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Alternative spirit ran strong at Vice's 20th birthday blowout

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Vice 20th Birthday Party
Sam Clarke/Vice

On Friday night, New York’s hottest club was a giant warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It had everything—pupusas, porta-potties with flower arrangements, Jonah Hill covering Drake’s “Marvins Room.”

Wait, what?

For its colossal 20th birthday bash, Vice Media packed a few hundred fans into the Duggal Greenhouse to watch a truly once-in-a-lifetime lineup of musicians take the stage. Early on, “semi-official MC and host” Andrew W.K. promised the crowd “covers, originals, and spontaneous orgasms.” He wasn’t far off.

Like Vice itself, the evening was a hodgepodge of seemingly disparate parts that don’t always fit. Hill—who was backed up by Spike Jonze on guitar—couldn’t seem to decide whether to be funny or serious, and ended up being neither. And when Scarlett Johansson took the stage to sing New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” audience members mostly just wondered if it was actually her.

But the night’s high points blew the momentary, clickbait missteps out of the water. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner led a backing band that also featured Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and Gorillaz drummer Pauli PSM, which provided slick grooves each guest vocalist could easily slip into.

Some of the highlights included Chromeo, performing their 2004 Vice Records track “Needy Girl,” and the Unicorns’ Nick Thorburn, who led the band in a stupid-good rendition of the Rapture’s classic dance cut “House of Jealous Lovers.” The lineup only got more schizophrenic from there, but Zinner’s crunchy guitar gave the evening continuity.

Other genres made strangely sequenced appearances, and with mixed results. After W.K, Chromeo, and Thorburn opened the show, a Vice-assembled metal supergroup featuring members of Megadeth, Testament, and Municipal Death performed. Their medley was a lot of metal for a before-midnight set, but it included a blistering version of Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” that converted many skeptics.

After a brief, hilarious performance by raunch rapper and de facto Vice food critic Action Bronson—in which he rhymed over Tracy Chapman’s immortal “Give Me One Reason”—another supergroup took the stage. F—ed Up’s singer Damian Abraham led the ensemble onstage, asked the crowd if it liked hardcore, and then barreled through an abrasive and totally stellar punk medley that included Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” Cro-Mags’ “We Gotta Know,” Black Flag’s “Police State,” and a Jay Reatard tribute. This was no Clash revival.

On a rainy evening where protestors marched Manhattan streets to protest the NYPD, punk played a huge role. When members of Pussy Riot took the stage, one declared “Murder is murder, and murder should not be met with indifference.” Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves repeated the movement’s mantra, “black lives matter,” before performing an insane cover of the Strokes’ “New York City Cops.” Even Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker followed a Wayne Coyne-inspired cover of Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” with Sham 69’s rallying cry “If the Kids Are United.”

The night had many more memorable moments: Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus covered The Black Crowes’ “Remedy.” Karen O and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs joined Zinner for a transcendent performance of “Maps” and early rarity “Art Star.” Ghostface Killah brought the Wu-Tang vibe, and Lil’ Wayne brought, well, Lil’ Wayne. The-Dream blew the hinges off M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” and Andrew W.K. closed out the mini-music festival with a deranged version of Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.”

From locale to audience to performance, the event was bizarre, random, yet strangely poignant. One might even say it was inherently Vice.