Main | Monday, March 31, 2008

Black Party 2008 Recap

Once again I failed to delay my arrival at the Black Party to an hour more amenable to sustaining my energy until the close of the event, an accomplishment I have only made four or five times in fifteen attendances, of which this year's was my eleventh consecutive. Boo me.

But as I had many out of town friends visiting, there was once again the pre-party gathering at a Times Square hotel, this time at the decidedly undeluxe Milford Plaza, where The Thruple hosted myself, my houseguest, Chris, Little Tom, and my buddy Leif and his trio of fellow SFers. (Downside: ten gay men, one bathroom mirror.) Everybody arrived at the hotel at midnight, already in full gear, much to the amusement of the hotel staff. After a couple of hours of beer drinking, gossiping, and recountings of previous Black Parties, the anticipation got to be too much for some of the boys and reluctantly I followed them out the door. Here's how things went.

2AM: A short line at the door, a very quick ticket pick-up, then an amazingly efficient experience at the coat check (10 minutes!). We thought we were seeing the first drug collapse of the evening when a guy in the coat check line fell to the floor with his eyes closed and twitched about, but he was just pranking his friends. Oh, hilarious. Up on the dance floor there were probably four thousand guys already in the room, a bit surprising considering our relatively early arrival. Opening DJ Stephan Grondin was four hours into his set, which seemed to be going over well. I was pleased to hear Yello's 1980 classic Bostich and an updating of Cole & Clivilles' Do It Properly, although it was so altered I couldn't tell if it was a cover or the remix of the original.

2:15AM: We establish "Lost Children", a technique of setting a specific location in the room where at least some of our group can always be found again by those who have wandered off to explore. This year our home base was on the northwest corner of the dance floor and Lost Children worked pretty well to keep our guys together (when they wanted to be). Despite this, my houseguest and Little Tom are not seen again for the duration of the party. Dr. Jeff and Matt find us quickly.

2:30AM: The placement of a pool table in the lobby bar is explained when I encounter a porn star crouched on it as he's sodomized with the fat end of a pool cue. When the other guy starts shoving billiard balls in the porn star's ass, I move along. Seen that party trick already. On the way back from the bar I notice that the porn star's ass is now being filled with the contents of a beer bottle. Judging by the horrified shrieks that I hear as I leave the room, I guess that some spectators regret standing within spray distance.

4:00AM: Headliner DJ Jonathan Peters takes over. The dance area is much more crowded, but surprisingly we have little difficulty navigating the crowds to get to the bar in time for last call. Back at Lost Children, our family has grown to 20 or 30 friends and friends of friends. Lots of chat-dancing.

4:30AM: I make my only tour of the balcony area on my way to the upstairs restroom. On a stage a man is being hung with hooks through his back. Oh, the blood. Move along, Joe. Nearby, men are entering a large tent, which seems far too brightly lit inside for the kind of shenanigans I can see going on. At the other end of the balcony, I'm tempted to enter the long dark back room, something I've never done. I know that DJ Gustavo is way in the back, spinning for the huddled masses. I can hear his music, but I decide that it's not worth the trouble to push back there to see him. Mistaking my uncertainty, a perky young man stationed at the door shoves condoms, lube, and a tiny flashlight into my hands. I return the items to him, saying, "Maybe later," but I never make it back upstairs. In the bathroom, the snap breaks on my decades-old leather belt. Dammit.

5:00AM: Another sex show on the pool table. A young woman with short blond hair is dressed as a park ranger/zoo keeper as she is interviewed by a fake TV crew. Or maybe a real one. Who knows? A group of bare-breasted women wearing strap-ons proceed to "overcome" the park ranger and pillage her on the pool table. Were the other women supposed to be wild animals meting out justice on their cruel captor? Who knows? Not wanting to risk the sight of va-jay-jay, I move away quickly.

5:30AM: The main stage on the dance floor is a three-story mountain with a cave in the middle of the rocks. In the cave, an enormously obese woman wearing a giant pig head is lying in a sling over a roaring (fake) fire. OK, whatever. I go back to Lost Children and send some of our crew to see her. Minutes later the distinct smell of cooking bacon wafts over the dance floor, where it will linger for the next hour. Black Party, now in Odorama! A damn funny touch.

