Concert Review

Insane Clown Posse's Dark Circus Came To Mesa and Made Everything Sticky

Is it just me or are people who are afraid of clowns kinda dumb?

Fear of masks (masklophobia) makes sense to me — it could be anything under there, or even spookier, maybe there isn’t a face at all! But a clown is just an idiot in makeup — what’s so intimidating about that? I don’t understand.

Doesn’t matter, I guess, because coulrophobia — fear of clowns — is here to stay, affecting an estimated 12 percent of Americans. I don’t need to remind you that people across the country are shitting their pants right now over alleged clown sightings this year, but I’ve been convinced this is all just a guerilla marketing scheme surrounding the remake of Stephen King’s It.

It goes without saying that Insane Clown Posse, the Detroit horrorcore hip-hop duo, would possess much less shock value if people weren’t afraid of the Bozos and Krustys of the world.

These people are animals. But I like animals.

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I can’t say I’ve ever been a giant fan of Violent J or Shaggy 2 Dope, or that I know much of their music aside from the hits. My only extended exposure to ICP was after eating a fistful of mushrooms and driving around Surprise while my high school friend insisted on playing them for me. It was enlightening, but I didn’t get hooked, and I don’t think I ever will, yet that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate that other people like it.

I was still curious what the appeal is, so last night I found myself at Club Red in Mesa. I tried to catch them two years ago, but they canceled their gig for some reason.

I learned a few rowdy folks had already been 86ed. I met a dude with hair like a ghillie suit and a big green ICP shirt who told me he drove here from the Tohono O'odham Nation. He said everyone here is family — a sentiment I’ve heard before in documentaries about the Gathering of the Juggalos — and I was encouraged to go up and meet people. As if to prove my point, he instantly made friends with a stumbling drunk who screamed, “Fuck yeah it’s my birthday, fuck yeah I can hardly stand, fuck yeah, fuck yeah.” Together, they began chanting the lyrics to “Chicken Huntin’” and many on the patio joined in.

I met a dude in a marijuana tee and his girlfriend, who told me I looked stoned as fuck, and said they drove all the way from Vegas. I noticed a guy old enough to be my grandpa standing beside me wearing glasses, jeans, and a striped long-sleeve button-down. Was he somebody’s chaperone? I wondered. Surely, someone dragged this dude here against his will. But during the show he was smiling immensely.

Okay, I admit the face paint many audience members sported could be a little unnerving at first. Some of it was really decent — most of it was not. I get that’s the point, an artistic expression used by antique stores known as "shabby chic." The crappier, more smeared and greasy your makeup, the more hideous and wicked you look. One guy, who looked dazed, had just a slight smear of red underneath his nose. I wasn’t sure if he’d been in a fight or not.

I thought it was fun seeing so many people like this. It reminded me of a rave. I had considered wearing regular clown makeup to the show, maybe even making balloon animals, but I convinced myself my attempt at irony would have been a waste of time.

Someone said I would be soaked in Faygo, the soft drink of choice for the discerning Juggalo. I knew the liquid is sprayed liberally at some ICP shows, but surely Club Red wasn’t dumb enough to allow it at this one. I’m pretty sure Crescent Ballroom still regrets bringing Eric Andre here after he sprayed curdled milk and mustard everywhere.

But Club Red was that dumb. Oh, goodie, this would be fun. When I walked inside, I noticed their speakers and sections of the wall were wrapped in clear plastic. I had considered bringing along a Ziploc baggie to place my phone and wallet in, but figured that would seem suspicious to whoever rifled my pockets at the door. So I asked for something to improvise, but all they had was a giant 65-gallon trash bag. Good enough. I absurdly wrapped my gear in it and shoved the thing in my pocket. I was ready to get soaked.
A low thundering growl announced it was time. With a "whoop whoop" the horde on the patio entered the main gates and stood in rows alongside the bar and a gigantic merch booth. The stage was draped in a black curtain. Someone screamed in my face, “I’m on fucking coke!” and all around us burly men were violently hugging each other around the neck, swaying like luchadores in headlocks. The excitement was equally tense and euphoric.

The curtain dropped. The clowns appeared, already pacing like tigers, invoking what seemed to be some kind of incantation, and the audience began chant-rapping—what I will refer here on out to as ‘chrapping’—to “Riddle Box” and “The Show Must Go On.”

The duo had demanding stage presence, their demonic painted faces glowing in the epileptic laser light show glow. It wasn’t long before the Faygo clowns arrived — four or five of them, dressed in black chemsuits with atrocious rubber masks — equipped with 2-liter bottles of Diet Cola, which they sprayed on the sea of cell phones like champagne at the end of a NASCAR race. The ceiling, floor, and walls were soon coated. They played the chicken song almost immediately, tossing a dummy into the crowd that was soon shredded. White feathers flew everywhere.

