In the schedule, it read something like, "Special Guest (Toronto, ON)."
Most of us knew what that meant: Death From Above 1979. What we didn't know was that DFA1979's reunion show at SXSW was going to get a lot of people riled up, messed up and, well, injured. Myself included.
I rolled up to Beauty Bar a few minutes before the band was supposed to start playing, at roughly 12:55 a.m.
There was no way in.
Beauty Bar has an indoor stage and an outdoor stage; DFA were playing outdoors. That outdoor area is fenced in. And upon going around the building to try and get into that outdoor area, I saw that chances were slim to none. A hundred people, at least, were around the perimeter of the fence.
I ran up to the back fence to try and sneak a look. There was a banner of some sort covering most of the action. I got my nose in a corner to see the pink-lit (I think) stage when the band started. I resigned myself to not getting in.
This is, roughly, what happened afterwards:
The hundred or so people (a crowd that grew larger by the minute) who couldn't get in surrounded the fence, tried to climb the fence, and/or tried to film over the fence. Many/most people were verbally admonished by the venue staff, one of whom -- who looked like a 5'6", 135 lb version of Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons -- got plenty aggressive and vociferous, screaming repeatedly, "Get off the fucking fence! Get the fuck down! Get off of there!"
Unsurprisingly, the crowd started getting mad at the venue personnel, all of whom seemed like volunteers with no real power and who ill-advisedly responded with more of the same vitriol. Some rabble-rousers started climbing the fence, and shaking the fence, at least on the side that I was (the fence directly across from the stage).
Shortly thereafter, people on the other side -- Stage Right fence, say -- started getting riotous.
People on the inside -- I'm guessing overstimulated, over-tired and pissed off venue personnel (and drunk jerks) -- started throwing stuff, mostly ice in cups, over the fence at us. One cup full of ice hit me in the chest.
Some of the assembled crowd, including a friend of mine from Montreal, apparently got pepper sprayed. (I texted him later, asking for confirmation -- I got it). Around this time, we started hearing some weird bug zapper-type sounds. Oh wait, those were tasers; that was the sound of either people getting threatened (or more than threatened) with tasers, or the fence itself getting tased.
Some guy says to an already agitated crowd, "There's way more of us than there are of them, and if we really want to get in, we'll get in!" At this point it's clear that the fence is partially coming down.
All the while, DFA1979 are in there destroying it. If there was a doubt in anyone's head whether they could still bring it live, there isn't anymore. Maybe Jesse and Sebastien hate each other, and maybe they don't, but everything I heard sounded crisp, clean, tight and ridiculously, mouth-wateringly, stupendously good. Off the top of my head, they played "Turn It Out," "Blood On Our Hands," "Going Steady" and "Cold War," but I really can't remember anything right now and might be completely wrong.
Coachella kids, I envy you in this moment.
Cops who were on their bikes, nearby, start descending on the scene. We backed up, wanting no part of it. That said, we didn't peel ourselves away from the fray because let's face it -- it was kind of exhilarating. A few minutes later, in the alleyway (Stage Right fence backs the club onto an alley) people start fleeing like there's a bulldozer bearing down on them.
It was cops.
And they weren't messing around.
They were yelling at people to leave, to disperse, to go home and/or generally to move out of the way.
We hear the people inside, like, organizers, talking directly to us -- and by "us" I mean the hundreds of people just trying to watch a show through a fence (with some more aggressive versions thereof). They say, over the microphone, that the band wants to continue playing but the crowd has to leave the alley for that to happen. That if people don't clear the alleyway the band won't get to continue. It was pretty un-punk of them but I guess I see their point of view too. But at no point did I think that the crowd outside posed any physical threat to anyone on the inside, especially not the band that was inspiring us to sing along, loudly, out back.
At this point, we left. I had injured my foot in the chaos and my friend helped me limp up the street back to the car.
When we got home, we immediately searched for news and this was the first thing that came up. It was the only thing up for about half an hour.
This piece by Lana Gay of the CBC was the second piece that emerged.
It is my understanding, FFWD readers, that this post is the third.
There will be many, many more. And I'm going to be telling this story for a while, so prepare your "No, seriously, you haven't told me this one before" faces, friends.