- 2004, New Orleans
White Bitch, my “band,” first opened for TV on the Radio at a giant, beautiful but terrible sounding Uptown venue called TwiRoPa. TVotR had just wrapped a tour opening for David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. You could almost call that the peak of their popularity, but they did become even more well-known.
White Bitch, at the time, consisted of me and my beats and my guitar, plus my 55-year-old psychedelic guru Ray Bong making noises, and 13-year-old Lil Gregory Esquire acting as hype-man. Because of my band’s provocative name, I will mention that Gregory was Black (and, as my friend now at the age of 28, he remains Black).
We met TVotR backstage, and talked with them a little about the Bowie/NIN tour. We didn’t have much to say to each other (I always ask out-of-town bands where they ate), but Tunde Adebimpe (vocals), Dave Sitek (guitars, keyboards), Kyp Malone (vocals, guitar) Jaleel Bunton (drums) and Gerard Smith (bass) all came off refreshingly nerdy and nice.
We also shared that bill with the band that would go on to become MuteMath. That band, Makrosick, promised I could use their projector for a vital part of our show, so that we wouldn’t have to switch out our projector for theirs between sets. But then, at the venue, right before the show, Makrosick rescinded their offer, wouldn’t let us use their projector, and left us stranded without half of our show. Up on stage later, I told the crowd that, and relentless made jokes about Makrosick between songs. Otherwise, I thought we played well, though our personalities shined more than my songs did in that terrible sounding room. I later read a blog review of the show that asked, “White Bitch? More like White Shit.”
After we played, I went and sat outside on the curb with my sidemen, unimpressed with myself — until TV on the Radio literally ran out to us, majorly impressed. They gave us many compliments, though they seemed mostly interested in the Black kid. Kyp Malone gave all of us some free TVotR t-shirts. I picked a very ugly tan shirt that I still wear to this day, even though it looks gross on a pale white dude.
2. 2006, New Orleans
After Katrina, when MySpace exploded, I posted on TV on the Radio’s page. They remembered me, and immediately asked me to “go on tour” with them. Meaning one date in New Orleans and two dates in Texas. Their agent even hinted to me that they were looking for a band to take with them on their upcoming tour of South America. I scored all that from a MySpace post; those were simpler days.
This time, in New Orleans, we opened for TVotR at The Republic. A lady named MC Shellshock and my partner Mizzy served as backup singers. Talented as fuck, Shelly was more a rapper than a singer, but had good pitch, and big confidence. Mizzy had less good pitch, but she loved me, and had enthusiasm and a great smile and nice boobs she liked to bounce for an audience. Mizzy and I had just gotten back together after Katrina broke us up. She’d moved away from me to work in Providence for a year, and I’d just brought her back to New Orleans to play this show. Our happiness was only just beginning to return.
Our “band” had not gotten to practice enough, I felt, and during soundcheck I casually told the soundman, on the mic in front of everyone, “Keep the girls low in the mix. They are more for set dressing.” Mizzy didn’t react since she’s not really a musician, but Shelly got very mad. I didn’t realize the offensiveness of my comment, having more “important” things on my overcrowded mind at the time. But Shelly and I were never as close after I said that. I now realize how sexist and reductionist I’d sounded, and that I should have addressed it with Shelly long ago, but am only doing so for the first time right now.
By the time we hit the stage, people packed every inch of the place, and crowded the balcony so tightly they seemed to drip from the ceiling. TV on the Radio could have played a place twice that size. With a bill of just White Bitch, followed by TVotR, we played at 11pm, the perfect time. That show, and the next two in Texas, felt like living someone else’s life for a few days.
As we began that New Orleans show, I remained slightly distracted by a girl in the front row shouting up at me, someone I’d vaguely dated a month earlier. Mizzy stood behind me and I couldn’t see her, just this girl I’d dated, yelling up from my feet.
Shelly and I had worked out this great, complex back-and-forth rap. I’d told Shelley though, “If we stumble or fuck up this rap up on stage, I am gonna quickly skip to the next song — don’t get offended.” That exact thing happened though, and I can’t say Shelly didn’t get offended.
After we all finished singing my song “Serious” (“I take this very serious/I take this veeeery serious”), Mizzy snuck up on me from behind, snatched my mic and stopped the show. “There is something that I take very serious,” she said to the crowd. This was very unlike her — so unlike her, I almost knew what came next. Had to be something very big. She kneeled down, pulled a ring box from her pocket and, on the mic, asked me to marry her.
The crowd went fucking berserk. But, just as concerned with the pace of the show, I quickly said yes, kissed her, then jumped into the next song. That girl in the front row looked genuinely crestfallen, but at least she stopped yelling at me.
When we all walked off stage elated, TVotR didn’t look impressed. They didn’t seem like the type of guys who’d care that our engagement performance maybe “showed them up,” but I got the impression it somehow didn’t sit right with them. Maybe their own pre-show jitters had them feeling less sociable. Either way, Mizzy and I left and walked around together outside in a happy daze, talking about the future. Somewhere in it, I’ll never forget, I fucked up and mentioned that girl I’d dated yelling up at me from the front row. Mizzy went cold: “Why the fuck would you mention that? Now?”
Today Mizzy and I have two beautiful daughters together, but neither of us has ever been married.
We returned to the club and watched TV on the Radio. The Republic sounded terrible that night too, but the band’s electric presence won the day. We met them backstage after their last song, before their encore. Their bright mood had returned and we all talked and drank beers while their crowd roared for them to come back. Shelly and I told the band how we’d flubbed the brilliant rap we’d worked on so hard. When they asked to hear it, Shelly and I launched into our routine, rapping back and forth as we climbed over all the couches in VIP.
TVotR loved our rap so much, they brought us out on stage to their roaring fans. They all switched instruments, and started jamming, and bade us perform. Shelly and I killed our routine with backing band TV on the Radio (?!), then walked off stage as Tunde asked everyone in the crowd to shake their car keys, and the band performed a beautiful a capella encore of “Ambulance.”
I can’t believe that really happened.
3. 2006, Dallas, TX
In Dallas, TVotR still seemed a bit colder than before. I wondered if they thought our engagement a corny stunt. Or maybe it disappointed them that I didn’t have the little Black kid with me now? I showed up in Dallas with different band members than in New Orleans: now my drummer friend Bret, and noise-man, Bernard Pearce, plus Mizzy.
While drinking TVotR’s expensive dressing room booze that they didn’t touch, we joked that maybe we’d recreate the on-stage engagement tonight. We hobnobbed with the band’s agent who’d let me know about the South American tour, but I managed not to ask her about it. At some point, I saw her and singer Tunde conferring intensely in a corner over a piece of paper. When they finally left, the paper lay on a table, and I snatched it up: a handwritten copy of some of Tunde’s lyrics, from a song on one of their albums. I still have that paper.
White Bitch suffered sound problems on stage in Dallas, to where only I could be heard. My new band left the stage disgruntled, having served only as a visual prop. But I felt I’d played a good show, to 800+ people dripping from the ceiling.
I long to live that life forever.
Like TVotR, who finally got amazing sound that night in Dallas, so that I was able to love their music, finally. What a great, unique band. Afterwards, they invited us all onto their bus where, quite drunk, I blurted, “Every time we’ve played together the sound has been terrible, and I wasn’t able to hear what the hype was about. Tonight I could really hear everything, and could hear how good you all really are!”
They laughed and thanked me for the “compliment,” but they went on to pick for their South American tour the band Noisettes who, with a badass Black girl singer, certainly deserved the slot more than White Bitch.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.