Rocky and Tyler Tour. Red Rocks. 09.30.15
A$AP Rocky was perched at the top of a three-story church pleading with the “Holy Ghost” as his millennial choir echoed his prayers back at him. The 26-year-old rapper from Harlem, New York might claim to have his own relationship with God, but it’s no secret that he also maintains his own cult. Those faithful followers were more than happy to “turn the fuck up” in order to provide Rocky with the energy he needed to get through his performance last night. He spoke about some mysterious “battle” when he performed at the Ogden Theater a few years ago, but he was fighting something different this time around; he was fighting the flu. Although it’s not uncommon to see someone puke at Red Rocks, usually that someone isn’t the headliner. Rocky is a fighter though. So when the sickness crept up on him, he just spit that shit out and continued on with his set. In fact, although it was a slightly abbreviated set, it was far superior to what I witnessed at the Ogden last time around. Flu symptoms aside, Rocky and the present members of his A$AP Mob have found their stage legs in the past few years. It might seem ridiculous to call A$AP Rocky a professional (he is the same guy who started brawling with the crowd at SXSW in 2012), but I think anyone who comes out and not only does their job, but does it in style (while deathly ill), is deserving of the denotation.
I am getting ahead of myself here though, because before Rocky, there was Vince, Danny and Tyler…
It fell on Vince Staples to breathe some life into an uncharacteristically somber night in Morrison. The lines that began to form well before the doors opened were slightly deceptive. Once inside, the venue seemed almost empty. The seasonal changes brought a slight chill to the air and the relative silence was almost unnerving. It was an odd night on the Rocks. By the time the DJ made himself known with a Megadeth t-shirt and French Montana’s “Off The Rip”, there were still rows and rows of empty seats. Those who had found their place for the night were more concerned with taking selfies and rolling blunts than they were with anything going on around them. A few Kendrick tracks seemed to wake people up a bit, but it wasn’t until Staples started his marathon back-and-forth across the massive stage that the crowd came alive with “Lift Me Up”. Claiming to be under the weather himself, the youngest rapper on the tour represented Long Beach with selections from his critically acclaimed Summertime ’06, as well as the excellent Hell Can Wait EP. Dressed all in black, and going at it alone, Staples had the energy of ten men, but either the altitude or a bad microphone made some of his lyrics hard to understand. The crowd was more than happy to assist though; as they sang along with back-alley anthems like “Street Punks” and “Señorita”. It wasn’t until he dropped it acapella during “Norf Norf” (“ain’t never run from nothin’ but the police”) that his unique Street Urkel vocals shone through, but all sound issues aside, Staples succeeded in starting a fire that wouldn’t burn out until the end of the night.
Danny Brown broke all the hip-hop rules by taking the stage right on time. A mere ten minutes after the final beat of “Blue Suede”, the screen was lit up like a hypercolor dream as the cartoonish rapper strutted around while spitting rhymes about dopeheads. At 34-years-old, Brown was not only the oldest rapper on the tour, he was old enough to have fathered a lot of the kids in the crowd. Old doesn’t necessarily mean mature though, so it wasn’t surprising that his set doubled as the comic relief for the night. With an almost childlike disposition, Brown preached the virtues of drinking, drugs, smoking and sex like a man half his age scribbling curse words in a notebook. Leaning heavily on material from 2013’s Old, he did take us back to XXX with “that income tax swag“, as well as venture into the EDM realm with Rustie’s “Attak”. His sound was perfect and on point the entire time. The whole set was a relentless bombardment of bangers until the Purity Ring-driven “25 Bucks” took things down a notch so the smokers in the crowd could ride the hazy vibe into “Grown Up”. The calm didn’t last long though. As the set came to a close with “Dip”, the average intoxication level of the crowd had hit a critical mass. The back rows of the amphitheater were still empty, but that was just because the front forty were packed four deep at every seat. The collective bounce threatened the very structure of our surroundings, which created the perfect situation for the chaos that is a Tyler, the Creator concert.
“What’s up assholes?” Standing in front of large building blocks that spelled out GOLF, flanked by a giant toy chest overflowing with stuffed animals and a Cherry Bomb doll box, Tyler addressed the crowd. “It’s cold and you have seats and shit…and this nigga is drunk. Security, keep an eye on this nigga.” The Creator didn’t have Earl to back him up this time around, but he had Taco and Jasper, a bunch of props, and three albums worth of material to pull from. He also had a crowd who were well versed in the Odd Future script, so when things popped off with “Deathcamp”, the fact that seats existed hardly mattered. Everyone was on their feet, fists pumping in the air, as all rules went the way of spent joints. Realizing the fans didn’t just want to hear new shit, “Tron Cat” and “Sam (Is Dead)” were followed by “Bimmer” before he brought things forward with Cherry Bomb. Standing on top of the blocks, and inside the doll box, Tyler made his way across the stage to pay equal attention to everyone in the crowd. At one point he pointed out someone’s artwork and commented that he “liked that shit on Instagram”, and then he invited the artist backstage.
Tyler performances really do have a punk rock attitude to them, but they also flirt with spoken word. “IFHY” is one track that weaves both those sentiments into a single song. So it was fitting that it found the profane poet on the ground screaming “I’m in love!” at the top of his lungs. The bleeding heart recovered quickly though, as he blamed us “fucking Colorado motherfuckers” for his dirty knees. The set went on from there in usual Tyler fashion. He claimed to have been born and raised in Boulder…he split the crowd for a “Fuck That!/Golf Wang!” chant (of course his side won and the other side were a bunch of pussies)…he performed “Domo23”, “Yonkers” and “She”. Then he called Jasper a fat fuck. Then he demanded everyone lose their mind. Then he thanked everyone for coming out. And finally he rounded out the set with “Smuckers” and “Tamale”. Things ended on a rare positive note though, as he assured everyone that he was an example of being able to do anything you put your mind to. Overall, it was your typical Tyler show. Which is to say there was nothing typical about it at all.
