Yes Virginia, there is a “Mario Twins”. This is the story of one crazy night with Group X Arabian Rap Sensations.
Who is Group X? What is Group X? Why is Group X? This past weekend, I went to Atlanta searching for the answers to these questions and more. And I got answers. Bizarre, psychotic, cream-filled answers involving chemical spray-pumps and blue hair gel. But let’s jump back to the beginning of this twisted story…
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trading emails with Blade Razorr of the…unusual…rap group called Group X. Many of you will recognize them as the crazy guys behind “Mario Twins”, an extremely hyper and extremely funny verbalization of Koji Kondo’s immortal Super Mario Bros. score. Anyway, in our emails I was trying to help Blade set up a gig at my college later this summer. In the process, I had signed up for the Group X newsletter, and a notice went out on it that the band would be playing at the Masquerade club in Atlanta on March 23. This date falling on my otherwise empty spring break, I decided immediately that I’d make the long drive from home to ATL to see these guys.
My friend Taylor (you may remember him from the NASCAR story last year…he gave the hilarious Xbox testimonial) and I left my hometown about 4:30 PM Central time; the newsletter said the show didn’t start until 8:00, but you lose an hour going into Georgia, and Atlanta is about a three hour drive. In other words, we were going to be late and possibly miss some of Group X if I didn’t drive fast. So I drove fast. At 95 MPH on I-20 East, we covered 150 miles of interstate highway in about an hour and forty-five minutes (it took another hour just to get on the interstate in the first place). We ended up finding the Masquerade at 8:15 and I was paranoid as hell that we had missed the first part of Group X’s show.
False alarm. We got into the club and found out that the music in general started at 8:00, but that Group X was actually the headlining act and wouldn’t play until about 10:00. Thank goodness we didn’t miss anything…on the other hand, we had over an hour and a half to loaf about this place and be impatient. That time mostly passed without event, but at one point Taylor did discover the backstage area. It’s a room with couches all around the walls, directly behind the stage, with absolutely no security. Plus, while he was peeking around back there he heard someone call another person “Blade”. This got my hopes up for meeting Blade before their set, but that never did happen, mainly because I had no frigging clue what the guy looks like. Since all the bands playing that night were pretty much the same age as the crowd, it was really impossible to tell who might be the mystery guys I was looking for. Taylor and I basically just sat around until the next-to-last band, when we figured it would be a good idea to start infiltrating the crowd for a standing place close to the stage.
Warning: the rest of this article gets progressively more interesting, more unpredictable, and more insane. Proceed at your own risk.
The last opening band finished up, and several guys began setting up the stage for Group X’s performance. I was looking all over for any tell-tale signs that any of these people were actually in the band – keep in mind that I had absolutely no idea what any of these guys look like. One guy in particular was bringing out bags full of props and setting them up all over the stage. He hung up posters for Arabian movies, set a stuffed elephant lamp and a presumably empty chemical sprayer up on one of the speaker stacks, and littered children’s toys like plastic rocking horses and a tiny little slide all on the stage itself. Finally this dude hooked up a microphone to the delay-loop pedal and revealed his true identity. (Delay-loops let you record a short sequence of sounds from a microphone or other source and then have those sounds repeat automatically, over and over. By recording several such sequences, you can have them layer over one another to create a very complex loop of sound effects.) He recorded one loop: “tick-tick-tick-tick”. Another: “tock-tock-tock-tock”. Another: “whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo”. Finally: “Prepare for bomb crash!” I heard his voice finally pronounce real words and knew immediately this guy was Blade, the lead singer (err…rapper) for Group X. All these recorded sounds playing at once made it really sound like an air raid was going on; to make matters weirder, all the people on stage cleared off towards the back and the lights went out. Thus began what I call the “smoke out”…the air raid sounds, almost total darkness, and zero sign from the band or anyone else that a concert was about to start. Some people in the crowd obviously didn’t understand and were getting visibly pissed, but most were willing to play along. After about five minutes, someone ran over to the delay-loop pedal to turn off the sounds, but the darkness and lack of stage presence continued. Several people (including myself) just filled in the silence with our own renditions of the air raid sounds; my contribution was “Prepare for bomb crash!” in my best Group X accent.
