Under the Manhattan Bridge overpass Saturday night, Diesel threw what has to go down as the party of the year (unless Kid Rock swoops in on New Year’s Eve or some other crazy shit like that). How do we know? Because 1,500 people couldn’t get in. It’s a bit of a cheap shot, we know, declaring Diesel’s 30th-anniversary party incredibly awesome even though some of our own friends were left outside. But their loss. The sheer extravagance on display — cotton-candy machines, funnel-cake stands, free-flowing booze for 5,000 people, and a lineup that included every great acronymically named artist currently in existence: N.E.R.D., M.I.A., T.I. — was enough to lift us out of our Greatest Depression blues until at least next Saturday.
It was around 11:30 p.m. (the doors opened at 9) that we started getting text messages begging for help. Pharrell’s road manager was panicking backstage because the president of BET was trapped outside. Erika Christensen missed half the performances before a PR woman came out to rescue her. “It was bad,” she said. “I saw girls out there crying. Literally crying!” The FDNY and NYPD had shut down the entrance, saying the venue — a big tent on the waterfront — was over capacity. And it WAS packed to the point of needing oxygen tanks. But the bigger problem seemed to be the makeshift VIP balconies, which literally swayed underfoot with the music.
The party went on for another half an hour without most of the inside crowd being aware of the problem. T.I. played a blazing set, which segued into Franz Ferdinand’s with the Scots acting as his backup band on “Live Your Life” (the evening’s highlight, which can be seen below). But the second Franz Ferdinand took the stage, a scary-looking, cross-armed fire marshal stepped out from the shadows.
Addressing revelers on the balcony, Franz lead singer Alex Kapranos’s voice took on the tone of an angry schoolmarm. “The Fire Department wants to shut the party down,” he said. “It’s all over unless half of you up there come over down here!” The scary-looking FDNY guy took the mike and gave them a five-minute deadline. No one moved. Kapranos took back the mike. “Get the fuck down!” he said, now sounding quite desperate and angry. “Did you hear what the man said? Five minutes or you go home. I don’t want to go home! Do you want to go home?”
Then at the slightest sign of movement, and without any okay from the FDNY, the band launched into “Michael” and the evening was on again. From what we could tell, the only change had been that people had stopped sitting on the stairs to the balcony. The party went on for hours more. Clearly pregnant M.I.A. came out in an adorable white jumper, Converse sneakers, and bomber jacket to sing “Paper Planes” with N.E.R.D., then got sick in her trailer. And N.E.R.D.’s set culminated with everyone backstage (including Christensen) rushing around Pharrell for a frenzied dance party, while the crowd below Frisbee-tossed about a hundred foam Diesel-branded cushions onstage.
As the party cleared out, we spotted Kapranos and thanked him for saving the day. He shrugged off the praise. “I had a fire marshal in my ear telling me he was going to end the night,” he said. “You know, it seemed like a good party, and we hadn’t played yet, properly. The last thing I wanted to do was the party to end.” So, he said, he shouted at the crowd. “Actually, I felt like a little bit of a downer, but I think people were so pissed [as in drunk] nobody knew what the fuck was going on. I could have been saying anything up there. It wouldn’t have made any difference at all.” He panicked when he saw zero crowd reaction, which was when his voice went up about an octave. “We were supposed to wait,” he said. “The fire marshal said we had to wait till everybody got off the balcony. I thought, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just play.’” And they did. “All I know,” said Kapranos, “is fire marshals are a big pain in the ass.”
Just for the hell of it, here’s Franz Ferdinand and T.I.: