Will the real MF Doom please show up? That was the prevailing sentiment about the indie rap star after his scheduled Sept. 18 appearance at the Independent. At 8:30 that evening, staffers say, they were informed Doom never even got on his plane from Atlanta, much less made it to the club. Instead, L.A.-based MC Pigeon John performed for free that night.
This was, unfortunately, just the latest negative mark against Doom, as it's debatable whether he actually showed for a previous San Francisco gig at the same venue earlier this summer.
The self-proclaimed supervillain MC was scheduled to perform on Aug. 15 and 16. The second night was cancelled, however, after the first show produced only a bizarre 15-minute set — during which, showgoers allege, Doom (who wears a mask onstage) sent a pantomiming doppelganger in his place.
"Doom's my favorite MC," says Daniel Schwab, who spent more than $1,000 to fly himself and his girlfriend down from Portland, Ore., to attend both August shows. On Aug. 15, however, "it was pretty obvious it wasn't him," Schwab says, noting that the masked man who appeared on stage was "skinnier and shorter" than Doom. Another telltale sign, he adds, was "there was no sound coming from his mike at any point during the show."
"There was a guy in a mask who wasn't moving his lips," confirms the Independent's merch vendor, who had a direct line of sight to the stage. About four or five songs into a lackluster set, he says, the crowd decided there was a fake Doom behind the mask, and the rapper, or his stand-in, quickly left the stage. "People started booing. They wanted to start a riot," the vendor adds.
Doom also never showed at the Rock the Bells Festival on Aug. 18; his management told the Village Voice that swollen feet were the reason for that cancellation.
After this latest incident, attempts by SF Weekly to reach Doom through his management company and booking agent went unanswered. The artist proved equally elusive to his longtime publicist Kathryn Frazier, who says, "Doom never responds to us ... [it's] been years since we've gotten word from him."
Allen Scott of Another Planet Entertainment, which operates the Independent, notes the firm has had successful shows with Doom in the past. But after two successive last-minute cancellations, Scott says, "He'll never play another Another Planet gig or at the Independent again. ... The guy's a joke."
Last week, Doom's label, Stones Throw, issued a statement on its Web site categorically denying allegations of fakery, asking fans to "[l]isten to the videos on YouTube" for proof. It's worth noting, however, that no cameras were allowed into the Aug. 15 show at the Independent.
Yet Doom is not the first nationally known artist to underwhelm Bay Area audiences of late. Lady Sovereign, Amy Winehouse, and Lauryn Hill have all turned local tour stops into train wrecks. At a Nov. 14, 2006, show at the Mezzanine, Lady Sov threw a childish tantrum. Unhappy with her band's sound, she stopped several songs halfway through to sit down on stage, complain about her tour bus, and drop the F-bomb repeatedly. By the time she finished, half the sold-out crowd had vanished.
Sov returned to the Mezzanine in January, only to be upstaged by a dude in a donut suit (MC Jelly Donut, to be exact, accompanied by the 70-member "Krispy Krew"), who challenged her to a freestyle rap competition. Her composure clearly shaken by cries of "battle Jelly Donut!" from the crowd, the 19-year-old threw her vodka-and-Red Bull at her antagonist, drenching him as well as innocent bystanders. Next, she hocked a loogie from stage, missing Donut's face by inches. As Donut later told Yahoo News, "It may have, in fact, been the most impressive achievement of her entire tour."
The costumed MC was escorted out by security, but waited in front of the club for Sov after the show. According to attendee "Kool" Kyle Canfield, between 200 and 250 people were "chanting, jumping on cars," outside of the Mezzanine. "They surrounded her tour bus, demanding that she battle the donut." Sov refused, and in this fan's mind, "she pretty much ran herself out of the bay."
A sold-out June 27 show at Oakland's Paramount Theatre by the once-fabulous Lauryn Hill also resulted in disaster. The $89.50 tickets listed a 7:30 p.m. start time, but Hill didn't appear until after 10 p.m. Things went downhill from there.
"Before we even stepped onstage, the audience was ready to riot," says a member of Hill's band. A long intro — which he describes as "eclectic, avant-garde" — left the KMEL-friendly crowd puzzled. Her voice "wasn't that strong," he says, and the soundman struggled with mixing the 16-piece outfit.
The low point came when Hill toppled off her high heels.
"It was a hard fall. She fell straight on her back," the musician says, insisting that Hill wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "When she fell down, there was a rug on stage ... she slipped on that."
The end of the concert, he claims, was better than the beginning, yet the majority of the crowd was gone by that time. "That'll be one of the shows I'll remember for the rest of my life," the musician says, noting that Hill's entire band hails from the Bay Area — which made the highly critical reviews of that show even harder to stomach.
And then, of course, there was Amy Winehouse's April 26 gig at Popscene, where the Brit missed her singing cues, flubbed her lyrics, and called for audience members to bring her a Jack-and-Coke and a tequila shot. All of which foreshadowed the cancellation of numerous tour dates (including a September Warfield gig) after the announcement of the "Rehab" singer's attempt to, yup, dry out.
It's easy to speculate that personal problems — depression, schizophrenia, crack, alien probes, whatever — may lie behind any of these artists' bizarre behaviors at Bay Area shows. But when it comes to live performances, there's a limit to how many breakdowns all but the most hard-core supporters will endure. As one dissatisfied Independent patron says of MF Doom, "I used to be a huge fan, but now I can tell he doesn't respect his fans, so fuck him."
However, Schwab isn't ready to forsake Doom. He says he might pay to see the rapper if he plays in the Northwest, but "I'm definitely not gonna see him in San Francisco again."
Chances are, no one else will either. Scott says he told Doom's agent before the second cancellation, "If you pull this again, you're pretty much done in this town." After dissing the city twice, Scott says, "I can't imagine he's ever gonna play in San Francisco again."