Frank Ocean (Brixton Academy, SW9)

Frank Ocean at Brixton Academy by Rob Meyers

Frank Ocean at Brixton Academy by Rob Meyers

In stony monochrome, the suited band and their relaxed-in-slacks conductor entered the stage, where they were immediately met with eruptions of hormonal squeals. Frank Ocean has a powerful presence, wearing tribal pants and chain; at once poetic and trivial, humble and humbling, appealing to high end critics and the youngest of teenage fans.

A different colour flushed the stage at the climax of almost every song, perfectly suiting the mood, yet always returning to minimal white light. The stage was covered in a white fabric which extended up the back wall to the high ceiling, where a film was played throughout the evening. Moving gently between a slow motion drive through the desert in a bright gold Beamer, to a skyscape, to a burning palm tree, the film was a bright study in modern Americana.

Ocean rolled through almost every track on Channel Orange like the buzz of the car in the projection, never quite reaching its destination. Forrest Gump was golf-clapped at, a seated saintly admission with Bad Religion as its sinful counterpart, baked in red light. The modern day epic saga Pyramids took on mythic proportions, constantly changing pace throughout. Guiding us through the story of paying for sex from an ex lover who now works as a stripper, the artist was imprisoned by ribbons of golden light as he fell to the floor, echoing the hopeless cause of the song’s protagonist. Ocean writes in solid characters and swirling narratives, in cinematic form.

No-one else writes lyrics like those in closing song Wise Man, his rejected offering to the Django Unchained soundtrack, performed here on quiet pausing keys, rather than the oscillating guitar strings of the studio version: “Maybe hearts were made to pump blood//Maybe lungs were made for flood”.

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The power of his voice was appeasing, however, the lack of theatricality in the performance made the show seem longer than it was. However, there is relief in the form of mistakes: in the beginning of the concert, the projector screen fell down, the film was shown on the black back wall; during Super Rich Kids, Ocean accidentally repeated a verse, which he laughed off – “No, y’all are singing it wrong!” At times, given the minimal colour of the stage, and the space between the musicians, the impression was that of a cavernous rehearsal room; throbbing drums sometimes overshadowed a mumbling Ocean. A bra flung onto the stage during the closing of a song almost threw his focus, but when the lights came back up, the bra was gone, revealing a barriers-up sensitivity that suggests he shies away from such personal attention. These mishaps reminded us of a kinder human version of the artist, opposing the slick professional pop star persona that he is often imagined as.

An older hit, Novocane, satisfied the baying crowd and after the wave of the hip hop flavoured pop song crested, it broke into a rumbling industrial storm; strobe lights flashed and the voice became mecha-Frank Ocean. Swim Good, another from Nostalgia, Ultra, proved successful with the throng, sung a capella against a still band, whilst psychedelic new material suggests further experimentation.

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Peaceful cloud projections, appearing at the beginning and end of the show suggested a day long cycle, that was resolved with the following words on the screen: “In a dream you saw a way to survive and you were full of joy.” The Jenny Holzer quote inspired by the experimental Fluxus movement, where everything is fleeting and simplicity is championed, perfectly concluded the evening.

- guest-blogger, TOM IVIN

 

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