Each time I step foot inside the White Oak Music Hall, I can't help but want to take a second and remember the once empty lot that I used to walk past every week, making bold predictions each time about the kinds of bands I would get to see in the now lavish complex that slowly, but surely, sprouted from it's turned soil. Now, some few months past a year after it's grand opening, Houston's new crowning jewel of a venue has indeed played host to an impressive list of some of the most notable mid-size acts in music. Names like Explosions in the Sky, The Flaming Lips, The Jesus and Mary Chain, A$AP Mob, and Chvrches are just a small example of the types of bands that have graced one of the three stages WOMH has to offer. Yet, the hall is young and still open to firsts, and I'm hard pressed to believe that this past weekend featured one of them as the notorious Death Grips took the stage in the main hall and polished the high, wood lined walls with their unique brand of sonic carnage.
Attempting to describe their sound in depth to the uninitiated would certainly turn this piece into a clusterfuck of tangents. They lurk in an obscure realm just beyond familiar boundaries of hip-hop and on the fringes of industrial-techno, but whatever kind of genre you might want to call them, you'd probably be better off making sure you throw the "experimental" umbrella in front of it. Stefan Burnett a.k.a. MC Ride, an aggro-flow master who's rap lyrics are as bleak and cryptic as they are energetic, leads the charge as the group's vocalist. Producer Andy Morin, a.k.a Flatlander, engineers the countless loops and samples he's pulled from some extrinsic abyss that embellish the almost unnatural onslaught trademarked by world renowned drummer Zach Hill. They are a sound to behold regardless of your reservations about noise heavy music; I myself admittedly find some of their produced work hit or miss. However, I can easily point out more than a few songs they've created that will never ever grow old to me, and after seeing them for the first time in 2015 during Houston's flagship music festival, Day For Night, I vowed I'd never miss an opportunity to see them once more.
Making good on those vows, I shuffled inside the packed venue on Friday, where a notably mixed crowed of streetwear clad youths and middle aged folks in black band tees and leather were amassing in front of the stage. The reason for such a mixed bag is easily explained by the fact that this tour actually belonged to legendary industrial icons, Ministry, who were bringing Death Grips along for the ride, not as openers but co-headliners. Random, in my opinion, even if industrial is a key ingredient in DG's sound. When the tour was announced, I thought it a safe bet that Ministry fans were in for a surprise by a band most of them probably never heard of and would easily overlook. My hypothesis proved correct shortly after the trio unceremoniously strolled onto the stage, the crowd abandoning it's excited murmuring to compress itself against the barriers with a cacophony of battle cries as the stage voided itself of any lighting. Suddenly powerful lasers bloomed from each of their silhouettes and cut across the room to dance along the walls; they wore gloves that shot out thin green lines so that every movement they made contributed to a living light show. Without a word, Death Grips was on, opening up with a wall of sound made up of Flatlander's bass-heavy synths and Hill's warm up of impossible rolls and fills, right before they led into the fan favorite, Lock Your Doors. The whole of the crowed swayed back and forth as it harmonized every word with M.C. Ride who wasted no time in shedding his shirt, as is custom for any Death Grips show. Wasn't until they reached their third song Get Got, that a pit erupted, and then another. Before long, I saw shellshocked looking Ministry fans evacuating the center of the chaos.
For a solid hour, Death Grips relentlessly cranked out a set made up of songs from all across their catalog with little to no transition in between. Midway though the show, the house lights turned on to reinforce the laser show and illuminate the band while they pressed through some of their hottest tracks like Guillotine, 80808, Double Helix, and The Fever. In my opinion, and this is the opinion of a drummer, what makes this band a must see live beyond the obvious energy they bring is the fact that almost every song is treated with the acoustics of Zach Hill's enigmatic drumming, an element missing from a lot of their produced work. Being able to riff and improvise doubles down his already erratically timed beats with his brand of technical brutality we've seen in his early work like the math rock band Hella. His style is goddamn filthy in the best way possible, and is likely the reason why I'll continue to never miss out on a Death Grips show or anything else he's involved in for that matter.
Ending their set with the song No Love and then promptly walking off the stage with little more than a peace sign and a wave from Andy and Zach, Death Grips were done without an encore and fans were left to compose themselves and remember where they were. WOMH'a state of the art acoustics had boxed in the mayhem of sights and sounds, allowing the band to forge their own reality; everything outside that room simply existed somewhere else far far away. Half the crowed either lined up in the insanely long merch line or wandered out the door while Ministry's roadies began to set up and their fans meekly moved forward, no doubt wondering what the hell they just saw. I took leave once the rush at the door cleared; I'm not much of a Ministry fan, so instead I took the short walk back home and played the night back over in my head, letting the new mind scar that Death Grips etched into my head take it's place as one of the most memorable shows I've ever seen.
A writer, local podcaster, and journalist from Houston, TX. Co-founder/co-host/lead editor for Dead Dialect, I like to kill time with video games, live music, bars, and being an MMA nerd.