6:30AM: In anticipation of Little David's performance in the main show, we herd our group in front of the stage. The fat woman in the pig head is still in the sling when the music changes abruptly to the slow intro of a dance version of Stairway To Heaven. The crowd surges forward. One by one, very young men slathered with war paint climb onto the stage from the audience. I think they're dressed as school boys, maybe from one of those schools where the students are extremely ripped and don't wear shirts. Simultaneously, a chain is lowered over the dance floor and two very muscular young men ascend the chain by hand and begin to perform one of those aerialist acts that became a somewhat common feature of late 90's circuit parties. They are very, very good. On the stage, the boys wrestle Pig-head Woman from the sling and slap her around before their leader produces a butcher knife and slits her throat. Oh, the blood. Again. Fake blood this time, but still. Pig-Head Woman is decapitated and the leader of the boys holds the dripping head over his face as the blood pours down. I look around to see that the scene is being recorded by a dozen or more iPhones. So much for the "no cameras" rule. On the second tier of the mountain, two guys are using metal grinders to shoot up brilliant arcs of orange sparks. A man in rock-climbing gear begins to hoist himself up the mountain over the cave entrance, but when he reaches head-level, one of the war boys shoves a dildo in his ass. You don't see that at Crunch! Probably. Dr. Jeff and I cannot decide if any of the painted boys are Little David, but as we later find out, he and four other men are performing nude yoga poses on the top level of the mountain, out of our sight from the front of the stage. He did tell us we'd need to stand back to see him, but I'd forgotten. Sorry, David! On the cave level, additional buckets of blood appear and all the boys on the stage douse each other with it and generally writhe around. The end. Somebody suggests to me that the entire performance may have been meant to be evocative of Lord Of The Flies, but the metaphors of performance art have often eluded me. I've seen dozens of Black Party shows and this one baffles me most.

7:30AM: "Hello Black Party 2008! Woooo!" With that, a woman in a ginormous white afro and a floor-length white coat emerges from the cave on the stage and launches into a dance number. She sounds pretty good, but I couldn't catch enough of the lyrics to figure out the title of her song. At least ten people ask me who it is. Nobody knows. I worry that she'll slip on the blood. She finishes and disappears back into the cave with another "Black Party! Woooo!"

8AM: I'm kind of "meh" on Jonathan Peters thus far, but he does drop in a few of my favorites over the next couple of hours. Skatt Bros. Walk The Night. Donna Summer's new single I'm A Fire and I Feel Love. ABBA's The Visitors and Lay All Your Love On Me. Depeche Mode's Enjoy The Silence. Madonna's Like A Prayer. Bonnie Pointer's Heaven Must Have Sent You. John Paul Young's Love Is In The Air, during which people start looking around saying, "Morning Music already?" But the good stuff was few and far between. Just when we'd get a groove going, we'd be back in bang, crash, kaboom-land. Cruelly, Peters teases us with a only a snippet of the Saint standard, Hills Of Katmandu by Tantra. Dammit.

8:30AM: I'm dancing in a group that includes just-arrived Matt Foreman, his husband Frank, Rollerina, and rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, who is spectacularly attired in a mirror/rhinestone-flecked outfit. I think, "Holy crap, I'm dancing right in the middle of GAY HISTORY here!" Very, very cool moment. Matt, Gilbert, and I retire to the bleachers to yak about San Francisco politics: Mark Leno, Carole Migden, etc. Back on the dance floor, I find frequent JMG participant Freddy, he of P-Town, who is only wearing a jock and boots. And I would too if I had his body. Several of my friends inquire breathlessly, "How do you know HIM?" I just smile mysteriously. But not drunkenly, because the bar has now been closed for four hours. Dammit.

10:00AM: The party has thinned noticeably and is at perhaps one-third of its roughly 8000 participant max. My friends who are planning to attend Alegria or Susan Morobito's party at Splash begin to make warnings of departure. Dr. Jeff and Matt are done too, clocking an amazing ten hours at their first Black Party. I'm impressed. My pants are now so sweat-sodden that without a belt I must hold them up. Just as well, as closing DJ Joe Gauthreaux is due to begin and I need to change into sneakers and fresh jeans for the Morning Music. At the coat check I retrieve my backpack and strip naked to change, much to the interest of nobody. Can't say I blame them, there is far far better nakedness still on the dance floor. Dammit.

10:30AM: Joe Gauthreaux takes over and immediately takes the music up to top speed. Some of his stuff is OK, we dance, but knowing my love of Morning Music, everybody brings their complaints to me. "Where is the pretty?" "Where is the FLUFFY?" Even the dozen or so flaggers, who normally look completely blissed out, are shooting each other concerned looks. Matt Foreman sprinkles baby powder on the dance floor, a Saint tradition, but his dusting fails to evoke the Gods Of Fluffy And Pretty and the music remains mostly Ugly and Hard. Just like the guys upstairs! Rimshot! Just like the guys upstairs! I kid, I kid. There are enough porn stars and other beauties still here to fill the Titan float at SF Pride.

