The weekend of September the 7th was emotional for me. I had been planning to travel back home to west Tennessee to get some work done on my senior capstone project as well as celebrate the Jewish New Year. In addition to attending services, my New Year’s plans this year also included going to a rap show. The closest thing that I have felt to a religious experience in recent years has been attending rap shows. So, hopefully this logic makes more sense to more people other than just me. The plan was to travel to my parents’ place on Saturday and work on my project until Sunday night, when I would drive up to Memphis to attend the concert, then drive back to my parents’ place and celebrate the New Year with my family in the morning.
This is still basically what happened, but everything was put into a new perspective when the news broke Friday that one of my favorite artists, Mac Miller had passed away. While I plan on writing a completely separate article about Mac Miller and how is life and death affected me personally, for the purposes of this review just know that I was absolutely heartbroken. My trip to Tennessee, which was supposed to be a celebration of life and music, now was a celebration of life and music in spite of the presence of death.
After a series of extremely disheartening technical difficulties working on my senior capstone project, on Sunday night I drove to Memphis to meet up with my good friend Thomas Clark, who also makes music under the name Divingstation95. We met at one of our favorite midtown restaurants, Robata, to indulge ourselves in the type of savory and spicy broths that have restorative powers (as Jewish and Asian people have known of for centuries). Our goal was to celebrate life as well as music and friendship in order to honor a man whose life was a celebration of those things. We arrived at the theater early so that we were the first ones in the door. Before the show started, Thomas saved my spot in front row so that I could go use the restroom. While I was in the loo, a tall ethnically ambiguous man with a Fu Manchu and an Afro pulled into a topknot noticed my Mac Miller GO:OD AM tour shirt. He asked me if I got the shirt on tour and I told him I had. He told me that the GO:OD AM tour was Michael Christmas’s first tour and he would really appreciate seeing my shirt. Because I don’t really like having conversations in the bathroom I left before we could really finish our conversation. I resumed my spot in the front row beside Thomas where the man from the bathroom found me and told me that he was Michael Christmas’s tour manager, Gelobringthejuice. The Juice told me to find him after the show and he would get Michael to take a picture with me.
The first act onstage was Michael Christmas’s DJ, Muie who played one mix of “popping my collar” and “sipping on some syrup” by Three 6 Mafia, saying that because he was in Memphis, he wanted to play a Memphis classic. Usually I would agree that this is a pretty safe bet, but I think he underestimated the Caucascity of the crowd at a Matt and Kim show. Needless to say, I as well as a handful of others in the crowd really enjoyed the mix but the rest of the crowd of IPA-sipping bearded men and ladies with colored hair seemed more confused than anything. I think the DJ realized he was very much out of his element, and went straight into playing Michael Christmas’s opener, “These Days.”
Michael pounced on the stage with buoyancy and fervor. “These Days” is also a favorite of mine so I was rapping along to all the lyrics. This type of energy in performance was great in complementing Michael’s light-hearted rap style and Michael even saw me rapping all his lyrics and gave dap in the middle of one of his verses. Michael’s set was full of upbeat bangers and great crowd interaction. One moment that stood out in between songs was Michael asking the crowd how many people had heard of him before the show. “Okay cool. So, like seven. That’s okay, because the next song I’m going to do nobody has heard yet, unless you were at the show three days ago.” After he played the unreleased track, he asked the crowd if he should drop it. The crowd responded with a roaring “Yes!” and Michael responded, “I don’t know; my mom says I curse too much.” A girl in the audience screamed, “Drop that s*** mother f***er!” In jest, Michael feigned clutching his pearls as he exclaimed “Language!”
When it was apparent that Michael was about to do his last song of the night, I yelled out “Do ‘Grab Her Hand’!”, which was a song that he recorded with Mac Miller. He sighed, and looked out into the audience. He then gave a short but extremely moving monologue in the memory of Mac in which he pointed at my shirt. Instead of doing any of his own songs, he had Muie play “Diablo,” a Mac Miller classic with the chorus “Cause everybody got dead homies/ Said everybody got dead homies.” Of course, I began to rap along with the song, but right in the middle of it, Michael got off stage and gave me a robust hug. He then turned around and had his manager and photographer take a picture of the two of us. Before I even knew what happened, the set was over.
Matt and Kim are an indie electronic fusion duo, comprised of keyboardist and vocalist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino. I’ll admit their type of music is not usually what I listen to. But, I am so glad I got to see them live because they know how to put on a SHOW! Images were projected onto a giant vin diagram shaped screen behind them. They shot confetti and balloons into the crowd. And that doesn’t even cover the music. Their live performance sounded really clear and full, and blended synthetic and organic sounds together in a natural sounding way. In addition to their own songs, they worked in interludes that remixed elements from popular music and hip hop into their own sound seamlessly. Some of these interludes even played into Mat and Kim’s crowd interaction, like one moment where Kim took off her shirt and danced to chops of “Tomboy” by Princess Nokia, and then blended the song back in with her drumming. This is a pretty good segue into discussing how sexually open their show was. Their sex life came up in their banter and crowd interaction several times. They threw blow-up dolls into the crowd for their song “Get It”, and split the crowd into “walls of death” (a tradition with n punk and hardcore shows) which they re-coined as “the walls of Kim’s vagina.” Another moment of absurdity was Matt performing an interpretative dance to a “smoke weed every day” remix of Bohemian Rhapsody. After ending the set with their biggest hit, “Daylight” (which I know from the show Community), Matt and Kim performed a quadruple encore.
After the show, Thomas and I walked out of the venue and immediately ran into Michael Christmas who was standing outside the venue talking to fans. He wrapped up the conversation he was having quickly and gave me another hug and talked to me for what felt like ten minutes. We mostly talked about Mac at first, but he also asked me about what I was in school for and encouraged Thomas and I to keep making art. When we finished talking he told us to be safe. Thomas and I left Beale Street on a buzz of music, adrenalin, and bewilderment. If you have the chance to see Michael Christmas and/or Matt and Kim live, I highly recommend it. In the immortal words of Mac Miller, “Music is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing.”