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DEJA REVIEW: FENCES AT CHOP SUEY, JULY 2nd 2017.

July 20, 2017

                                                                                                                                    Photo By Erin Lynn
Once the opening band, Ruler, cleared their gear from the stage I realized this was going to be a Chris Mansfield acoustic set. This show was not billed as an acoustic set so it took me by surprise. It was a little misleading to show up ready for my senses to be consumed by the full ensemble of the band, Fences, only to be left as stripped and vulnerable as this front man and his guitar. This was going to be a different kind of show – I was not prepared for just how different it would be.

I’m trying to find the best way to compose my thoughts on what I witnessed from Fences at his curated Chop Suey show. I’m vacillating between disbelief & anger for the behavior I witnessed to sheer pity for a man (that I intuit based on said behavior is) fighting extreme demons in the public eye.

As Fences stood on the desolate stage and tuned his guitar he was commanding everyone in the bar area to, “Shut the fuck up so I can hear myself think.” This was an all-ages show so the not-really-that-loud yet chatty drinkers were confined to the back bar area while the underage crowd was in front ready to pay homage to the musician they find solace in.Before getting started he told everyone how tired he was because he was fresh off a flight from New York. He proceeded to go on a tangent about how he didn’t want to do this show, it was a waste of his time. How he didn’t need the $2500 that he was getting paid for this gig because he spends that in one night (cue collective eye roll). His fans love him for his honest, no bullshit, interactions but this was straight uncomfortable and disrespectful to those who paid their $12 to see him.

I snapped my pictures and recorded a video of his first song, about the time his stepdad shot a deer but let his mom think that she was the one who shot it and let her take all the glory. It was a truly a smart and melodic song about something gruesome yet sweet. Once he stops his anxiety filled diatribes, he’s an ingenious musician who can make the ugly and macabre sound delicate and delightful.This man has been gifted with a musical brilliance, an internal force that compels him to write songs; it’s not what he does it’s who he is. It’s the gift the universe bestowed upon him. Another gift that was bestowed upon him, which is extremely counterintuitive, is some sort of anxiety. Unfortunately, it was the anxiety that took center stage at his acoustic set that night. He became increasingly uncomfortable standing naked in front of a crowd that was clapping after every song. He likened himself to being a clown, “Everyone stare and clap for the clown,” he said at one point.

In between emotive songs, his demons took over and he continually berated everyone who was there supporting him, worshiping him. After his second song, third diatribe, I retreated to the back bar to get out of the line of fire. I approached a friend who had been in the bar area (and is known in the Seattle music industry), we gave each other the side-eye, raised eyebrow look and his words to me were:

“And this is how it ends.”

What we were witnessing is the fall of a musician in real time. Someone who had a high, rode it, allegedly exhausted himself, and now we are collectively witnessing his low – his self-induced rock bottom. The ugly diarrhea diatribes spewing from his mouth were despicable. They slayed any imaginary professional line that is drawn and it was a big fuck you to everyone there. In fact, he may have told the audience to fuck off but I didn’t record that one. I did record the fact that he mentioned his next song was about a friend that committed suicide, and stated, “If you blow your head off, I’ll write a song about it”. Probably not one of the most responsible things to say at an all-ages show.

I was beyond offended. In fact, I liken it to being in an abusive relationship. A classic case of a narcissist acting lovely, smart, and vulnerable to reel you in and then knocking you down for supporting and loving him. It’s confusing, he’s confusing. He continued to threaten to stop the set early because he was, “Over it.” “I just want to be done,” he would say. At one point he said he wanted to bring the meekest girl from the audience on stage so she could stand there mortified and embarrassed so we can all clap for her. I guess this was an effort to describe his level of embarrassment or maybe his deep disdain for his job, or himself? I don’t claim to know what type of demons he’s fighting, but the darkness is front and center and bubbling over.

Never have I ever seen a live show tank with such negativity. It completely overshadowed his brilliance, his years in the industry, his successes, and his natural God-given talents. All I can see now is his decline. It’s unfortunate and extremely disconcerting to watch. Above being a music lover, I’m an artist supporter and a fan first and foremost. Although I was comped a ticket (by his people I might add) and there to write a review, I was also there as a supporter. But I cannot and will not get behind anyone that spews hate to his supporters. This is also a job and it’s a job he continues to choose. It’s a job where ordinary people look up to him as a bigger than life creative being and I watched him shit all over those people.

The remainder of his set was a mix of him continually threatening the bar area to stop talking or he was going to set down his guitar and walk away and the bar bouncer running interference and shutting down any “loud talkers.” “I’m really not a prima-donna,” he said. I made my way to the furthest back seat in the venue in order to continue writing my review while the show droned on. The night ended with Fences stating, “This might be my last song; I feel over it. This is fucking stupid; stupid shit. Ah fuck me. No but don’t.” He announced that he was done before his planned set list was played out. He set down his guitar and left the stage leaving the small remainder of his paid fans out in the cold with zero regards. (YouTube)

I wish he would have given me some semblance of integrity to work with, something that resembles the vulnerability and depth of his songs. I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of shows but nothing has left me feeling this uncomfortable and turned off. I’ve never been able to say that I’ve watched the exact moment a musician imploded. I imagine this was a first for most of us in attendance.

Let’s end with a good thing from that night:
Ruler, the 2nd opener, was the highlight of the night. Matt Batey was dropping poppy Seattle indie rock jam after jam. His eclectic mash-up of bandmates were high energy and incredibly tight even though they’re all part of other focused musical projects. As local fixtures in the Seattle music scene, members include fellow Cataldo bandmate, Eric Anderson, on keys and Portugal the Man’s, Eric Howk, on guitar. Ruler was the saving grace of the evening as Fences was falling from grace. This is what rock professionalism looks like.
Written by: Erin Lynn

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