Of all the parties I've been to in recent memory, I've anticipated none so much as last Friday night's Dearraindrop opening at Kavi Gupta Gallery. The neopsychedelic art collective, featuring twentysomething siblings and native Virginians Billy and Laura Grant and Laura's long-term boyfriend, Joe Grillo, is hot shit in the art scene--its trippy, cartoony, infinitely detailed collages have been shown at superhip galleries like Deitch Projects and John Connelly Presents in New York and HaNNa in Tokyo and praised in the New York Times--but never mind about that. What I love about the trio is that they're bona fide troublemakers. Their antics last time they were in town--two years ago to the month--catalyzed the best party I've been to in my entire life.
It was March 2003, and Dearraindrop was here as part of the Totem Tour, which consisted of 11 artists and collectives, including members of Lightning Bolt and Forcefield. They were around for almost a week, mainly to partake in the annual arts, activism, and culture festival called Version. (Version's Web site lists me as an organizer of last year's fest, which isn't accurate. I've helped with a few casual tasks like proofreading the schedule and fetching beer, but never for pay.)
On the fest's opening night at Sonotheque, the Totem crew showed up in white painters' outfits they'd screen-printed and sprayed with fluorescent colors, visors that said CUM, and glitter all over their faces. When people get that dressed up in hopes of a special night, it's automatically a special night.
Not even an hour into it I got into an argument with a muscular bartender who was refusing to serve people who wanted to pay with drink tickets instead of 20s. "Dude," I said. "Come on. It's your job to serve people." "WHAT DID YOU SAY?" he bellowed, coming around to my side of the bar and shoving me. When I refused to apologize he picked me up and tried to throw me out. I wriggled out of his grip and protested that I was performing, so he couldn't kick me out.
A little later Grillo got rowdy and dumped out the club's carefully organized recycling bins all over the place. Then he grabbed a trumpet and took it into the men's bathroom, where he blared sour notes into some poor guy's ear as he was trying to pee. The guy must've complained to management, says Grillo, because next thing he knew the aforementioned bartender was dragging him by the collar out the back door. The bartender took one look at the mess of bottles strewn around the alley and forgot his original objective; Grillo took off and went back inside.
When A Very Sensitive Device took the stage, Grillo picked up his trumpet again and started mock-whipping it menacingly in the direction of the band. My friend Joe, who was not my friend Joe at the time because I didn't know him, complained to festival organizer Ed Marszewski (with whom I also wasn't as chummy then as I am now) about the "crazed look" in Grillo's eyes, worried that it portended actual violence. Marszewski pulled Grillo aside for a stern talking-to, and Laura Grant, who came along for support, dismissed Joe with a nonchalant "Whatever, faggot."
You can't be throwing that word around, Marszewski yelled at her--apologize or we're sending you home. (Later that evening, Grillo gave Joe a note saying "I'm sorry my girlfriend called you a faggot." To this day Laura denies she said anything wrong. "I just meant it like 'jerk,'" she told me at Kavi Gupta. "I mean, a faggot is just a bundle of sticks.")
Around this time the burly bartender started yelling at the band to stop playing. Sick of his bullying, I walked up to him and told him he was stupid and needed to shut up. "What did you say?" he roared, and started after me. Afraid that he was ready to deal with me physically, I put my cigarette out on his arm. He grabbed my throat and picked me up off the ground, so I dangled like a rag doll. He was carrying me toward the door when finally a few guys ran up and pulled him off me.
The night was pretty much over after that.
Three nights later Dearraindrop had an art and music show at Buddy, a gallery I'd been to maybe once or twice prior. Rumors of how arrogant, rude, disrespectful, and homophobic Dearraindrop had been thus far on their visit had been circulating, and the place was packed. A few minutes into their set of kiddie-toy electronics, synthesizers, cheap drum machines, and that damn trumpet, a group of eight naked guys--including Joe and my future boyfriend--plus a few others in various stages of undress rushed the stage, some with faggot and other homophobic epithets written on their bodies in Sharpie. They were chanting, "FAG-GOT! FAG-GOT!"
Soon the audience joined in, and the chanting was louder than the music. Barkley's Barnyard Critters, a group of grown men from Providence who dress up like Mexican cartoon animals and perform circus tricks to repetitive techno, started setting up on the floor. Already keyed up, the audience co-opted their set before they could begin, and soon naked guys, Critters, and party people were sliding down ramps on their bellies and stomping on top of animal cages. The floor was bouncing so hard it was actually caving in toward the middle of the room; it really did seem like we'd break through.
Practically everyone I hang around with now was there that night, only I didn't know most of them yet. The naked dudes, the hot scruffy artists dressed as animals, the ramp sliding, the floor almost caving in, the sheer exhilarating mayhem of the whole thing still get talked about almost once a month.
So you can't blame me for spending the past month fantasizing about what kind of destruction Dearraindrop might bring to River West's gallery ghetto on Friday. But anytime you get your hopes up you're bound to be let down, and I was. Things were far too dignified. Instead of covering the walls of Gupta's lovely gallery with psychedelic pastiches, the group presented every drawing and painting separately, with white space framing each one. Visitors mingled politely, and nary a voice was raised. And the art was selling. The performance this time involved a horse pinata in the middle of the room that people were supposed to punch while the three Dearraindrops and some of their friends coaxed bittersweet trills from recorders, a trumpet, and a French horn. The horse spilled its guts after a couple blows. Only a few of us went after the candy.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/courtesy of Derraindrop, Andrea Bauer.