By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
"I knew he wasn't coming," shouted one fan, as a few bottles smashed on the floor from the upstairs balcony. But though tempers flared--one scuffle resulted in a knife injury, and a couple audience members tried to hop the refund counter to get to the register--the throng exited mostly without serious incident, a fact that club management and many fans attribute to Top Tone's having taken responsibility for the no-show. "We were worrying about people's safety," he says. "We had a potential riot situation, and Paranoid was no longer there, so it was up to me to go up there and explain what was going on."
While they were carting Bill Blass to the airport, the Earneys were being accused of ducking out of a volatile situation--a charge that Michele, who MCed most of the night, denies. But by the time they returned to the club at about 1 a.m., First Avenue's manager Steve McClellan was incensed. "When this whole thing exploded, Paranoid Promotions left the room, weren't here; Top Tone was the savior," says McClellan. "And when we were doing refunds, we discovered that they'd sold laminants [which are typically complimentary VIP passes] without telling us." In fact, Top Tone admits he sold the passes, but he says he refunded them out of his own pocket. Michele maintains she gave hers away. "A scam is when someone gets something out of it," says Michael, sounding rattled but in good humor. "I've got nothing but bills now."
In the end, it was probably best that no one from Paranoid made the dreaded announcement to the audience. "Michele Earney was amateurish," says McClellan. "Several times during the night, I said, 'Would somebody please get her off the stage.' Her emceeing was abysmal." And given that the already hostile crowd had been drinking for three hours by the time it booed her husband, Michele's chastising statement that Rakim wouldn't perform "until all the talent is heard and gets love" was unwise at best. The speech prompted club-operations manager Chris Olson to hail her on the club's staff radio system. "I told her not to talk about the headlining performer anymore," he says. "For a first-time promoter who wasn't even sure the talent was in the state, that was just a really unprofessional thing to do."
All parties feel stung by the no-show and its aftermath, which flirted with physical disaster and now promises economic havoc as well. "My name is all over this," says Top Tone. "My record-company name is all over this, and my money is all completely involved in this. I've got to keep my credibility: I mean, I've worked too hard to build a label out of here." Top Tone was counting on profits from Rakim's concert to fund the national release of his forthcoming third CD. Co-investors were also scalded when Tone was forced to subsequently cancel Rakim's concert the next night in Des Moines, which he and Paranoid had also promoted.
Tone says he saw Rakim at the airport when he picked him up Monday, but he didn't speak to him and took a separate vehicle to the hotel. He now wonders if the great rapper, who had flown in from Europe, even knew why he was in Minnesota. "Why would he come here, have a potential $18,000, go into his hotel, and then leave?... I don't know, because all channels go through Bill Blass."
For their part, the Earneys fired off a press release on Tuesday morning, July 7, saying that Blass gave "a reason we feel is not valid" for the rapper's quick departure. They claim Blass left with Tone's $9,000 down payment; at press time, they add, he has refunded neither that money nor Paranoid's promotional expenses, which Michael estimates to be $6,000. After two days of crossed wires, Blass did call both Top Tone and the Earneys. According to them, he was apologetic, but emphasized that Rakim did indeed rush to his wife's side. He also reportedly offered to reschedule a discounted--or perhaps free--concert.
Given the bad blood between Paranoid Promotions and First Avenue, a reset date for a Rakim concert at the old club seems unlikely. The Earneys instead say that they are looking at an offer from Bad Boy Entertainment to put on a concert for disappointed fans.
Michele doesn't, however, intend to refund the $100 entry fees to bands that competed to perform with Rakim, and never did. "We've talked to the artists who were in the show," says Michele, "and they were really happy that they got to perform, even though Rakim did not."
At First Avenue, McClellan remains disturbed by the whole affair, which he calls "a nightmare." After assembling employees at 1:30 a.m. that night, he told them he was sorry, in his words, "for working with an artist who put you all on the line." McClellan, long wary of booking large national rap acts, is still optimistic about the club's Soundset Wednesdays, a new hip-hop night hosted by Rhyme Sayers Entertainment that kicked off two days after that strange night. He sees the whole incident as a step backward for hosting hip-hop stars.