I will preface this live review of The Insane Clown Posse at Baltimore Soundstage on Sept. 24, 2016, by confessing that, yes, I have dabbled in Juggalism. One Halloween a few years ago, I donned a Philadelphia Eagles jersey and a camo jacket, stuffed a pillow under my tank top, painted my face like a drunk mime, and screamed "WHOOP WHOOP" all night. My friends did not recognize me, and those who did were genuinely terrified as I lunged at them hooting, "FAM-I-LY!" There is no uncanny valley with ecstatic fans of ICP, Juggalos: Either you're in or you're out, and masquerading as one essentially makes you one. There is no ironic distance between your soul and the makeup.
And am I not arming myself in some sort of clown paint when I apply mascara and a dusting of blush, or giant swipes of waterproof eyeliner like NFL eye paint? There is an element of team sports about the ICP event, and when I make my way to the back of the not-quite-totally-packed Soundstage, I'm greeted by a giant wall of Officially Licensed Posse merch: panties that say "PSYCHO BITCH" on the butt; "The Story of ICP" audio book on USB; queen-sized Korean mink blankets featuring the "Riddle Box" cover art; and, for some unexplained reason, blinged-out cross necklaces.
And T-shirts—so, so, so many T-shirts.
Nearly every single person in the audience is wearing the shirt of the band they are seeing at that moment. It almost seems mandatory, as if not wearing some ICP-oriented outfit means you are not worthy of bathing in Faygo at the feet of the masters. You are not a Real Ass Ninja. This makes me cringe, the whole "ninja" thing—although the white duo and their mostly white fans claim it isn't an analog for the N-word, it certainly feels that way. And while I was in the Baltimore Soundstage Smokers Corral pre-show, marveling at the intergenerationality and diversity in the fan group and generally feeling the grease-painted glow of what, on one hand, purports to be an inclusive scene all about acceptance, a concertgoer, seemingly out of nowhere, barked "FAGGOT, YOU AIN'T NO NINJA" right in his friend's face.
For the actual Insane Clown Posse portion of the evening, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, two Detroit-area white rappers with the combined age of 90 who are both actually named Joseph, performed the entirety of their seminal 1995 album "Riddle Box," screaming non-stop at the top of their lungs for about an hour and a half. The opening act of the evening, Detroit native Big HooDoo, presented a much more compelling persona. Alongside arguably better music than the headliner, the Psychopathic Records artist said between songs, "I represent y'all every day when I wake up."
ICP's stage lighting varied from strobe blasts to blinding LED tower to moody blue beams, and stage hands in zombie masks intermittently popped onstage with giant inflatable props to assist with the inevitable yet intermittent showers of Diet Root Beer-flavored Faygo. Shaggy 2 Dope even has a spray style: He cradles an agitated soda bottle against his armpit, giving the resultant jet a near-maternal aspect as it streams from his chest.
Moments of respite from aspartame clown juice included a Juggalette party onstage to 'Lil Somthin' Somthin',' during which women from the audience gyrated to a chorus of "Bitch let me hit, I won't be long/ As soon as I nut, I'm gone." The air in the club smells like root beer barrel candy, pleasantly artificial.
Personal highlights for this journalist included 'Chicken Huntin,' during which fans were both soaked with diet beverage and covered with loads of fluffy white feathers (a spectacular move that occurred rather early on in the event, making much of the rest of the show seem kind of anticlimactic), and the finale, 'I'm Comin Home,' which involved throwing full cases of liter soda bottles into the audience for an all-out splashdown melee.
Crew members with pole squeegees and giant pushing bars corralled the resultant slurry of crushed bottles, wet feathers, tinsel, and soda slurry. Legend has it that diet soda is used because it's less sticky, and a dedicated clean-up crew works well into the night after every ICP performance. Chandeliers and light fixtures were bagged as a preventative measure, and I was surprised that the Great Wall of Merch didn't feature an Officially Licensed Clown Poncho of some sort, because that would make a killing—or would it?
The same huge group of mostly young(ish) white men who love to chant along with shit like "Just found out your son is a faggot/ Dick-sucking, butt-fucking homo man" are also getting together for the secondary purpose of letting other white men saturate them with a stream of liquid symbolic of both urine and holy water. Faygo, as an anti-intellectual lifestyle brand, is both the garbage drink of the underclass and the anointed wine of the backyard wrestler, raised up from the gutter to a place of prominence. Rumors of the supposed evangelical Christian side of Wicked Clowndom abound, and the evidence goes both ways: Fans can purchase cross jewelry at the merch table, but most ICP lyrics celebrate truly repellent and unethical behavior. Is ICP actually homophobic? They've spoken out against it, say the fans, and on Howard Stern, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J even backed Hillary Clinton because "Get a broad in there!" Everything about ICP is a kind of insincere shrug, an evasive "whatever man" during a party that gets way out of control. True Juggalos know the lyrics, but, like, they don't really mean anything, y'know?
Let's take a closer look at the concertgoers for a moment. The crowd at an Insane Clown Posse show is, yes, largely white, and largely male. To a lesser degree, but in attendance, there are female Juggalos—aka Juggalettes—Juggalos of color, and differently abled Juggalos. It is worth noting that there were more fans in wheelchairs at this ICP show than any show I have ever seen, and that is probably saying more about the casual ableism of my lifestyle than anything else, but there is undoubtedly an almost aggressive conviviality, "takes all kinds" attitude to ICP that doesn't quite counter but does sit awkwardly next to their goofball homophobia and appropriation.
Outspoken celebrity Juggalo Alex "Less Legz" Perkins is black, has a disability, and, incidentally, was the first person to be ejected from the evening's show for crowdsurfing in what became the primary drama surrounding the event. During the opening number, both Mr. Perkins and his chariot were hurled into the air, the wheelchair passed from hand to hand against a backdrop of blinding white strobe until both were summarily removed from the venue by security. He was refused re-entry, and later in the evening I definitely saw some spritely Punky Brewster-style Juggalettes crowdsurfing to their heart's content without being removed from the premises in a show of force.
Outside the venue, Mr. Perkins expressed dismay at being unable to return to the show he has seen dozens of times before, despite the fact that his voice is the "WHOOP WHOOP" heard on Howard Stern and he's been featured in several ICP videos of "family" events. Why does Less Legz not have a direct line to ICP handlers? Is there not a tour manager or some other Working Juggalo who he can text, who can vouch for him? Where is this "family" when one really needs it? Why weren't the other able-bodied white crowdsurfers (OK, besides the one who apparently punched a security guard) ejected, especially toward the end of the show?
For his part, Perkins refuses to blame ICP. "I was kinda drunk and I was giving the security a little bit of a hard time, but for them to manhandle me the way they did? No. I'd never blame ICP for the actions of a venue," he states in a post-show interview. "I could sit here for days and talk about how certain security people in certain venues have mistreated, judged, abused, and persecuted Juggalos because they don't like them, you know, 'Fuck em, fuckin weirdos with face paint, shove em,' know what I mean? Shove back, it's a problem. And when we do shove back we're crazy, we're the psychos."