The city’s down the highway. Follow the skytrain. It’s a glistening jewel just over the next hill. There might be plumes of black smoke rising out of it, but don’t worry about that, it’s just another sign that something is seriously awry in the human psyche. Especially at risk are any human souls residing in the suburbs. A comfortable, familiar risk by most measures.
Social networks have revealed that many of the guilty parties during the riots were financially well-off suburban youths. High school students with scholarships and brand new clothes, living in houses with yards on both sides, out in the highway hill country. But this isn’t about the riots - I’ll get to that some other time. This is about a concert in the Burbs the night after the riots. But it’s a story, like many of my stories, about connecting and misconnecting.
In the middle of Vancouver’s nearest suburb, just in the dip of a couple shallow hills (so it feels cozy), is little Deer Lake. An adorable lake park beset by tiny Canadian highways and just down the hill from British Columbia’s largest shopping mall. Maybe Deer Lake is so adorable because it’s a mish-mash of introduced species and recent growth. The wild, strange, complex place that existed before it was settled was destroyed nearly immediately by logging. Now it’s some kind of papier-mache replica of itself, but it’s still undeniably adorable. Deer Lake’s access is ever-so-slightly more sub-urban, ever-so-slightly more inclined to producing as its nightly offspring long wanderings along the sides of empty, meandering highways. This isn’t like trotting to the Vogue downtown, surrounded by light rail trains, flashing neon, and dense channels of major bus lines. These are weary lands.
All of this knowledge awaited me. Embarking, I only knew two things:
- Early summer evening in the park
- Kid Cudi concert
Unsure of when the Kid Cudi show actually started, I took a cab. The following thirty minutes of my life would have been familiar to anyone who has ever played the Sega game Crazy Taxi. The suburban jungle was an utter distress to my driver, who had no idea how to get to Deer Lake and frantically flipped between his iphone’s GPS and someone at the Yellow Cab dispatch who I imagine had Google Maps open with a traffic overlay. I was part of a new logistical cab experience - a mechanized technological feat that involves constant radiation to and from orbiting machines which whip at abominable speeds above the sky and around the world. The driver couldn’t cope with the traffic and roads out here, but thankfully he had little trouble coping with the beaming of radiation precisely to and from these machines over and over again. I could see that for him, his mission was dire. Halfway through the trip, three u-turns in, sweat on his temples, temporarily at a stoplight, assuming my need to be dire, he made a decision so weighty it sent shuddering ripples through the car. He buckled his seatbelt.
I wondered if it might have been the first time since his driving exam that he had taken such a drastic measure. I already had mine buckled, but I got the sense there was some OTHER thing I was forgetting to buckle, some other latch I didn’t know how to fasten.
I had the idea now that Deer Lake Park wasn’t going to have the home-in-Kansas feeling of the city. Looking around me, walking on the sidewalks and through the grass was the result of what must have been the last bell for classes at some high school just on the other side of a nearby 80s time warp. The Kid Cudi concert pilgrimage was in full effect. With this neon rabble as my audience, the cab driver swerved to a stop on a median in the middle of a two-lane road and ran my credit card the old-fashioned way, to the quiet soundtrack of a crackling engine and shuffling footsteps and low chatter. In 360 degrees, outside all of my surrounding windows were bobbing patterns of hot pink, electric blue, and brain-piercing orange.
I made my way through the entrance, amazed at how many young adult women were following around what seemed to be baby-faced headband-peacocks bragging about how they stomped on something. Mass production has favored the hormones of only one sex it seems. I found an ideal empty patch at my preferred spot - in the middle, just in front of the sound booth, my back to the fence, a chill stranger to my left, a large stack of pizza boxes to my right as plain as can be, daring me to wonder at its origin.
The opening act was appropriately known as The Knux. They tore it up and took the opportunity to bring the riots in: “C’mon, this is Vancouver, isn’t this the crowd that rioted?” They also took a minute to remind people that violence isn’t the answer (but peace and love are ingredients in it).
Cudi got what one might call “mad love” upon his appearance. He had a full live band. They launched directly into Revofev. Crowd was down.
