At 7:00 AM, July 4th, young party people ambled out of Manhattan Center into pale light already wearing sunglasses. But it wasn't freedom that was ringing in their ears after a long night out. For ten hours, inside the 20,000 square foot ballroom, miscalibrated bass punched their cochleas. Billed as the event to "pop off" before fireworks over the Hudson, over a thousand had waited patiently for someone to light the fuse.
Some watched from balconies and side boxes as the DJs raised their arms above a wall of LEDs and smoke, swallowed by the Live Nation and Area Event giantess. A mothership rig of swiveling projectors, meanwhile, beamed down streams of light from seventy-five feet overhead, and long paper lanterns flashed with color and crackled with strobe. In Hammerstein tradition of days gone by and in imitation of the Cocoon freak show, a bevy of vaudevillian characters writhed center stage: A chicken man in stars and stripes kilt, the golden Buddha, a homemade robot, the art students in black skivvies, Satan with his boombox, someone covered in shaving cream and glitter and a partially mummified man baby kept the digital camera wielding masses entertained. Musically, though, the mothership never landed.
That's because the programming was unimaginative and oddly restrained considering the holiday excitement and bigger-than-big-room venue. After a few hours of tech house warm-up sets, the headliners sank into dark and drugged tribal techno anonymity. Steve Lawler played a diluted version of his May Essential Mix for Radio 1. The voice of Roland Clark urged "all you hip-hoppers, you do-woppers, name-droppers, you pill-poppers: Come into our house, to get deep." Nevertheless the material coasted, the most dynamic moment a total outage that sounded like a flipped switch on the power strip. After a crew replaced Serato with Traktor, Victor Calderone vacantly followed with wailing siren synth, delayed Spanish talk and a single shout from an air horn.
Despite sound and stage, it was up to the DJs to forget business and elevate the room. Unfortunately, they failed to truly engage the receptive audience or even distinguish themselves from one another. It was a visual spectacle, but ultimately a misdirected marathon with a corporate aftertaste, that never allowed Firecracker to go off. (That was left to six barges floating in the Hudson River the following night.) Below deck there was an unannounced second party near the bathrooms, where the 18+ crowd preened amidst urns and marble, and a handful of people hopped around the bright red carpet to piercing highs. Posted by the staircase was a photocopied DJ schedule that included Hercules & Love Affair, represented by one member, and the absent Damian Lazarus. Firecracker's tickets reached $55, so until sunrise the venue remained full of those hopeful, those reluctant and those strung out enough to be satisfied.