My week began in the lap of Las Vegas-style luxury. The spacious lounge was rife with marble columns, cabaret seating, and a small army of yolked gentlemen with suits and earpieces on hand to instill a sense of security. It was almost 1 a.m. at a notorious club along a frontage road on Milwaukee’s far north side, after all, not to mention there was a platinum-selling hip-hop group in the building. Well, sort of.
I honestly don’t remember how I first stumbled upon the news of 2 Live Crew‘s appearance at Milwaukee’s Silk Exotic. Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting it. Regardless of how I came about the details of the March 1 performance, I knew I needed to go. Please don’t confuse that with “wanting” to go. I just knew it might be the only chance to catch some semblance of the seminal rap outfit responsible for shocking singles like “Me So Horny” and “Pop That Pussy,” four RIAA certified gold records (and one platinum), a file cabinet worth of lawsuits, and at least a partial role in Tipper Gore’s early ’90s implementation of the Parental Advisory label. And it would surely be my only chance to see the offensive audio innovators at a strip club. Strangely, Silk’s flyer had a Parental Advisory rectangle on it. No shit, Silk. I knew I was going, as long as I wasn’t going alone.
I put out a vague request on Facebook for someone to join me in this Sunday night/Monday morning adventure that made no direct mention of the show, which was essentially guaranteed to be uncomfortable and altogether unsatisfying. The first person to get back to me was Andrew Hartzell, who is responsible for Thrifty Drinker. After explaining my plan to him, I decided he’d be a perfect partner for the raunchy road trip because 1. He had never been to a strip club before and, 2. He said he would go with me for some reason. With a companion locked in, I made a ClubTix.com account I was sure to use exactly once in my life and ordered a pair of tickets for a combined total of $49.98 after fees. That’s pretty expensive for a Sunday night gentleman’s club appearance by a 30-year-old project on its fifth reunion. Would anybody (who wasn’t writing about it or dragged along by someone writing about it) even go?
After I picked up Andrew and we drove what seemed like 20 minutes out of town (Hey, has Silk ever considered opening a location closer to downtown?), we were being frisked by a security guard in the club’s foyer before being allowed into the aforementioned spacious “Las Vegas style” lounge with the 100-or-so other patrons who had shelled out $25 for the show. The start time was listed at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night. Though a lifetime of attending shows seemed to suggest this meant half past midnight, I worried strip club shows might be prompt, so at around 11:20 p.m. we set up camp at the furthest corner from the stage in a place we—using the DJ booth and centermost G-string gyrator as reference points—perceived would give us a good view of 2 Live Crew. Much of the first row was vacant, but neither of us were exactly clamoring for front row real estate at this show. After all, Andrew was a first-timer and I’m not exactly Dave Begel myself. We had neither the want nor the ones to be that close to the action. We just wanted to be left alone.
That proved to be difficult. As we sipped our first $5.75 bottles of High Life (one of the more exotic choices on Silk’s exclusively bottled, sub-6 percent ABV beer list) and shared in yelled conversation over unthinkably loud remixes of songs like Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A…” and occasional public address interjections (“Cheyenne, get back to the stage”), one or both of us would be approached by dancers in maaaaybe five-minute increments to field one (or some) of the following questions:
• Did we see them dance on stage a few minutes ago?
• Did we want to tip them for the dance?
• Did we want a lap dance?
• Were we interested in smoking a hookah?
• Did we want a body shot? (served in a plastic tube)
• Would we change our mind about the shot if for $5 more, we also got a lap dance?
• How were we doing? Fine? Did we want to tip them or get a lap dance or hookah and a shot with a lap dance?
Though we legitimately were only there for the show and—save for momentary glances toward the stage—not watching 2 Live Crew’s opening (then closing, then opening again) acts, I began to feel bad repeatedly stiffing…er, being unable to tip these service industry employees. I hadn’t brought any cash with me, but a looming sense of obligation soon found me putting my eyeglasses on for the first time since stepping into Silk and punching my pin into the ATM to retrieve a $20 for another round of high-price High Life and some gratuity. Then I saw there would be a $10 service charge. Wow, they’re really committed to this Las Vegas-style thing! After nanoseconds of soul searching, I decided I would have an easier time living with myself not paying someone for something I didn’t see than paying a fucking $10 service fee to feel slightly less shitty about the person I’ve become. Sorry.