11:30AM: Still ugly. Still hard. Very very not happy about that, but there are so many friends around that even if the DJ were playing a long set of death metal, I'd still be pleasantly diverted. Maybe. I run into an old acquaintance sitting in the bleachers and ask him about his husband, who was quite ill when I last saw them a couple of years ago. Mistake. The husband has passed away. In fact, this morning is the one year anniversary of his death. My friend says he came to the party at 6am so that he wouldn't think about it all day. It also happens to be my friend's birthday. His husband died on his birthday. This revelation immediately brings me to tears, but at that moment Freddy wanders up and I recover by making introductions. After Freddy leaves, my friend also complains about the music. "I can't believe people paid so much money to endure THIS." I try not to think about it. I cuddle him in the bleachers while wanting to kick myself for bringing up his husband, who obviously would have been there if he were well. Would it have been worse not to ask at all? Dammit.

12:30PM: Two hours of DJ Joe Gauthreaux and still no hint of Saint classics. No Souvenirs. No Black Celebration. No Where Love Lives. I see some of the older guys who arrived after 8am, specifically for the Morning Music, beginning to leave in disappointment. I follow them downstairs, retrieve my coat and bag, then make a round of the main floor to make my good-byes to those waiting it out. I have no idea whether the Morning Music ever arrived, but after two hours of waiting I was too tired to find out. For the sake of those who stayed, I hope it did. My earliest Black Party departure ever. Dammit.

SUMMARY: My usual music selection issues aside, I had a fairly good time. Not the Best! Black Party! Ever! - but still OK. The presence of a couple of dozen very good friends and numerous acquaintances from around the country helped a lot. The sound system was clear and not overly loud, it never got unbearably hot, the staff was pleasant, and the entire operation from the front door to the bar was super-efficient. I didn't see any party-negatizing behavior from the patrons and the one incident I did hear about (a young man who injured himself rather grievously when he slipped on the marble staircase) was apparently handled very well. Overall, I'm giving Black Party 2008 two and half out of four stars. And I will return next year.

RELATED: Five Black Party virgins have blogged about their experience.

-Where HAVE You Been, Son?, from Dr. Jeff, author of Cynically Optimistic, who left in "awe of the spectacle of the thing."
- Black Out Party, from Scott, author of Ready, Set, Go. Scott won the Swag Tuesday ticket giveaway and had a rather adventure-filled evening.
- It's Like The Eagle On Steroids, from Rey, author of Donuts In Heaven. Rey tries not to judge. Especially his friends.
-Black Party Report, from Little David, author of Someone In A Tree. Little David enjoyed performing naked for thousands of men. And for somebody who loathes dance clubs, he had a surprisingly nice time.
-My First Black Party, from Gawker contributor Jory. Watersports! Celebrity sightings! And with Gawker's volume of readership, the city may be prompted to look into that there Black Party thing.

UPDATE: I'm told that after I left, DJ Joe Gauthreaux did play a few Saint standards, including a couple mentioned above and in the comments: Pet Shop Boys' Left To My Own Devices and Alison Limerick's Where Love Lives. Gauthreaux closed the party at 2pm (a bit early by Black Party standards) with I Hear Talk by Bucks Fizz, one of my all-time favorite songs. Argh. I'm more sorry now that I couldn't manage the final 90 minutes of the event, even though I'm told less than 200 people remained at closing. By then however, I was sound asleep. Still, I should give props to Gauthreaux for not completely ignoring the Saint canon.

UPDATE II, Mystery Vocalist: I've updated my Black Party 2008 review to add that promoters have informed me that the unannounced 7:30am performer was Katreese Barnes, the musical director of Saturday Night Live, who sang her new single Alright, Alright to general acclaim from party attendees. And that's a tough crowd right there, people. Barnes is the co-writer of SNL's smash viral video Dick In A Box, for which she shared a songwriting Emmy with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg. Barnes' songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross and many others.

Alright, Alright
was produced by Black Party headliner DJ Jonathan Peters and is available for streaming and download on, where it is currently #1 on their chart, thanks, no doubt, to Black Party attendees more in the musical know that I am. A murky clip of Barnes' performance has already surfaced on YouTube, but like the dozen or so other clips from this year's Black Party, it's almost unwatchable. I wasn't digging Alright, Alright so much at the party, but after a few listens on Masterbeat, I had to download it. There's always one tune that I hear for the first time at Black Party that comes to represent the event for me in years to come. This one is it.

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