater; they were certainly going about the task of securing a drug-free bathroom in an ethically ambiguous “shoot first, ask questions later” way. Even with many of my rights having been apparently suspended upon entry to the place, as I walked into the absolutely gigantic concert hall I was greeted by what felt like the smell of one thousand blunts, demonstrating that surrendering basic privacies in the name of security simply does not work and just really misses the point.
The remainder of the time we then spent waiting for Pusha T to take the stage was dictated by a very specific downward spiral pattern, carried out by one man with a microphone. The evening’s MC, a long, curly haired man, was in charge of getting everyone excited for each of the opening acts.
The first two times I witnessed him do this, there was nothing atypical or noteworthy about it. Something like, “Aight y’all! Get ready for this next mufucker to take the stage! etc. etc.” But before long, after those two rappers – and, I’m not trying to exaggerate, maybe even a third — had walked off the stage, our MC’s sales pitch drastically changed.
“Alright guys…” He led with a tone that was closer to apologetic than even disingenuously pumped. “I swear, Pusha T is on his bus. He’s here. Ain’t lyin. He’ll be out here real soon. But first I got one more man for y’all to see!” He made this promise and broke it a lot of times. To say ‘too many times’ would fall about 3 rappers and one hour short of appropriate.
One after one, after three songs or so, nameless rappers would leave the stage to half-hearted applause, followed by a misleading decrease in the lighting. Then, our MC would come out once again, just to play games with us. By lying to the crowd, he was succeeding only in evoking palpable hatred toward whichever rapper was coming out on stage next that wasn’t Pusha T. There are no worse things than false promises.
“Please, please don’t hate me y’all,” was how he began prefacing his spiel by the end. This seemed to backfire for him. By attempting to elicit sympathy from us – by literally pleading with us not to hate him – he had made the gross error of acknowledging his awareness of having wronged us. That he acknowledged it made our hatred of him, and whatever poor soul would get on stage next, more real. He could have instead said, “Hate me, please,” and not only would it have been more honest, it would likely have elicited less frustration from the enormous, over-policed crowd.
But instead, this: “Pusha T is here – I SWEAR!!! — and he is going to be destroying this stage up in here! But sit tight I got one last act for y’all. Show him some love for me!” I was correct to stop believing him the third time he hucksterishly misled the crowd into thinking that the next rapper would be the last to perform before Pusha T, but by then I already felt like he’d made a fool out of me. Who was this terrible man?
Then, finally, Pusha T took to the magnificently lit stage, and, as should have been expected, put on one hell of a show.