I hear the first cheers around 10 or 11 in the morning, before anybody on the bus besides the driver is awake.
From inside my capsulelike bunk, behind blackout curtains, the burst of screams and applause sounds otherworldly.
It is Saturday, November 22, and the two trailer-dragging buses and the equipment truck have just pulled into the parking lot of Denver's Fillmore Auditorium. It has been a 10-hour drive since the previous night's gig at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. We've spent a good portion of those 10 hours eating junk food, plundering a bottle of Maker's and watching the Playboy Channel on flat-screen TVs.
Cheering of some kind will continue intermittently through the afternoon and pick up steadily through the evening, until it's at critical mass, and the headliner leaves the stage and goes back to the tour bus.
Tech N9ne, it turns out, is huge in Denver.
I was invited on the final, hotel-deprived jaunt of Tech's 53-day tour by a friend of mine, Shannon Schlappi, who began working with Tech's label, Strange Music, earlier this year. Schlappi wanted me to see firsthand how Tech draws in other cities. We caught the show in KC on Friday, hopped on the bus and rode to Denver. After tonight's show, we'll come right back.
When Schlappi first called me, I said, "No, thanks." After a year of seeing a straitjacketed Tech on billboards around town and hearing plenty of hype around Killer, I had a bit of Tecca Nina fatigue-a. Several hours and cocktails later, though, my curiosity surged. I wanted to see whether all this talk of people going shit-in-hands crazy over Tech in other cities had any merit.
In Kansas City, for whatever reason, people happily ignore Tech N9ne. In other places, from Denver to Denmark, they'll stand in line for hours and chant K-C-MO! rrrOAAAHHOOOHH, like fans at a Chiefs game.
By the time we arrived in Denver, promoters had sold 2,593 tickets — not bad for Tech's third concert there in the past seven months. By showtime, it will come close to selling out. The show at the Uptown had attracted a smaller crowd, closer to 1,500.
"The thing that pisses me off about Kansas City is, they don't know what we're doing," Tech N9ne says. It's about an hour and a half before his 10:30 p.m. set, and Tech has just eaten some Denver barbecue on the bus with a few groupies and his labelmate Kutt Calhoun. "We take Kansas City with us wherever we go."
He complains of how often people approach him in Kansas City and assume that he's either retired or out of a job, saying, "Boy, are you still rapping? I haven't heard you since Anghellic." He blames local radio. "If the motherfucking radio stations would [play my music], I wouldn't be embarrassed when I go home."
This rant is the only time during the weekend that I'll see Tech looking cross. The 37-year-old hardcore touring animal sleeps in a bunk when he has to, stands when he greets fans, and rarely seems anything other than elated — even on the tour's last night.
Earlier in the day, fans are lined up for a 3 p.m. VIP meet-and-greet, with 180 people paying $100 (you do the math) to meet Tech and his fellow Strange artists: the Michigan rapper Prozak, KC's Skatterman and Snug Brim, tour guests Grave Plott, and Tech's onstage sidekicks Calhoun and Big Krizz Kaliko. Fans are dressed in red and in hoodies, some in face paint, some with the Strange Music's bat-snake logo tattooed on their bodies.
A 23-year-old pierced and tattooed dude named Patrick looks on. A recovering Juggalo who has done time in jail, he has distanced himself from his Insane Clown Posse-following friends and their meth habits and now follows Tech. "He's made my life better," Patrick says. The meet-and-greet runs half an hour over, by which time I'm tired just from watching.
The show itself is an explosive, riotous experience. Kids crowd the stage, bumping shoulder to shoulder, from the opening acts all the way through Tech's hour-and-a-half set. Afterward, on the bus, Tech makes me a large cup of his latest concoction, KC Tea (Hennessy and Sprite with lemon). A couple more, and I will lose three hours of my life.
It's a small loss from an otherwise enlightening 36-hour journey with Kansas City's best.