Chance The Rapper. Fillmore. 09.20.16
It was just before midnight on Tuesday when I came busting into my house like a kid who had just visited Disneyland for the first time; a kid who had just happened to have consumed quite a bit of alcohol in the Magic Kingdom. My wife was less than amused, but her annoyance turned to genuine concern when I started rambling on about a bright yellow lion, a purple and pink owl, and a full choir of prehistoric birds. The proof of my own sanity existed in the photographs on my phone, but in my slightly intoxicated state I couldn’t quite explain why the Fillmore Auditorium had been transformed into Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“Didn’t you go to a hip-hop show?” she asked, with a worried look on her face. Curiosity had clearly gotten the best of her, but when I started to describe what I’d just witnessed at Chance The Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring Tour, her fatigue set in again. Which was probably for the best, considering the whole night had started to blur into nothing more than confusing harlequin patterns in my mind. As it turned out, rap music, alcohol, and animatronics make for an incredible experience, but the aftermath is severe disorientation.
Despite resembling a pizza/arcade chain “Where A Kid Can Be A Kid”, the Fillmore had a strict 16 & Over policy for the show, so those without ids were being turned away after waiting in a line that wrapped around the entire building and back out to Colfax. With my underage days a distant memory, I found myself enjoying a few adult beverages at Sancho’s while waiting out the chaos. Unfortunately, the line had barely diminished by the time the show was supposed to start.
Once inside, the wristband and bar lines were extremely reasonable due to the average age of the crowd. Well lubricated, with a fresh drink in hand, I found myself standing next to the soundboard for the opener. Francis and the Lights ended up just being a single dude singing auto-tuned R&B with a prerecorded backtrack. Augmenting selections from his upcoming album with interpretive dance, the man who goes by Francis Farewell Starlite brought to mind Willis Earl Beal in many ways. The set held my interest well enough, but it wasn’t until he introduced Carlos the Lion during his last song that the crowd got a preview of what was to come.
Chance took the stage about a half hour later and everything started out pretty normal. The word ‘angels’ was scrawled across the multi-level LED screens, topped with a halo. He wore his signature “3” cap, white t-shirt, and black jacket as the crowd lost their shit. Donnie Trumpet was joined by another member of The Social Experiment stage left, while a drummer was situated stage right. The live instrumentation brought something unique to the show, but the band kept themselves hidden in the shadows most of the set, thus allowing Chance the spotlight he deserved.
Proving himself much more than a studio rapper, Chance’s flow was impeccable, even when he had to compete with the thousands of fans who wanted to go bar for bar with him. The sense of normality continued through many of his more debaucherous tracks from Acid Rap, but that all changed after “Favorite Song”. That’s when Carlos showed up again. A life-sized lion walking on two legs, voiced by Detroit comedian HaHa Davis, became the moral compass of the show. Helping to guide Chance’s own good kid, m.A.A.d city narrative, the lion’s first request was to “take it waaay back,” which Chance did with “Brain Cells” from #10Day.
Chance The Rapper is as famous for how he’s managed his career as he is for the songs contained on his trio of mixtapes. Having never signed to a label, he has been able to maintain complete artistic freedom. That freedom was on full display on Tuesday night. Whether he was battling his demons in the form of stuffed animals, singing a duet with a furry female friend, or leading a choir of a dozen animatronic birds with an spread-winged angel behind him, Chance made it clear he was going to do whatever the fuck he wanted to do.
“I just do me!” he proclaimed at one point, before thanking the crowd for allowing that to happen. And that’s the difference between Chance and so many other braggadocious rappers. Sure, he can get down with the best of them on tracks like “No Problem” and “Mixtape”, but he also gets sentimental as hell on tracks like “Juke Jam” and “Same Drugs”.
And when was the last time you saw a hip hop show go full-blown gospel? I’m not just talking “Ultralight Beam” either. That song was incredible, of course, but it wasn’t until “How Great” turned the Fillmore into a legitimate church that I realized how much Chance’s religion plays into his live shows. He continued his role as a preacher through “Finish Line / Drown” and “Blessings (Reprise)”; the congregation consuming every word like communion.
I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that point in the night, because as serious as the message might have been, it was hard to ignore the fact that the whole scene looked like something that should be going down on Sesame Street rather than Colfax Avenue.
Francis was brought back out for the encore, to perform his part of “Summer Friends” with Chance and his crew of characters, but at that point things were getting a little blurry for me. I don’t feel like I drank more than my fair share, but something about the night had my mind twisted. Maybe it was all the smoke in the air, or maybe it was sensory overload from all the lights and fog and confetti and puppets. Maybe I just strained my brain trying to grasp the message Chance tried so hard to convey through his music and various skits. Or maybe it was just too much alcohol with too little food. All I know is that I left the show feeling like I’d experienced something I’d never experienced before.
The next morning, I could have sworn it was one of the best shows I’d ever been to. Now, thinking back on it, I’m not so sure. Chance was on his game, no doubt. He sounded perfect and succeeded in hyping his own crowd into a frenzy. He performed Coloring Book in its entirety, while still finding time to throw in a good chunk of Acid Rap and some of his best guest verses. The visual aspects of the show were worthy an arena five times the size of the Fillmore as well. But overall, it was a little too much. Chance’s music is good enough to stand on its own and I feel like the pageantry of the performance took something away from the songs. That’s not to say I won’t go see him when he comes around again, but next time I hope he leaves his toys at home.
Francis and the Lights:
See Her Out (That Just Life)
I Want You To Shake
Can’t Stay Party
May I Have This Dance
Running Man / Gospel Op1
My City’s Gone
Its Alright to Cry
Chance The Rapper:
Cocoa Butter Kisses
D.R.A.M. Sings Special
Grown Ass Kid
All We Got
Finish Line / Drown