I stood back and enjoyed the show, took in the air, and noticed that I was at the core of a central channel of people movement. Looking down you could get a glimpse of what it might look like from above. Rocks, banks, streams. Veins, arteries, junctions. People moving in, out, through similar but subtly shifting circulatory channels. As in any crowd, it was becoming an organism, a complex system rising out of chaos. Down on my level it became clear that they formed paths in a leg forest. I noticed forks, deltas, capillaries. People came from all directions, their stops and starts mitigated by their position in the crowd and their level of asshole-ness (the scale goes from “Non-Asshole / Meekling” to “Screaming Ass-Hole”). I formulated a few crowd-physics ideas at Sasquatch Fest, and continued to notice how it worked here - the sizes of personal buffer zones breathing and zipping with the moving particles, forming regular channels in order to minimize distraction. Many people came and went - sometimes clogging the channels without realizing it, thinking, “hey, here’s a clear spot!” - but before long were bumped-into enough to un-clog and continue back down (sometimes up) the stream. Thus the paths through the leg forest were trod and formed. Occasionally by stiff-shouldered security personnel scanning the crowd and lecturing - even angrily - at groups who were smoking pot. Can we replace these paid staff with something more useful already? Can we hire people to police assholes instead of hiring police that are assholes?
A wide berth was kept around the pizza boxes. I exploited it, a large semi-circle buffer zone pre-built, and a regular junction of rotating strangers in front. Right now, it had stabilized to a group of short, attractive females, the ages of whom I could not in a million years guess, assuming my surroundings as they were. There was one maniac forward and to the right who I felt deserved his own fresco painting. He put on a show in the crowd to rival Cudi. He was white and gaunt, his clothes baggy enough to hold tenfold his lean girth - one got the feeling these clothes were designed for someone who might spontaneously transform into a hulk-like beast. At one point during the night he had a girl on his shoulders and he carried her like it was perfectly normal to be wearing a sentient hat of thighs, waist, breasts, arms, and human head, plus a scarf made of legs. His attire for the evening established, he proceeded to dance HARD with a second girl, hard enough to cause injury in a lesser spirit, all while rapping with an earnest ferocity. To top it off - He held aloft the small fire of his lighter so Cudi would know he cared. I wasn’t sure if the girl on his shoulders was concerned about the sudden occasional source of flame launching toward her face from her violently bobbing stool, but this dude was too busy not giving a fuck for that sort of nonsense. This was the Cudi Zone, and it was time for the star concert-goers to show their top shit - If a few eyebrows get singed in the process, so be it. I understood now why his clothes had to be so enormous - his tiny body could barely contain him - how could tiny clothes? This guy’s watermark was so high it was the least one could do to nod understanding and shrink down into the righteous ground below.
This is an image of the Maniac at the concert, but it’s too terrible to do any justice unless it’s way out of focus and you imagine it being super awesome somehow.
What this landscape screamed for was a short stepping stool in front of the mixing booth. Straight shot to center stage. Free to all shorties. No need to squeeze your thighs around some badass’s ears for a game of “Fireball Dodge” - although hopefully that option will always be available to the right person. You girls know who you are.
Notice the flow of people around the booth, assuming a venue isn’t too crowded. Right in the center is the greatest buffer zone. This is the spot, due to the booth corners being such dense traffic channels. Like drafting behind a fast car. Put the stool down. Make some friends, help the short people connect with [insert favorite rockstar]. If only I had gotten his name, I would name this stool-based-vantage-point-machine after the fire-wielding Deer Lake Maniac.
Giggle. Glint. Flash. Something is distracting me. Little glittery explosions. Holy shit I’m in the middle of a fucking battleground.
Let me back up a second. Scott Mescudi is doing his thing right up there with the band. He’s enjoying the vibe, making an honest effort to connect with the crowd. The problem: Many of his suburban fans at Deer Lake seem to be consuming candy-feasts for their minds at their local mall’s “Culture for Sale” store. It’s hard not to focus on it. Still, I like these people somehow. I might hate them if I were attending High School with them, but they were trying, somehow, with what they had, which is a fairly seriously sick world to inherit. In glances I saw some quiet dorky non-presences on the sidelines. They stood out by their lack of screaming color or head plumage. In a crowd of people demanding visual attention, the usual chameleons became birds of paradise. They were, like me, perhaps unaware that there were rules of teen concert attendance. How many of this crowd connected on a deeper level with the music, and how many are here only because it’s the place to be?
