I was feeling a bit unlawful as we reached the corner across from Pioneer Square. "Wait cop." My friend, Charlie Salas-Humaras (who today will be known as Panther), turns his body to the side in some ridiculous attempt to block the view of his elephantine amplifier. This man is the best fucking band I've ever seen.
Charlie confides, "I'm really fucking nervous. Like, I know I've jinxed myself; I've said this before, I just think that someone is going to freak out and kick my ass. You know, just because they're confused."
The cop passes, and we cross the street into Pioneer Square. Charlie with his amp, me with a mini tape recorder and a few others already in place with various cameras. Though six of us are involved in this little stunt, the entire situation is reliant upon the giant brass nuts of Charlie. We dart through the scattered crowd of a few folks, all of which are gathered here for no apparent reason. Charlie is shaking a bit while he plugs his gear in to the predetermined outlet that, miraculously, has power flowing to it. He turns on. The crowd seems to be waiting for what is about to happen while simultaneously not giving a shit about anything at all. Perfect.
A squelch of feedback leaks out of the amplifier, echoing several blocks from where we stand. Glances that say, "oh fuck," bounce between the members of our militia.
Standing solo at the center of the curved performance area, the performance commences: "Hello. We're called Panther."
The music, which consists of pre-produced electronica, is not your standard techno fare. Stuttered bleeps, daft synthesizer tones, and minimal rhythm accompaniment support Panther's deconstructionist R&B vocals. With an oddly humanistic feel caused by an utter lack of the usual technology that helps to produce electronic music, the result is a bizarre but genius swing at futurism. The intense delivery and totally unorthodox soundtrack are what make this a "stunt," as opposed to just some guy playing music on the street.
Of course, I don't expect the people here today to understand that--or even care, for that matter. For them, this is more about free entertainment. I ask a mid-30s, suburban-looking couple what they think. They seem a bit dazed: "It's bizarre."
"No, I haven't seen anything like it. It's entertainment, I guess." Another, similar couple lets me know that they are in fact "warming up to it." I imagine that only means they don't find it totally loathsome.
I continue to pursue commentary while Panther continues to spaz. The amassing crowd, at this point, seems more like orderlies in a mental ward poising to restrain an AWOL patient.
"I think it fucking rocks," one of the typical hang-out-in-Pioneer-Square kids tells me.
Another, high school-ish guy says, "I like the beat, man. It's fuckin' tight. A lot of people would be sayin' the shit is tight--you know what I'm sayin'?" Yeah, totally.
In the background, someone yells something about cocaine. Panther's set is nearly finished, and miraculously, nobody, law enforcement or otherwise, shows up to put a stop to this peculiar event. Even more surprising is the size of the crowd assembled to watch some handsome lunatic singing falsetto R&B along to crappy techno. The biggest shock comes at the finish, when the end of the last song turns into a massive eruption of applause.
This is the part when I'm supposed to insert some kind of embarrassing and cliché commentary about how this public shenanigan turned into a success and made everyone happy, and Charlie and I high-five and hug in slow motion. But no; this is the part where I became confused. What was meant to totally bewilder the Sunday afternoon crowd to the point of Panther getting his ass kicked, did quite the opposite: It was well received. A girl yells out, "Dude! Will you marry me?"
While everyone goes back to the getaway van, I duck back to get some final commentary from a group of teenage girls lined up in front the whole time. "People need to do that more," one notes. I wholeheartedly agree. When she determines I have some kind of association with this whole charade, the girls' questions suddenly shift my direction. "Where does he, like, perform?"
"Do you know him?"
I'm stumped by the last question, which comes from the most deadpan member of the group: "Is there a deeper meaning?" I stutter my way out of any real answer, and thank them for their time. But is there a meaning? Only Panther truly knows.