DMX in L/A, Maine
by Al Fabish
On the morning of the day before Christmas last year, I arrived at work and fired up my computer. Scanning through e-mails, one sent by a friend immediately caught my attention. Subject: WHERE MY DOGS AT??? GRRRR!!
I opened it to find a message as enthusiastic as it was succinct:
THIS IS NOT.
A link at the bottom of the e-mail led me to the source of my friend’s excitement: the rapper DMX was scheduled to perform at a nightclub called Octane, located inside the Fireside Inn & Suites in Auburn, just off the Turnpike.
I replied as any rational 31-year-old would: “I’m in.”
Since his string of platinum albums came to an end last decade, DMX has managed to stay in the news, primarily for his ongoing brushes with the law: overdue child support, robbery, impersonating a police officer, etc. There hadn’t been any recent incidents when I ordered my ticket, leading me to figure he’d gotten his life back on track, but a couple weeks before the show X made headlines again when he collapsed outside a hotel in New York. A news report said he was revived with Narcan, the antidote administered to people who overdose on opiates. Not a fucking game, indeed.
The show was originally scheduled for a night in January, but was postponed to Feb. 20, allegedly due to bad weather. My friends and I arrived a little after 8 p.m., when the show was supposed to start, but the doors were still closed and a line had formed in the parking lot. We noticed several expensive cars and SUVs with Empire State plates parked right in front of the hotel. The line was dotted with people dressed as if the past 15 years never happened: baggy pants, big t-shirts, throwback jerseys. Many drank beers in full view of the policemen standing by outside.
After about an hour and a half, the doors opened. The excited crowd chugged the last of their beers and chucked the empties into the bushes by the entrance. It wasn’t clear where we were supposed to pick up the tickets we’d pre-ordered, so we found the front desk and asked the woman working there. “I’m pretty sure the girl with the tickets is in a room upstairs,” she told us.
“Do you know which room?”
“Sorry,” she replied.
Thanks to the miracle of cell-phone technology, we were able to connect with Jenesia, the ticketmaster. The transaction in her hotel room felt a lot more like a drug deal than a visit to the will-call window, but we were finally on our way to see one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time. Or so we thought.
After a friendly frisk and a wave of a metal-detecting wand, we were ushered into a large room with a bar. There was no stage in sight. I asked one of the heavies wearing a “Security” t-shirt where the stage was, and he pointed toward a pair of double doors. In a corner of the banquet hall beyond were sheets of plywood placed atop cinder blocks. That was the stage. Minutes later, without any introduction or dimming of the house lights, the show began.
According to a fellow concertgoer, the first act was a Mainer who’d won a contest to open for DMX. The quality of the sound system was somewhere between that of a walkie-talkie and a school intercom, so I couldn’t understand what he was rapping, but his jams seemed to include both verses and hooks, and this white boy’s stage presence wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.
After his exit the show got increasingly chaotic. A slew of acts followed, but it was hard to tell when one ended and another began. I became convinced there was no schedule — the next performer was just whoever decided to step onto the plywood and grab the mic. At times it looked like there were more people on stage than in the crowd. At one point a burly woman got up and tried to fight one of the performers/fans. Besides that, the only interruptions to the flow of freestyle and blurred beats happened when a blonde in a skin-tight dress (the promoter, I was told) would grab the mic and yell, “YO, YO, YO, YO! Are y’all ready for X?”
After at least two hours of this, someone pulled the fire alarm, but nobody left the room. The blaring alarm blended with the distorted beats, like a techno effect, and people partied on until firemen arrived and forced everyone out into the frigid parking lot, where a large portion of those assembled, myself included, began to chant “RE-FUND! RE-FUND!” By then I was wondering, Was X in the building? Was he even in Maine? Did he pull the alarm?
Eventually they let us back inside and the shitshow resumed. The crowd was profoundly intoxicated, like day-long-festival drunk. A lot of the guys had neck tats, and many of the women had apparently lost articles of clothing during the revelry, unfortunately. One act consisted of a dreadlocked dude bobbing his head to a beat and occasionally yelling “YEAH” into the mic. A girl next to me said he’d smoked her up in the parking lot. His weed was “schwag,” she said. His performance was worse.
Midnight passed and I knew the chance of DMX performing was slim, but I decided to stick around just to see what would happen when the rest of the crowd came to that realization. They didn’t seem like the type to shrug their shoulders and call it a night — not before shanking someone or setting the Fireside Inn ablaze.
Then a friend tapped me on the shoulder: “X is by the bar, over there.” Pushing my way through the crowd, I saw him. He looked older, and his complexion was greyish, but DMX was in the building — and up in some fan’s face. “I WAS PAID TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE! I WASN’T PAID TO SING!” X bellowed in his famously scratchy voice. “STEP THE FUCK BACK OR SHIT’S GONNA GO DOWN REAL QUICK!”
Shortly after his entourage pushed that guy away, DMX tried to get at a second audience member and his boys stepped in again. People nearby kept yelling lines from his songs in X’s direction, but when he and his crew eventually disappeared out a service door, the majority of concertgoers still didn’t know he was there.
By 1 a.m., the bar was closed and the crowd was getting restless. The people on stage weren’t performing anymore, they were trying to calm the audience and prevent a riot. As the minutes ticked by and the tension mounted, people who may or may not have been involved with the production kept yelling, “X is going to be out any minute!” And surprisingly, they were right.
DMX came bursting out a side door, stepped on the lumber, grabbed the mic and launched into a hard-hitting set that consisted of exactly two and one half songs. It was difficult to hear over the roar of the crowd, and the abysmal sound system didn’t help, but those two and a half songs made my night. From his opening growl to the last bass note we got of “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” he killed it, and Auburn was bumpin’ like it was 2003 all over again.
Hassles aside, I got what I paid for: the chance to see X keepin’ it real. DMX isn’t some pampered star. He’s the same guy you hear on his No. 1 albums: rough, rugged, raw, and nuts. And let’s be honest — for $25, I couldn’t have asked for more.