After about five more minutes of the smoke-out, someone on stage signaled with a flashlight for the intro to be played. The intro appeared to be professionally done, with a guy telling the history of Group X and how they came to America as rap stars. “The year was 1969 AD. Three boys were born to three different goat herding families...” etc. About halfway through the hilarious intro, the band themselves finally jumped out on stage in full costume. That is to say, three guys wearing ski jackets, 80s-style wristbands, and black pants with one leg ripped off and the underlying pocket flopping about. The one in the middle, Blade, also had an Arabian-style blue cloth tied over his head, and it was hard to see his face. I could tell though, that he was definitely the same guy who had set up the air raid sounds several minutes before. The now exposed Group X proceeded with a ridiculous and very funny dance, fully choreographed with lots of crotch grabbing and even Ace Ventura-style ass talking.
Once the pre-recorded intro finished, the band took their places on stage: Rex at drums, Rob on bass guitar (he’s apparently a temporary member of the band), and Blade on the front microphone. I learned later that Blade used to play bass and Hashmeer was the lead rapper, but Hashmeer has left and now the members have rotated a bit. A couple other fellows appeared onstage too; one guy on the tambourine and additional percussion was described as the bassist’s son (even though they were obviously of similar ages) and an Asian guy affectionately named “Flat-Eyed Tony” manned the keyboard. Blade introduced all these people, along with one final character: Donnie Erection, a gay man dressed up more or less like a clown, whom the band supposedly met at the airport when arriving in America for the show. Donnie Erection’s job was to invite people from the audience up onto the stage to get a “makeover”. What this actually meant was that your friends could shove you up there and Donnie Erection would draw all over your face or body with lipstick and spread some cheap blue goo all in your hair.
Blade said hello to us Americain idioths and said their first song would be the “Strawberry Short Song”. True to its name, the song lasted all of nine seconds. When it was over, Blade thanked us all for coming and said goodnight, the concert was over. The band got up and walked off, and we audience members waited patiently for the punchline. Finally an exasperated member of the previous act came out and explained that Group X was upset with the crowd for not being energetic, and that they refused to come back and finish the show unless ten people in the audience took off their shirts. One by one, brave souls (or just guys wanting to show off) took off a shirt and twirled it in the air to prove they’d done it. The guy onstage ran back to tell the band, but came back with the unfortunate news that the band’s new demand was for eleven and a half shirts off, with at least one being a girl. Finally one girl did it (she still had a bra on underneath) and the band returned.
Blade had now removed his headdress, and both he and Rex had taken off their jackets. They were both wearing plain white t-shirts under the shiny little vests that come with tuxedos. (Blade later revealed his t-shirt, and his friend had written on there “I fly ah plaine”. For me, it was the only joke that night whose tastelessness overcame its humor.) Blade asked for a volunteer to come up onstage and stand on one foot for the entire show. If he made it, he could be part of Group X. The guy who jumped up to try had an awesome, huge afro. He put forth a very admirable effort and almost made it, but towards the end he switched feet and was disqualified.
The band proceeded to perform several of its trademark songs. During “Peanuts”, Blade danced around with a bag of peanuts and threw most of them out into the audience. Likewise with “Cheese” and a bag of shredded cheese. Like any good rapper, he enlisted the audience’s help with the chorus lines from songs such as “You would give me kiss if I were on soccer team” and “Pyussycathe Ho”. I really enjoyed “Bang Bang Bang”, which I had not heard before, and “Too Many Guys”, even though they omitted the classic opening line about Oreo crackers and “saix”.
Between songs, Blade would ramble on about various topics or play a game with the audience. He asked a riddle, and said anyone who got it wrong would have to leave immediately (just a joke, of course). He took questions from the audience and then the band would answer them with a song…in actuality, this meant Blade would throw a short answer into the delay-loops and then the band would jam for a couple minutes about nothing in particular. For example, I got the opportunity to ask a question, so I said, “Where are your camels?” (It was meant to be an inside joke pertaining to the band’s camel profiles on their website, but I think it came off differently. Oh well.) My answer was a couple minutes of “In a bawx! Our camels are in a bawx!” repeating while the band improvised some nonsense song to which I couldn’t even understand the words. The idea, of course, is that it doesn’t really matter what question you ask; the band can answer in “song” form because they don’t really answer the question in a song but rather the delay-loops.