Finally, after about 80 minutes spent talking, nursing two High Lifes, declining the above list of offers (not to mention the alluring promotion for a two-song lap dance AND a FREE “I [heart] strippers” t-shirt for $40), and hearing 2 Live Crew would be out soon, a dramatic instrumental reminiscent of a backing track for a 1980s-era NBA starting lineup announcement blared as the main act’s credentials were read. Yes, “One of the most influential hip-hop acts of all time” was said. Around 12:40 Monday morning, after a series of 2 Live Crew’s accomplishments and other claims to fame were dictated to the sparing Silk turnout, two middle-aged men ambled out on stage with all the sullen resignation that undoubtedly accompanies playing a late-winter show at a Midwestern strip club on a school night.
After literally dozens of semi-interested cheers subsided, the haggard visage of Brother Marquis (the last member to join 2 Live Crew) grabbed a hot mic and took his place in the middle of the U-shaped stage, flanked by exotic dancers on either side. Behind him, a “DJ” (who didn’t quite resemble Fresh Kid Ice, the only other member featured on the flyer) popped in a CD, with original vocals and all, and the show had begun. As gentle ballad “The Fuck Shop”—just kidding, it’s a gross song that spawned a Van Halen lawsuit—started, the microphone feedback only got worse, as a visibly perturbed Brother Marquis struggled to keep up with his own sexually charged verses of the 26-year-old song. By the time Kinks-inspired third song “One And One” (a counting-based track about, you guessed it, fucking!) rolled around, the feedback issues had been addressed for the most part, leaving the blemishes of Marquis’ atonal shout-rap as exposed as the young women writhing atop an ever-growing pile of dollars nearby.
With a couple deeper cuts out of the way, the 2 Live-ish Crew embarked on some classics to get the patchwork audience excited. Rapid-fire renditions of “Pop That Pussy” and “Hoochie Mama” brought a few dudes closer to the stage, including one who spewed a small stack of money on a particularly fetching woman with a Cash Cannon…as respectfully as possible, of course. During verses belonging to the long-since-departed Luther Campbell, Marquis just let the CD play and either wandered aimlessly around the stage or drank water. Las Vegas style showmanship, it was not. However, the 50-something rapper pulled out the big guns during 2 Live Crew’s biggest song, repeatedly screaming “Me So Horny” off-key and a fraction of a second too late. Having worked himself into a lather with that inexplicable hit and the six songs he’d done prior, Brother Marquis showed a more sensitive side of 2 Live Crew. Kidding again, he deaf-guy yelled portions of “We Want Some Pussy” and abruptly walked off the stage he’d taken less than 20 minutes prior.
Though Marquis was gone for good, the show wasn’t over. Not even close. Okay, I guess it was very close. DJ Maybe Fresh Kid Ice graciously played a recorded version of 2 Live Crew’s new single (and first song since 1998) “Take It Off” and professed his hope the music would inspire the women 30 years younger than him just feet away to “show them pussies.” When the song concluded and nary a nether region was unveiled, DJ Maybe Fresh Kid Ice But We’re Not Sure played the song again, this time asking the women to fulfill his wishes. Some women just disregarded the request and continued dancing partially clothed, others looked in the direction of a management-type with a distinctly “He’s aware we can’t legally do that in Milwaukee, right?” glare. Eventually a Silk employee whispered something in the DJ’s ear and the “Take It Off” reprisal as well as 2 Live Crew’s 24-minute Silk Exotic show ended as the DJ said “Oh. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t have to say sorry. Milwaukee policy confusion aside, 2 Live Crew had nothing for which to apologize. Sure, it was easily the worst concert I’ve ever seen. But it was one of the best comedy events I’ve ever attended. My Monday morning at Silk had it all: a music-like performance, unintentional humor, nudity, and a cautionary tale. Was it awful? Absolutely. Am I happy I went? Absolutely. Would I ever do it again? Fuck no.