WHO: Big Freedia, Limp Wrist
WHERE: The Echoplex
It's packed and stifling hot inside the Echoplex--the air has that disconcerting palatable thickness unique to being indoors in July. But the sold-out, sweaty, leather-clad crowd presses against the stage as fervently as ever, because Big Freedia has just thrown down the gauntlet.
"You want a booty battle? Imma give you a booty battle!" bellows the New Orleans bounce queen, and they all but lose control.
Her declaration is a lesson well-learned by one fan, whose enthusiasm gets the better of him and jumps the stage to interrupt/participate in the fat-bottomed dance-off between two female fans.
"Oh, hold up ..." Freedia says, the music appropriately scratching to a stop. If you cross the Queen Diva, you're gonna get burned, or at least schooled in booty-shaking. So while the chubby teen tries his darndest to hold up to Freedia, even taking off his shirt, he's no match for her moves. The verdict?
"You ain't ready," she scoffs. Who is?
That was more or less the takeaway from last night's L.A. stop on Freedia's "Go Homo" tour, a bill shared with queercore punk greats Limp Wrist.
We've seen Freedia perform her brand of relentlessly fast, booty-obsessed beats and samples a few times before, including another stint at the Echoplex with The Rapture last fall. But instead of the artist-finding-her-footing we expected, last night we saw a performer in control of her audience and on a mission:
"I'm so happy to be gay! Put your hands in the air if you're proud to be gay," said Freedia, who, while genetically a man, prefers a different pronoun. "I'm on a journey, y'all. Thanks for helping me spread and stand up for queer pride."
It was one of several sobering moments in the set, when, despite the joy and celebration of her message, a certain weariness came through. But don't get it twisted: Big Freedia and her DJ Rusty Lazer make strictly party music. No sooner had she paused to talk than she jumped into belting an impromptu a capella number that can only be dubbed "Big Dick Daddy," followed by a heavy-on-the-haterade freestyle to the theme of Destiny's Child's "Independent Women Part 1."
Nonetheless, recurring technical difficulties had us hearing more samples of Freedia's rhymes (as opposed to her actual voice) than we would've liked, and a new jam to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" was slapdash, and one of the crowd's more confused and less enthusiastic moments.
But last night's Big Freedia was tighter, more confident and generally better produced than ever before, and formerly dissonant tracks like "Rock Around da Clock" boasted a freshly-sharpened melodic edge that had even the most standoffish punks in the crowd seeing how low they could go.
Freedia left the stage declaring, "For all who don't know, you have just had the bounce experience." Looking around at the sweaty, flush-faced crowd, how could anyone not?
Next up was Limp Wrist, who drew the night's contingent of studded-belt-wearing, shaved-headed balls o' rage. The all-gay, all-straight-edge quartet once declared that they put the "core" back in "queercore," and they weren't kidding: With the first chord of Scott Moore's carnal guitar, the crowd transformed into less of a moshpit than a whirlpool of bodies, the percussive wave of which was even felt by those of us standing in the back, clinging protectively to our DSLRs.
If Big Freedia's performance was one of pure hyper-sexual, party-down energy, Limp Wrist's was one of pure fuck-shit-up adrenaline. Lead singer Martin Sorrondeguy stripped down to a studded black leather thong, assaulting the audience with his trademark howl-hiss and lyrics like "You're full of shit/You're so not radical you closeted wimp/You got the bible up your ass/And Christ is your pimp."
"How many queers are here tonight? How many straight people?" Sorrondeguy asked to an audience that was decidedly mixed. "If you're not queer, you should act it! Go home and act it. Act out. Mess with your parents' heads!"
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As suds rained down to cool the moshing crowd, it's easy to mistake shows like this as being fueled by bile and anarchic rage. Maybe so, but they're just as much about joy, unity and absolution. The Albany-based group doled out shout-outs for the likes of L.A., the Latino community, "the kids" and the mis-shapes. Above all, last night's show was fiercely about love.
"This song is about distortion. It's about not looking like people do in magazines," Sorrondeguy said before launching into their last song, "Rainbows." "It's about loving yourself, no matter what."