Last night Kari and I headed out to what I think is the hottest ticket of the year as far as mainstream music goes. Obviously seeing Jeff Mangum twice and Fiona Apple in a space as small as Lincoln Hall were huge highlights for me, but Frank Ocean is hotter right now than either of them ever were. So hot, in fact, that we had to wait in line for over half an hour after doors opened just to get into the space. We were already not in the front, so we decided to check out the upstairs only to find out that it was entirely reserved-for whom was never made known. So we made our way back down and ended up about 9 people deep, stage left about fifteen feet from center. Amazingly I had a clear line of sight for the majority of the show.
The listed start time was 11, but anyone with common sense knew that wasn’t going to happen. The show actually started a little after 11:30, and was amazing from beginning to end. Frank came out and took a seat on the stool in the center of the stage. The first song was one that I didn’t really recognize-at least I don’t think so. It could have been that the crowd was so loud I just couldn’t hear him. He seemed excited to be playing, although he said after that song that he was feeling under the weather so he’d be relying on the crowd to help him sing.
That dynamic started on the second song, “Thinkin Bout You.” Frank sang the verses and held his mic out to the crowd for the chorus. He probably could have just stood there and held the mic out the entire song, because it sounded like everyone was singing every word at peak volume (including me). This delighted me greatly as I go to far too many shows where the people that paid for tickets seem apathetic about what’s going on in front of them. After the song (and every song, in fact) Frank thanked the audience a million times. The guy impresses me at every turn. How he’s been able to stay so humble and gracious during his meteoric rise over the past year is amazing.
The set was a pretty good mix of channel Orange material and songs off of his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. He also threw in a couple hooks, like the one from “Made In Ameica.” A lot of people probably forget that he started out writing songs for other artists. One of my favorite songs of his is actually “I Miss You” which he wrote for Beyonce. His version, which you can see on YouTube, is spectacular (he did not play it on this night). When he was talking about his new album, he said “Has anyone here heard channel Orange yet?” And of course the crowd went wild because it’s one of the best albums of the year and you have no excuse for not hearing it. He responded by saying “Thank you so much. Did you buy it or illegally download it? If you got it illegally I don’t really give a shit. As long as it’s a part of your life, I think that’s awesome.” A great display of how he feels about his music. He doesn’t do it for the money, he does it because it’s what he loves.
Some of the highlights, for me at least, were “Crack Rock,” “Novacane,” and “Pyramids.” I was hoping that there would be an appearance by Earl Sweatshirt for “Super Rich Kids,” but he wasn’t around. I hadn’t heard the non-Eagles version of “American Wedding” yet, and I was impressed with how good it sounds reworked. I was also pleased to see that Frank Ocean’s live band is a really talented group. The guy playing guitar and bass, their names weren’t revealed, really added a cool dimension to the show. They even gave Frank a break and played “White,” and played it as well or better than John Mayer (who plays it on the record).
And of course “Bad Religion” brought the house down.
The show went a little longer than I thought it would, which I was fine with. Even though he claimed to be sick, I thought Ocean sounded phenomenal. He has a really wide range, and never misses a note. In my review of channel Orange I claimed that Frank will be this generation’s Stevie Wonder, and I feel even more confident in that after seeing him live. He really seems to thrive up there and feeds off the love the audience is sending him. Even though it was really crammed on the floor and people were constantly running into me, I actually thought it was one of the better crowds I’ve ever been in-everyone there to just have fun and enjoy the music.
If you haven’t picked up either Nostalgia, Ultra or channel Orange yet, you should probably get on that. Stop denying yourself good music. Last night’s show and today’s appearance at Lollapalooza cap off Ocean’s US tour before he heads to Europe for some festivals and then spends some time opening for Coldplay. With the success he’s having, I’d venture a guess and say he’ll be back on the road soon. Don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the truly talented artists around today.