Cudi sings about feeling alienated from a high, lonely vantage while trying and frequently failing to operate his cogs in the machine (One must wonder what his honest experience is onstage at a venue like this). Perhaps that is telling. Perhaps beneath the screaming green caps are brains swirling with some urge to be a little more honest but happy for now if Cudi does the painful part of the work for them. Scott Mescudi writes lyrics by filtering his self-concept through his music. The extremely personal nature of it all means that many critics reviewing a Cudi album are also putting him on the couch for a psychological assessment. It’s no wonder he gives no time to the haters. Baring your young soul, by turns empathetic and self-destructive, isn’t easy to do in public. When he opened the set, he prepared the crowd: “Welcome. Welcome you. I am your big brother. What do I have to say to the kids?” And then he said what he had to say. I trust some of them were actually listening. I can confirm that at least a few were not.
But enough of everyone else. I need to float up only slightly and I achieve enough thrust for take-off - I am bewildered by the big-screen visuals. They have me flying, expanding outward and gliding through an electric music tunnel. It is warping, changing. Now over a multi-dimensional landscape made of shimmering SOMETHING, and if only I could figure out what that something actually WAS I would really be onto… Oh god, the colors… Wait, what?
Giggle. Glint. Glitter. Flash. Glance. Snicker.
Something stirs on the northern front. Like some mischievous pixie in a fairytale, another winking set of mascara eyes secretly giggling and gleaming in the tiny flashes of her iphone 4, reminding me that I am a human something that looks a certain way, and as far as I’m concerned, I can’t really give a fuck what that is right now.
Did I call this a social battleground before? I take that back. This shit’s a minefield. I’m on my own stage in this little pocket and there’s no escaping it now. While the tiny clicking puffs of light continued, I kept waiting for the Wiz-Kid to mention the riots that we had somehow created in the city last night. It never happened. Perhaps on purpose - but he didn’t miss a beat to talk about himself, his “old shit” (meaning from a couple years ago), his new music, his side projects, and his sincere love for every Canadian show he played when he was on the come-up - just nothing about the riots. Perhaps this was a deliberate measure to keep things positive. Cudi always made an effort, though, toward honest connection. He appreciated the marijuana-smokers as conduits in the crowd, and you could see that he would have had a joint if he wasn’t playing a venue policed by the stiff-spine patrol clunking like robots through the forest paths. He talked about his upcoming short film with Shia LaBoeuf called “Maniac” - making sure to check the crowd for special connections with fans who already knew about it. I think Cudi craves these little connections because a crowd like this can feel so distant otherwise. If it’s a single organism, then what is its quality? It’s a multi-colored logo-splattered Jackson Pollock bib. A huge bowl of candy-colored mallrats and their riotous, imprisoned hearts.
So the giggling eyes and the flashing of iphones continued. I swear to God, I thought to myself, they’re all posing in front of me, like I’m one of those giant toy soldiers in London. Standing guard for Her Majesty’s whatever-the-fuck, keeping it safe from the tourist hordes. Are they doing this because they think I’m a ridiculous creep or because they want to get my attention? Perhaps it started with the latter and evolved to the former. None of this group of girls is trying to communicate with me, nobody getting my attention, everybody just snickering and assuming I can rummage through the games and figure out what they’re playing. But more pressingly, are they 15 or 22? This madness continued on some level for the entire show. Daring to walk amongst Romans, I felt I was being strung up. Somewhere is a blog or a series of facebook photos with me in the background and the caption: “this creepy weirdo totally ignored us the entire time - Look how out of it he is!’
The show ended in mild sparking misconnections. Cudi took off and the background track for “These Worries” began to play. Staff immediately ran out on stage and soon the track cut out. Was it an encore fail? Cudi came out to appease the crowd with what I guess might have been the second song of the encore, but I was feeling what Cudi may have felt - I can only do so much here.
I didn’t stick around to watch the rabble disperse. I dispersed. But my night in the suburbs had only begun.
Next time! On blah-blah-blah:
Lost on highways. Tin-can prisoners. Strangers scared shitless of their own fear. And a glimpse of the world’s end.