Mos Def and DOOM: 13 February 2010 - Chicago

Georg Garret

Mos Def and DOOM's Chicago appearance was a colossal failure, and writer Georg Garret dissects what led to a night of bitter disappointment for fans.


Mos Def + DOOM

City: Chicago
Venue: Congress Theater
Date: 2010-02-13

When the news hit that Mos Def and Doom would share a bill in Chicago, cats went wild. A “supershow” is the way my friend described it on Facebook. And it would seem so. Two of the top emcees in modern rap - plus local Chicago heavyweights Qwel & Maker opening – made this bill look golden on paper. Too bad it was an utter disaster. In hindsight, I feel kind of stupid for expecting anything less. I actually was looking forward to this with great anticipation, as were many of my fellow Chicagoans.

One cannot point the blame to any one party, as this fiasco was a failure on many levels. I will attempt to break them down in a way that will allow you, the reader, to experience this “supershow” in all its glory.

The Venue and/or The Soundmen

The Congress Theatre is a historic, old-time “movie palace” in the heart of Chicago that was built in the 1920s. It is beautifully ornamented and very spacious; complete with grand auditorium ceiling. As gorgeous and significant as it is, I think this is the wrong venue for a bass-heavy rap show. The sound simply sucks. Every rap show I’ve seen there has been awful. I suspect that this is not only because of the room’s design, but also the soundmen that work there.

For example, one of the opening emcees Qwel - who is very verbose and potentially hard to understand to begin with – was just muffled completely by the overblown bass. Perhaps if it was mixed better from the soundboard, it would have sounded actually enjoyable. But the soundmen probably thought it was “supposed” to sound that way, and I imagine patted themselves on the back for the great job they did.

The Promotor

You know it’s a bad sign when the promoter changes the show date by two weeks at the last minute, causing huge inconvenience to everyone who scheduled days off, had travel plans, or booked other shows. But that’s not even the worst of it. To me, the most ridiculous thing about this promotion was having seven (!) opening acts. Nothing against the opening acts, but sitting through anything more than three acts at any show is just exhausting. I don’t know if they were the promoter’s boys or whatever, but it was just a dumb move. Having that many opening acts causes the doors to open at seven pm – and in turn causes the fans to have to stand for more than five hours to finally see the ones they paid to see, which brings me to the final reason this show sucked...

Mod Def & Doom

Picture this; people have paid $35, waited in line outside in the Chicago February cold for 45 minutes if not more, and have now stood on their feet in the cramped venue with bad sound for over five hours. 12:30a.m. rolls around, and we are informed that Mos Def and Doom have FINALLY arrived at the venue.

Wait. Really?

Just arrived?

You’re telling me these dudes got flown out to Chicago to do a show, and didn’t even have the decency to arrive to the venue until five minutes before they are scheduled to go on? How disrespectful is that not only to the fans, but also to the Chicago artists that they’re sharing the bill with? It was an evident diva move that really made me feel disrespected not only as a fan, but as a Chicagoan. Well, the fans were not having it. By the time Mos Def got on, the crowd was already furious and started whipping bottles and garbage at the stage.

Did Mos Def apologize for arriving late, or even consider that we’ve been standing there for over five hours? Of course not. He just told us to “chill out”. Anyway at least his set was good. He did three Doom joints, and around six or seven of his own. He’s a born performer so by the end of his set I had all but forgiven him.

After Mos ends his set with Doom’s standout cut “Curlz” off the Madvillain record, Doom came out and put a stake right through the heart of the night by lip-synching every song in his brief, abbreviated set. Yes, lip-synching. However, his loud, rowdy, and nameless hype-man’s mic was definitely on. The guy was screaming at us to get excited, but Doom was so obviously not rapping and he wasn’t even trying to hide it. The performance was limp, uninspired, lazy, and just not creative in any way.

It was much more exciting hearing Mos Def do Doom’s songs, because at least he really rapped them and showed passion for the material. After around two or three into Doom’s set, the crowd had had enough and started to noticeably thin out. They didn’t miss much though, because after five or six songs, Doom abruptly walked off stage, the house-lights turned on, and the curtain fell. The crowd all looked at each other with confusion and disappointment on their faces.

With a near-post-9/11 unity we poured out of the theatre with loud boos, and I even heard one guy scream “Fuck New York hip hop!” It was a sad, sad shame. Outside I ran into some poor kids who drove all the way to Chicago from Michigan just to see the show, and they felt the same way I did: cold, tired, unfulfilled, and robbed.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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