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LIVE REPORT: Action Bronson
Steve Mallon , October 1st, 2015 10:46

Steve Mallon reports from Bristol's O2 Academy

Photo by Nancy Hoang

"I'm in a Humvee, lookin' like a young me/ now all these motherfuckers wanna be chubby" Action Bronson declares on 'Actin' Crazy', the second single from his latest offering Mr. Wonderful. While he might be kidding that fans are aspiring to match his weight – close to 300lbs - it's no stretch to say that people want to emulate his look. Scanning the room it's hard not to spot his disciples; auburn beards grown out, hair slicked back, kitted out in sportswear - the O2 Academy in Bristol tonight looks like Middle-earth but with more New Balance trainers. Considering we're over 3000 miles from New York City where he cut his teeth rapping in Flushing, Queens, it's clear how far his influence has spread over the last four years of his unstoppable reign as a recalcitrant east coast trouble maker. His track record as a live performer promises drama - from hurling fans off the stage, to rampaging through the venue to slap a $100 bill down on the bar for drinks for the crowd; his hijinks carry a weight of expectation that he seemingly never fails to live up to.

Accompanied by west coast producer Alchemist on the decks, Bronson walks out to the sound of Ace Of Base's 90s cheese opus 'I Saw The Sign', a lit joint in his mouth, grinning wildly. Chintzy piano and intentionally off-key singing soon ensue as he breaks out screwball opener 'Brand New Car', which initially feels like bad karaoke then flips into pacey rhyming over breakbeats. The track is followed by jazzy vintage stomp 'The Rising' that sees him bound around the stage rapping about "seasonal vegetables looking exceptional" while trumpets blare and the sampled voices of soul singers call and respond to each other. Up next is the uncharacteristically down-tempo and mellow 'Terry' in which Bronson feigns a softer side, pleading "Don't hurt me again" to an unknown love-interest, before returning to usual form on the outro, rapping "smoke good, fuck, eat, drink/ drive nice car, wear all green mink" while serene, Hawaiian-sounding steel guitars play out and then gradually disappear.

Silence falls on the room for a few seconds, before the woozy, undulating drone and crystalline chimes of 'Actin' Crazy' fade into focus, eliciting a roar of approval from the crowd. Tossing his head back and dousing himself in water, Bronson rears up and flings the bottle into the crowd, sending an arc of spray cascading across the stage. Within moments, any lingering atmosphere of anticipation or build-up has suddenly peaked and the air feels charged with a dark energy. "Opportunity be knocking/ Let that motherfucker in" he spits and the beat drops, inciting the room into seething motion. When his first verse is done he plunges into the crowd and disappears, still rapping yet invisible save for the ripples of displaced fans as he surges forward at an impossible speed, somehow without missing a line or stumbling his words. There's a wave of confusion among those who missed his move - everyone around us is looking at each other and asking "where is he?" until suddenly he surfaces at the back of the arena, mobbed by fans, five pairs of arms wrapped around his enormous neck, hands ruffling his hair, ecstatic faces screaming lyrics at him. He marches on and before the song is through he's made it across the width of the room, up two packed stairwells and over the balcony, emerging like a deity over the handrail to throw his arms outstretched in the air and soak up the applause.

Left with no idea how he can possibly top this level of theatrics, the crowd remains captivated as he takes us through the new album, his cadence unwaveringly tight amidst the chaos of his antics. A wild and impulsive presence, Bronson head bangs, throws his hands up in devil horns and devolves temporarily from dissident joker to full blown clown as he romps around the stage to Right Said Fred's 'I'm Too Sexy' and Phil Collin's 'Easy Lover'. The overarching feeling is that he's earned the right though and by the time 'Easy Rider' comes around, the triumphant psych-rock organ provides a fitting backdrop for a victory lap, with Bronson's moniker ringing out in unison from the crowd.

While his persona in interviews might suggest arrogance or narcissism, Bronson's live show feels generous and altruistic by contrast, as if he wants everyone in the room to feel what he's feeling; which mostly appears to be a kind of manic, insatiable lust for thrills and excitement. A force of nature; Bronson seems set to transcend the conventions of hip hop and carve out his own strange niche- somewhere in the heady space between class clown and visionary.