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LIVE REPORT: Odd Future, Manchester
Tom O'Boyle , April 11th, 2012 06:28

One of the most anticipated (and very sold out) tours of the year so far arrived in Manchester at the end of March. Tom O'Boyle was there, surveying the scene

It is with a palpable sense of anticipation that a heaving Manchester Academy waits for Hip Hop’s self-made heroes Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, in the middle of what is only their second tour of the UK. Tickets for this one sold out just as quickly as the first, and whilst half the room gathers in front of the deserted stage, roaring with excitement at the merest glimpse of an individual in the wings, the rest of the predominantly teenaged crowd fight to get to the front of the growing body pile at the merch stand, so much so that Lucas, the face on the cover of the Wolf Gang’s latest mixtape and the group's t-shirt salesman, has to take regular breaks from adding to the massive wad of cash in his right hand to shout at people to get back, so close they are to toppling the barriers separating them from the coveted range of garish and offensive garments taped to the wall.

In the internet age, Odd Future are the first artists to find genuine success on their own terms. With many acts relying on touring and merchandising for the lion’s share of their revenue, they've got it all figured out. A pop up ‘Sweatshop’ in London remains open for a few days selling their wares, the latest in a line of temporary clothing stores that come hand in hand with their live performances. Videos regularly posted to their Tumblr account show off the block busting queues of kids waiting for a chance to give cash to their new heroes. Early admission can be gained for impressing a member of the Wolf Gang with a skateboard trick or stupid stunt. Tonight, their clothing is so in demand that the majority of designs are sold out by the time the doors have been open for twenty minutes. You get the impression they could have sold tickets for access to a merch stand alone and still sold out the Academy.

Diminutive Wolf Gang member Taco, notorious recently due to Odd Future’s new TV show Loiter Squad (think a hip hop version of Jackass) on Adult Swim, where he dresses in a baby outfit and gets blasted at point blank range with a fire hose, takes the stage amidst fever pitch roars from the crowd, and begins a DJ set of popular tunes. When he drops Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Niggas in Paris’, the place loses its collective shit, a sweaty steam already rising higher than the sea of arms engaged in various gesticulations of approval. So wild is the crowd reaction for a lesser known member of the group playing the contents of his iPod, it's tough to imagine how they'll behave when leader of the pack Tyler, The Creator actually appears.

Left Brain and Hodgy Beats, collectively known as Mellowhype rush from the wings soon after and launch into the first song of the night, ‘64’, from their album BlackenedWhite, the second Odd Future album to garner an official release in 2011, after Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin. The response is fevered, but not a patch on Taco's set. It's only when the predatory beat of ‘Transylvania’ begins, and Tyler bounds gazelle-like to the forefront for the first time, that true euphoria sets in, but it is soon evident that something isn’t quite right. Tyler’s vocals are oddly quiet in the mix, with the rest of the Wolf Gang having now swaggered on stage and taken up the slack by collectively barking out the lyrics, something which serves only to lessen the impact; finer lyrical subtleties are easily lost in aggressive translation. At first it seems like Tyler’s notoriously gravelly voice is simply too low to be heard, something that remains the case throughout.

Energy levels fluctuate. Lesser known rappers from the collective perform their songs whilst Tyler disappears backstage, and enthusiasm from the crowd dwindles. Its not that the songs aren’t known by those in attendance, lyrics are dutifully hollered back, its just that people seem to be here to see the Tyler show, not Odd Future. Any time he appears there is a boost in the energy, but Tyler himself is subdued, letting other rappers, most notably a Mike G dutifully picking up the slack of, you know, actually singing the songs.

Other members are just as lackadaisical. For most tracks, the studio versions - vocals and all - are played through the PA, whilst they seemingly view it as optional to rap along to their verses, instead letting the backing track do it for them. Even more frustrating is the amateurish way they lurch from one song to another. Songs cut out, and you are left unsure as to whether they were meant to end prematurely or not. There are then awkward moments when a few members gather around the podium figuring out which button to press to play the next track. More than starting the next track, it is seemingly more important to swagger around or lean against the decks, towels over heads, chatting amongst themselves.

The audience is rarely addressed - once to ask which “bitches” are going to board the bus later to “suck our dicks”, and a second time during a prematurely halted rendition of Domo Genesis’ ‘SteamRoller’ (from his excellent first mixtape Rolling Papers) to admonish the crowd for not being enthusiastic enough. Had they put some effort into the performance in the first place, they might have received the response they'd hoped for. Luckily, Tyler returns to the stage for ‘French’ and the lapse in energy is once again forgotten. Late in the set, he addresses the crowd directly for the first time, to apologise for his damaged voice, thus explaining why his performance has thus far been energetic but lacking in his usual charisma.

Still, giving your audience the impression that simply showing up is enough is just embarrassing, especially when you are charging £50 a hoodie and £20 a ticket. It's still more frustrating because presented with the appropriate level of showmanship and enthusiasm, the Academy would have gone off like a bomb tonight. What could have been one of the best tours of the year is reduced instead to feeling that hanging out at home and listening to the albums would have been a more worthwhile experience.


In other Odd Future news, Vice recently turned up to chat to some fans queueing outside their live shows - see the clip below.

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