As soon as I approached the Tabernacle in Atlanta, GA, I was immediately met with all manner of eccentric characters anxiously awaiting to see Death Grips. The Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop group has gained a cult following who is well known for being outlandish and “in your face”, much like the band itself. They were founded by vocalist MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), drummer Zach Hill, and keyboardist Andy Morin. Morin parted with the band earlier this year, and thus many synth portions of the band’s catalog were replaced with guitar accompaniment from Nick Reinhart.
Their current tour came as a surprise to many, given that it has been over five years since their last album. In addition to this, very little information on the band’s status was given to fans beyond cryptic social media posting. Throughout their musical career spanning over a decade, Death Grips has kept themselves at a distance from their listeners, opting to not play much into fanfare.
The band’s mysterious nature was reflected in the show itself. The venue was set up similarly to a theater; its grandiosity and elegance was juxtaposed by harsh red stage lights and, of course, the aggression of the fans. Once the show began, I was along for a ride with no breaks. Death Grips did not have an opener, nor did they have any interest in an encore. In fact, they didn’t plan to even take breaks between songs. The opening track “System Blower” began, and from that moment onward, the trio would not cease to perform for even a moment until the show ended.
The mosh pit formed immediately; if you were standing in general admission, you were going to be a part of it. This pit was not for the faint of heart, featuring a non-stop barrage of fans shoving, throwing, surfing, and falling; despite this chaos, the fans maintained a level of respect shown through helping those who fell or wanted to exit the pit. Along the way there were some brief moments of “rest” when most fans would switch to more jumping and cheering along with iconic hooks, such as during “I’ve Seen Footage” and “Takyon”.
In the face of such a long-spanning and high energy career, the band sounded as good as ever. Ride’s ability to maintain his ferocity without pause and Hill’s never-ending precision were both marveling to see given their age. The lack of Morin’s keyboard work was disappointing, but Nick Reinhart was a welcome addition to the mix that appealed to my rock sensibilities.
Reinhart has collaborated with the group in the past, and his aggressive and tone-heavy playing added a new dimension to many classic tracks. A standout moment for him was during the instrumental track “Runway J”, which featured the guitarist playing rock style riffs in tandem with Hill, then leading into the closing song “Hacker” with a guitar rendition as opposed to synths.
After following Death Grips' music for a while, it was a joy to see them perform live and their performance exceeded my expectations. A friend I brought knew very little of their work and left as a fan. Although their sound may not be for everyone, the energy they bring to their live performances can likely satiate the desire for immersive and heavy shows in those that want it. I, like many others, am left with the desire to see them again and hear new music released soon.