As the wait for Rocky starting pushing the forty-five minute mark, the natives started getting restless. Those who’d smoked or drank too much were slouched down in their seats, while the superfans (like the tall guy in the Hardaway jersey in front on me) were chanting A$AP as if it would make Lord Flako magically appear. Delays are nothing new when it comes to hip-hop headliners, so it wasn’t surprising that the elaborate, multi-level stage wasn’t lit up until around 10:30pm. Bathed in a red glow, with fog machines adding to the already smokey venue, Rocky’s voice could be heard before he could be seen. “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye stepped up in this piece.” It was immediately evident that the delay would be the only thing in common with the Ogden show. Back then, before Rocky had gained confidence on the stage, he was surrounded by his masked Mob the entire time. They all rapped over each other in what became a mess of a show. So although the setup at Red Rocks had enough room for the entire A$AP Mob, as well as N.W.A, Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest all put together, the master of ceremonies proved that he could stand tall on his own. Coming out of the darkness into the center of the main stage, with a pair of DJs situated above him, Flako opened his set with “JD” before climbing to the platforms above; making room for a couple members of the Mob below. “Hella Hoes” made good use of his boys, but as he climbed even higher above the crowd, “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” solidified him as the lone headliner of the evening.
“I almost didn’t make it tonight. I got the flu like a motherfucker.” A visibly distressed Rocky addressed the crowd from the third level of his stage structure; assuring them that their energy was the only thing keeping him going. “This is such a beautiful place.” Presenting a much more approachable (and less militant) personality than the one I had witnessed at SXSW and the Ogden, the young rapper had no problem showing his soft side in between tracks. And when “L$D” matched the mood of many who had already been at Red Rocks for over five hours, I finally understood the meaning of ‘cloud rap’. Following that trajectory into the sky above, “Fine Whine” found Rocky in the center of a single spotlight, looking up at the sky while rapping (almost singing) acapella. His ability to suppress the coughing when he needed to was a feat in itself, but he also sounded perfect. The aforementioned “Holy Ghost” turned the entire set into a giant church, thus completing our journey to the heavens. Having gone as far as the night would allow, we were abruptly drop back down onto the streets for “Goldie”. The transitions couldn’t have been better though. It was the ultimate ride.
In just a few short years, an A$AP Rocky show had grown from a down-and-dirty, disorderly set with no real purpose or flow, into a choreographed, high-budget production. It managed to do so without losing any of the grit that made A$AP so appealing in the first place. So, while polished, it’s still a very different experience than one you’d find by a mainstream artist at the Pepsi Center. “I’m proud to be a part of this generation!” Rocky sang the praises of the diversity in the crowd just minutes before literally coughing his guts out onto the stage. “White, brown, black…all getting along…that’s what marijuana does!” As he conversed with someone on the side of the stage, he handed it over to the other members of the Mob (who had been so good at knowing their place and not rapping over Rocky the entire night) for a new song about leaving their broke lives behind them. It didn’t take long for Rocky collect himself though, so he was back in the saddle to join his crew for “Trillmatic”. After that joint effort, the whole set was turned into a diner (complete with a booth for him to sit in) for “Jukebox Joints”. An A$AP Ferg “Shabba” teaser was something the crowd wasn’t able to let go of, so the “Shabba, Shabba Ranks” chant could be heard well into “Wild for the Night” (with its full confetti explosion). The coughing attack came again as the set transformed into the “Canal St.” subway station, but again, Rocky powered through like a true professional while a shirtless Tyler continued to encourage him from the audience. When “Electric Body” was announced as the last song, it seemed way too early, but considering his condition (and the fact that he’d already performed longer than any of the other acts), it wasn’t surprising. Despite being sick, it was the best performance I’d ever seen from A$AP Rocky. So while it would have been great if he’d done “Peso” and “Wassup” and “Fuckin’ Problems”, it wasn’t for lack of effort. The guy gave it his all..and that’s all you can ask.
Hip-hop shows are always hit or miss. We saw Kendrick Lamar with Ab-Soul and Jay Rock at the Ogden in 2012 and it was one of the best shows I’ve been to. Then we saw A$AP Rocky with Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q a week later and it was an absolute shitshow. Growing up in the Golden Age of hip-hop, I’ve been both amazed and extremely disappointed by a lot of the forefathers of the game. Last time I saw Nas at Red Rocks, we were stuck up there until 3:00am because somebody shot up ScHoolboy’s entourage. So to say I went into last night’s show with low expectations would be an understatement. I left completely impressed though. Vince Staples could have sounded better, but his energy more than made up for any shortcomings. Danny Brown was on fire and his hypeman didn’t get in his way this time around. Tyler, the Creator isn’t someone I listen to on the regular, but his live shows are a huge middle-finger to the ultra-PC world we’re living in. And A$AP Rocky climbed to new heights in my book. This was my third time seeing him and the first time he’s impressed me in a live setting. The fact that he did so at 6,400 feet elevation, while fighting the flu, is just insane. It was so good to see a group of young rappers who have respect for their craft, as well as their fans. Excellent show overall.
Lift Me Up
Side B (Dope Song)
Smokin & Drinkin
Break It (Go)
Tyler, the Creator:
Sam (Is Dead)
Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)
(A$AP Ferg song, only a clip)
Wild for the Night