Punks Be Not Proud: The Rock & Roll Circus

“This is a rock ‘n’ roll circus,” yelled Ian Vanek of punk band Japanther, taking a pause from wilding out on the drums, “not a security guard fucking circus.” Fans of Japanther were surging toward the musicians. Behind the band was a banner that said “Japanther,” and further beyond that a long serpentine slide and a large sign in lights that said “Big Apple” after the circus in whose tent the band was now performing. People were out of their seats, climbing to the front and over the short divide, pressing on as they would at any Japanther show. Who could blame them? But as this was Lincoln Center, home of the Metropolitan Opera and The New York Philharmonic, the crowd was broken up, steadily and repeatedly, by the guards.

Maybe it was the clown hoisted onto the shoulders of screaming fans that got the guards riled up. People looked around nervously. Some started to chant, “All we are saying, is let the band play.” Maggie Lee of Vice, Carlos Valpeoz of Bikes in the Kitchen, and his girlfriend, designer Sarah Bergenheim, were some of the fans in the ring. Japanther — the last and most anticipated act of the night — had only played three songs when their set was abruptly called off. The energy in the ring felt dangerous at times, if only because of the hostility between the guards and concert-goers. Earlier in the night, the So So Glos invited moshers into the ring with no fall-out. And both Pharmacy and The Electric Tickle Machine performed without a hitch. Then again, this was Japanther. There’s a reason they were the last act. By some accounts, the night got even crazier.


Blending circuses and rock concerts to heighten and complement the eccentricity of each is a tradition that dates back at least to the Rolling Stones, who did a rock ‘n’ roll circus in ‘68. Last night, the tents were peopled with stilt-walkers, evil clowns and tattoo-artists inking the arms of party-goers outside the theater. There was ice cream by Van Leeuwen’s Ice Cream Truck, “Mick Jagger” cocktails (“Belvedere vodka and soda”) in the VIP Lounge, and circus performers doing back flips in the break room. A night like no other in the city.


Tonight is another chance to see rock n roll in a big circus tent, this time alongside a performance by the Big Apple Circus. For now, here are a more pictures from the first night.

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