all words: Phil Runco
all photos (by the very brave): Aditya Banerjee
The Rock and Roll Hotel was on red alert. Early on Wednesday, words of warning surfaced on its Twitter account: “NO BAGS, PURSES, OR BACKPACKS OF ANY KIND.” Water bottles were later added to that list of contraband via the venue’s website. Concertgoers arriving at the club were greeted with more obvious restrictions – “No Weapons Allowed” – and a full body pat down.
Why the martial law? Odd Future was in town. The Golf Wang. And Rock and Roll Hotel was taking no chances. None. Well, aside from continuing to sell glass bottles of beer. Close enough, I suppose.
Still, all the preparation in the world wasn’t going to stop this crowd from loosing its shit at the first incitement, which happened roughly 60 seconds into opener “Sandwitches” when the collective’s ringleader Tyler, the Creator ripped off his green ski mask and launched himself headfirst into the crowd. He was caught and carried by the masses, but also greeted by an eruption of beer suddenly tossed in his direction. “What the fuck is up with throwing beer at me?” he would later ask, as if a crowd encouraged to “Kill people / Burn shit / Fuck school” had suddenly crossed some line of civility with a little splashing.
A few airborne beverages weren’t going to rain on Tyler’s parade though. “I’m happy as fuck to be here right now,” he told the sold-out audience. “As some of you motherfuckers know, I dropped some shit a week ago entitled Goblin,” he went on, dragging out the “o” with demonic glee. He would repeat that line throughout the night when introducing songs from that album. To underscore the accomplishment, he pat himself on the back: “I am very happy and proud of myself.”
So, yeah, Tyler’s riding pretty high right now, especially on himself. Earlier in the day news broke that Goblin – his label debut – had entered the Billboard charts at number five with some 45,000 units sold. Whether it’s commensurate with the hype that’s been showered on Odd Future in recent months will be the subject of debate, but it’s certainly not the “Snakes on a Plane” bubble burst it could have been.
The audience seemed neatly divided between those who had digested Goblin and taken its vitriol to heart, and those who were merely rubbernecking at the pop cultural spectacle. The former group made it’s way pushing and shoving to the front, where it shouted along with what pass as Tyler’s most memorable lines: the gnarly imagery (“And if you don’t agree suck a couple pimple-covered dicks”), the depraved fantasies (“Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome”), and nearly every word of “Yonkers”.
When the faithful did emerge from the frontlines on their way to the back of fold, they were invariably drenched in sweat and often with security nudging them to the exit. Whatever was going on in the pit was not for the weak of cardiovascular system. Towards the end of the set, one scrawny teenager in a tank top stumbled back on his own volition, only pausing briefly to vomit all over the concert floor.
Portions of the crowd exhibited mookish behavior that I haven’t been subject to since the late 90s heyday of Eminem, Limp Bizkit, and the HFStival. All the touchstones were there: middle fingers hoisted perpetually in the air for no real reason; cries for girls to “show us your tits;” indiscriminate shoving crushing audience members against the stage.
Predictably, the diehards went most wild for the new Goblin material, although not always sufficiently enough for Tyler. “Why isn’t everyone going crazy?” Tyler asked, cutting off Left Brain’s beat for “Transylvania”. “I can’t perform while motherfuckers not going crazy.”
The beat restarted and the mosh pit heeded the call for a more enthusiasm, but was it hard to blame them for an initially tepid response? Like a lot of Goblin, “Transylvania” is not only laughably one-dimensional shock rap, it’s impenetrable. No matter how much Tyler tries to distance himself from the genre, its claustrophobic beat and smears of spooky synths are pure horrorcore. “We don’t make horrorcore, you fucking idiots. Listen to deeper to the music before you put in a box,” Tyler scolds critics on “Sandwitches”. I’m listening, dude, and you just rapped a song about Dracula.
Fortunately, while Tyler may be oxygen-sucking epicenter of Odd Future, the group is wise enough break up the set with other member’s material. These guys may not have Tyler’s charisma or attention-grabbing voice, but they are often a lot more enjoyable listen to, especially as each continues to carve out is own niche aesthetic.
Mike G took the spotlight for a few songs, and while his flow didn’t exactly blow anyone away, his straightforward cash-cars-girls mantras and blasts of synthetic No Limit beats were oddly refreshing. (It helped that venue’s sound system was on point.)
A shirtless Hodgy Beats – the clear number two of the group – also favored more traditionally truck-rattling tracks, but his laidback, stoner delivery was content to take a backseat to the beat. If the crowd didn’t seem to recognize his songs, they weren’t alone: Hodgy had to cut a Mellowhype track short, admitting to the audience, “I don’t know that verse. [We’re] making too much music right now.” Imperial overstretch’s a bitch.
The show’s biggest change in tone came when the group’s in-house R&B wonder Frank Ocean took center stage for performances of “Novacane” and impromptu a cappella portion of “American Wedding”, both of which are off his thoroughly enjoyable mixtape/album Nostalgia, Ultra (soon to be re-released by Def Jam). I have no idea how he originally hooked up with Odd Future: his pop sensibility and general Drake-ness are just so far outside Odd Future’s rape, pillage, and murder m.o.
On Wednesday, Ocean provided a smooth hook to “She”, an otherwise sophomoric and repugnant Tyler song (sample lyric: “Baby, you’re gorgeous / I just want to drag your lifeless body to the forrest/ And fornicate with it / But that’s because I’m love with you, cunt”). One has to imagine bigger things lie ahead, and his stint with the touring group will be short-lived.
The night closed with the aforementioned call to mayhem, “Radical”. The group was quick to disperse when the beat ran out, leaving only a lingering Mike G on stage to rap along with the exit music, MIA member Earl’s “Earl”. In the end, no people were killed. No shit was burned. No schools were fucked. And the Odd Future circus moved on to the next town.