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LIVE REPORT: Earl Sweatshirt
Steve Mallon , June 12th, 2015 12:04

Steve Mallon reports from Trinity Arts Centre, Bristol

Five days prior to Earl Sweatshirt's show at the Trinity Arts Centre in Bristol, Odd Future lynchpin Tyler the Creator posted a slew of nostalgic tweets that seemed to hint at the Los Angeles hip hop collective's disbandment: "although its no more, those 7 letters [OFWGTKA] are forever [sic]" he wrote, unintentionally sparking trigger-happy headlines across the world suggesting the group had split. On the same day a tweet from Earl also hinted that winds of change were sweeping through OF. Presumably addressing the group's teenage followers, he wrote: "TO ALL ODD FUTURE RUNOFF: SAVE YOURSELF YEARS OF EMBARRASSMENT AND STOP DRESSING LIKE AN EASTER BASKET, GO TALK TO SOME BITCHES! TRUSMEDADY [sic]" Earl didn't elaborate but Tyler cleared things up on his end shortly after, explaining that he just meant times had changed - the tidal wave of hype had broken and Odd Future's standout members were finding their own paths and forging successful - and time demanding - solo careers.

The sea of jazzy shirted, 5-panel capped teens in attendance at the Trinity Arts Centre suggests that Earl's younger fans might not be taking his fashion tips on board just yet; however the real question is whether they know what to expect from his live show. Joined on tour only by hype-man Nakel Smith and a surly, as yet unknown DJ, Earl's set seems unlikely to feature the kind of crowd-baiting, puke eating antics that Tyler's recent show brought to Bristol's O2 Academy. Earl's newest record I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside is also a pretty clear indication that the 21 year-old rapper's sensibilities are shifting further away from those of his incendiary OF cohorts. Stripped back, murky and claustrophobic, the album is sparse on guest spots and unwaveringly inward-looking; whether this will translate well in a live setting or appease the audience is yet to be established.

Alone on stage, shrouded in dry ice and eyes glued to the decks, Earl's DJ spins moody trap and grime for the expectant crowd. Heads nod along, hands grip camera phones and eyes keep darting to the sides of the stage, trying to catch the moment Earl will appear. Only the most diligent lookouts spot him though as he materialises without warning, taking to the stage in full stride to the sound of thunderous applause and hollers. Nakel is alongside him and like special ops forces dropping into a conflict zone, the pair waste no time in deploying their strategy. Before the crowd noise has even fully subsided they're bouncing, hands up, trading bars over a clattering, brassy instrumental lifted from A$AP Rocky's 'Brand New Guy'. Only heard live so far, the track is called 'Hell' but it makes for a jubilant entrance.

Through with his first verse, Earl addresses the crowd - "Y'all gotta learn the words to this right now" - before launching into the hook: "If that's on you/ that's on me too" he chants and the crowd chant it back, impelled into action before they even know what's hit them. Sporting a plain white Nike sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, Earl looks considerably older and more world-weary than the fresh faced teen we might remember from his early videos. His presence is fiercer too; he stalks the stage, wielding his mic like a weapon and spitting his words with emphatic force, jolting the room into enraptured motion before so much as an introduction.

The trio take us through the new album and the buzz from the crowd dwindles a little; but Earl and Nakel remain undeterred, carrying the energy with battle-hardened aplomb. The sound quality isn't great and lets some of the more sonically-delicate tracks down slightly, but the bass-heavy, enshrouding murk of the album's instrumentation is potent nonetheless. A few crowd pleasers from Earl and Doris are thrown in for good measure, but it's Wiki's appearance that sends the atmosphere skywards again. Ratking's primary MC, the 21 year old NYC rapper has a guest verse on Earl's new record, much to the elation of the hip-hop blogosphere which hails the two rappers as prominent wunderkinds of opposing coasts. On stage the pair tag-team over a hazy, downtempo beat that feels drenched in grainy VHS ambience, Wiki's nasal-voiced effervescence proving a shrewd counter to Earl's sullen naval-gazing.

There's a noticeable element of lethargy and detachment to Earl's performance and it's easy to speculate about where it stems from; the youngest and arguably most shy and cerebral member of Odd Future, the rapper was thrown into fame overnight at the age of 16 and had no choice but to suck it up and play against his type in order to meet the expectation that came with it. A reluctant star, he now seems determined to veer away from ostentatious behaviour or pandering to his fans, and his new album embodies this more than anything he's put out before. Fittingly, the set finishes as abruptly as it began and Earl and Nakel say their farewells and exit the stage with minimal fuss. As the DJ plays them out, the teenagers at the front of the crowd make their first and only weak attempt a starting a circle pit before the music cuts out and the venue staff start herding people towards the exit, crushing any dwindling hopes of a vomit eating contest or even an encore.