Another big event was the scavenger hunt. Upon entry to the Masquerade, everyone was given a small piece of paper with items to find for Group X’s scavenger hunt. It said whoever found the most would get a prize. Items included “girl waith largaist braists”, “$50 americains bill”, “muntclothe” (tampon), and “teacowp sait”. The group who won had almost every single item; their prize was a cymbal used on the first Group X album. Pretty cool prize, but I would have wanted it signed by the members if I’d won.
There was also a dance contest, which was won by a very attractive girl who hardly danced at all, and a song during which two people were asked to rock on the tiny plastic rocking horses. During all this, Donnie Erection was periodically giving his makeovers to random people, and he’d tell you go back offstage with a little pat on the ass. Blade also reciprocated the audience involvement a couple times by jumping into the crowd and dancing all over the place, or shoving his butt into the front row for the ladies to smack. The mosh pit so present during the previous act was totally gone during Group X’s performance; I think maybe those guys knew they couldn’t compare to the wild physical activity onstage…
I wish I could say more about the music itself, but I’m not a music critic at all and unfortunately don’t have any experience describing such things. I did enjoy the music a ton and thought the band’s performance sounded very close to the studio versions on the songs I was familiar with. It was even better when I could sing along, and I expect to have even more fun the next time I see them, when I’m much more familiar with the music.
At some point Taylor volunteered to get a makeover, which consisted of black mascara being smeared all around his eyes and the obligatory blue hair goo. While he was up there, a guy in the audience saw him and called out his name. Turns out they were old school buddies, reunited thanks to Donnie Erection. It’s a small world after all.
Finally the show started to wind up. The backup percussionist took over drum duties so Rex could come down and help Blade with the last few songs. The finale was “Mario Twins”, a song that most of the audience seemed to know, and probably the reason that you wanted to read this long-winded article in the first place. I was sad to see the band skip the opening dialogue and jump straight into the World 1-1 music, but Blade added a rap verse at the end that I couldn’t really make out. During the water level sequence, Taylor decided that I needed a makeover too, so he got Donnie Erection’s attention and started pushing me towards the stage. I figured, “Why the hell not,” and at least I’d get to do it during the biggest song of the night. So before I knew it, I was onstage getting purple lipstick smeared all over my face, swaying back and forth and singing along with the band’s “blips” and “bloops” and “gloops” of Mario swimming underwater. It seemed to be a good way to end such a bizarre experience.
Actually though, the experience wasn’t quite over. “Mario Twins” wrapped up and the band finished with a long instrumental jam, during which Blade essentially romped all over the stage, dancing like a wild animal and pouring the rest of Donnie Erection’s cosmetic supplies all over his face and body. As this final dose of insanity wound down, I suggested to Taylor that we start heading towards the back area we’d discovered earlier to try and talk to the guys. Sure enough, we waltzed right into the room with the couches and all of Group X was hanging out, along with some other guys that were obviously personal friends. I approached Blade and introduced myself as the guy who’d been emailing him about playing at Auburn University (my school). He was now out of character and, surprisingly, a very calm and extremely nice guy. He said they are definitely coming to Auburn in the summer. Success! I congratulated him on a great show, thanked him for talking with me, and gave him a hearty handshake. With that, Taylor and I left the Masquerade as quickly as possible. We were both quite exhausted and, perhaps worse, we looked like failed drag queens with our faces all marked up. The only bathroom I’d found at the club had no working sink, as the building is extremely old, and I suppose guys at nightclubs aren’t the type to be overly concerned about washing up in the restroom. (We ended up getting to clean up at a Waffle House on the way out of Atlanta.)
Overall, my first Group X show was a blast. More than just a rap concert, it was almost like a party or circus sideshow. The amount of audience interaction was amazing; probably 25% of the crowd was up onstage at one time or another. If you wanted to get up there with the band and act crazy, you did. The attitude was pretty much what I expected: Blade was generally abusive towards the crowd and tossed out a lot of funny insults about Americans and how stupid we are, etc. The man is a self-proclaimed “scatological disaster”. It’s nothing I hadn’t heard in their songs beforehand, and anyone who gets offended by that stuff is totally not getting the joke behind Group X in the first place. I went into the evening hoping for the best but prepared for a gimmick band, just a couple of guys rapping in a funny accent. It turns out these guys are more like musical performance artists. They shock, they rap, they amuse…but most of all, they keep you guessing. I kept asking myself, “What crazy shit will they do next?” and was never disappointed by the answer.
You can find out more about Group X at their website, http://www.groupxarab.com.