First question: Did he talk about “it“? No.
Second question: Were Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats in the house? Yes. Third question: Channel Orange is amazing, but could he pull it off live? Oh, man, a million times yes.
Frank Ocean’s brilliant show tonight at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco capped a wild week for Ocean; he spent it making public his love for another man, delivering late-night TV’s finest performance of the year, self-leaking his own album a week early and watching the plate tectonics of culture shift beneath his feet. To say the show was anticipated would be like saying the Super Bowl is a sporting event of some note. (When we arrived at 8pm, the line was two and a half blocks long. No one was selling any tickets, but desperate fans sure were asking, with offers of up to $150.)
Yes, Frank Ocean is enjoying buzz. Contrary to how it might seem, though, humanity is not an assortment of programmed fleshborgs acting out commands piped in from the predetermined blogouniversinstawhooziwhatsit. Humanity is blood and lungs, and when Ocean hit the stage at 9:45 singing Price’s “When U Were Mine,” both pressure and temperature rose accordingly. A new, as-yet-unrecorded song called “Summer Remains” built the tension, and when Ocean remembered he had the album-of-the-year contender Channel Orange to promote, and started the first measures of “Thinking Bout U,” well, you can’t stop humanity. Every set of lungs sang along, loudly, to all the words. Each and every one of them. For those counting, the album’s only been out for seven days.
And it was like that for the entire show—a series of excitements both subtle and overt. When Hodgy Beats jumped the balcony railing and fell 15 feet, all the way down onto the stage to dance during “Super Rich Kids,” security grabbed him and tried to throw him out. (Ocean intervened.) When Tyler the Creator was spotted going nuts in the back balcony, a small chant of “Jump! Jump! Jump!” started. When a pair of panties was tossed in Ocean’s direction, laughter ensued, causing Ocean to quip: “Shit just got real.” People cheered at big things, like when Ocean crowdsurfed during “Pyramids”; or small things, like when the flickering images on the stageside TV screens changed from race cars to John Wayne, or when the lights illuminated the crowd, or when Frank Ocean sipped tea sitting at his wooden stool, or any time Ocean said “San Francisco,” or any time Ocean said anything, actually.
Musically, this tour’s live band of drums, guitar, bass and keys presented the songs perfectly, and Ocean, a commanding presence who doesn’t lean on gimmicks, sings even better live than he does on the record. (“I won’t ask how you got it, if you got it legally or illegally,” he remarked of Channel Orange, “I don’t give a shit about that.”) At 24, he delivers forceful falsettos that warp the mind. He didn’t sing a bad note all night. Moreover, his ability to inhabit his material, to wrest from them the still-fresh feelings they hold, is Ocean’s icing. A spine-tingling howl in “Bad Religion” here, an ad lib in “American Wedding” there—this is not a man running cold readings of his lines.
The audience, hypnotized, gave all the deep emotion right back. Near the end, Ocean stood in the center of the stage, silent for a moment. “I’m just lookin, I’m just lookin’,” he said, as he gazed out to the audience, taking it all in. “Y’all been looking at me, I’m gonna look at y’all for a second.”
And then he sat down at his Fender Rhodes for “I Miss You,” the last song of the 70-minute set, sitting in a lone spotlight. He sang in that flawless voice about his words not coming out right, and things getting better with time. But with Frank Ocean, the words always come out right, and his time couldn’t be better than right now.
When You Were Mine
Thinking Bout U
Super Rich Kids
Made in America
Monks in a Moshpit
I Miss You