Then a brawl broke out right in front of me. There were two or three main dudes going at it, with another five or six people trying to pull them all apart. The tangled group rolled and swayed and pushed, knocking over tables scattered with orphan drinks. No less than five security guards rushed the mob, but it took considerable effort to pull them apart. The blood on one guy’s face was definitely real. His ICP shirt was ripped down his back, so now he seemed to be wearing an apron upside down. A security guard dragged away his aggressor, screaming “Get out of here, motherfucker!”

The show really did go on. The rappers didn’t miss a beat or even seem to notice. Around us, people cheered and laughed and moved into their spot once security was done escorting certain people out. I was sprayed in the back with Faygo for the first time. It made me laugh.
I saw two security guards making a mad dash toward the front of the stage, pushing people aside with their flashlights. Who knows what they were after. I scurried in their wake and that’s how I got to be close to the stage. I like using this trick at concerts.

During “Toy Box,” ICP brought out a giant rubber ball, a teddy bear and oversized inflatable hammers and hatchets. They followed with a slow song about necrophilia, then a song about cannibalism and bodies in the street. During “Headless Boogie” the stagehands began throwing streamers over the immense ceiling fan in the room. Its blades were each fifteen feet long, but it was soon choking on the amount of crepe paper. A security guard was frantically tugging it down and it was briefly turned off, making the room much hotter.

Shaggy rocketed a bottle of Faygo off his back and into the fan. I noticed there were entire carts onstage filled with the drink — they were refilled at least once — and one of the rappers even said Faygo was "sponsoring" the night. And I got fairly drenched in it, to my delight. I hate soda and rarely drink it, but this felt weird and gross and fun.

(It’s interesting that this soft drink was relatively unknown in Arizona until ICP popularized it, and the parent company, National Beverage Corp, also makes LaCroix, another fringe soda pop beloved by hipsters.)

The evening was filled with grease, high fructose corn syrup and wait? Was that the smell of pot? Finally! How could it go this long without someone tugging a joint in here? Mesa was beginning to disappoint me.

At this point, I began to suspect all of these Insane Clown Posse songs were using the exact same beat. If it wasn’t for the change in antics onstage, I wouldn’t have known the songs were any different. I treated this as more of a minstrel show than a concert — this wasn’t music, it was performance art with a beat. A shitty, simplistic beat that is probably available for free in GarageBand as "Hip Hop Rhythm 3." But the audience knew all the lyrics by heart and they chrapped along exuberantly, arms flapping, drinking in the Faygo shower. To the fans, the lyrics are far, far more important than anything else going on.

What’s in those lyrics? All the violence, depravity and mutilating corpses you’ve ever dreamed of, which might horrify your grandma. To me, it’s incredibly boring. This isn’t territory Slayer or Cannibal Corpse haven’t covered before. Exploitation like this exists in the real world — try reading about Boko Haram or Syria if you want to be grossed out — so I don’t really get the appeal. 
Insane Clown Posse gleefully likes to self-describe as the ‘World’s Most Hated Band.’ Some critics feel this designation is more deserving of acts like Nickleback, U2 or Creed or something.

Bullshit. In 2011, the fucking FBI branded Juggalos a "loosely-organized hybrid gang," which was little more than a systemic approach to oppressing a certain demographic and violating free speech. Juggalos are pulled over for having the stickers on their cars and stopped by police on the street for wearing Juggalo clothing. Got one of them hatchetman tattoos? It can stop you from being able to join the military. In Cottonwood, Arizona, one man even lost custody of his son solely for being a fan of ICP.

It’s pretty messed up, all of it, and I’m glad Insane Clown Posse is taking the FBI to court over this. No other musical group in the United States catches as much flak as ICP.

Actually, I was a bit surprised at the low police presence at the show. I hadn’t seen a single cop on my way in. That changed when ICP finished their last song and lights sprang up and the stage was slowly dismantled — no encore —  and people began to file out. They left behind a swamp of muddy aspartame and crushed bottles, which some people began to collect as souvenirs. I can’t begin to imagine the ant problem Club Red is going to have. A man with a smeared cloak of orange paint on his face began wailing: “Where y’all going?”

Chrapping “Magic magic ninjas what” to themselves, the horde was soon in the parking lot again. So that’s where all the cops were. They had both ends of the parking lot blocked off, at least 15 officers and a half dozen squad cars, and they slowly began to pick off the intoxicated drivers. Juggalos were blaring their stereos from their cars and a man pushing a lady in a wheelchair ran over my foot and jammed into another guy, snarling, “I will run you the fuck over, you fat bastard.” People were arguing all around me and had been all night. A geriatric woman pushed her walker, the biggest grin on her face. These people are animals. But I like animals.

Troy Farah can be found on Twitter: @filth_filler
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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah