Friday, 19 July 2013

Music Review: Frank Ocean at 02 Academy Brixton

This summer Frank Ocean returned to the UK for two sold out shows at the O2 Academy Brixton; his first headline appearances since the release of his debut studio album Channel Orange in 2012. Between the release of said album, a publicised confessional blog post confirming his love for another man and a car park scrap with the human scab that is Chris Brown, Ocean has more than built a name for himself outside of his previous affiliation with offensive outfit Odd Future. Following his success at ceremonies such as the Brits and Grammy’s, hype stood at its highest, leaving Frank with a lot to prove.

The first thing that instantly hits me about Frank Ocean performing live is the odd sense of calm and sensibility. He doesn’t appear with the swag that one might presume from the friend of the infamous Tyler the Creator, but almost seems to apologise for his presence as if it were an intrusion; his demeanour is oddly reminiscent of a boyfriend when you first introduce them to your parents. Frank’s performance begs for instant forgiveness.

Positioning himself directly between a stage-side spotlight and a passing cloud of dry ice, Ocean is obscured as his vocals emanate eerily unseen. Purposeful to never be pigeon-holed, his voice ranges with an ethereal ease – soul, hip hop and RnB roll together without so much as a pause for breath. Ocean flows seamlessly between tracks with a lack of audience interaction which admittedly is a little irritating, only briefly stopping to announce the performances of previously unheard tracks “Feel California” and “Anything for You”. Alongside singles from Channel Orange, Ocean digresses to his backlog of early mix-tapes throughout his set, featuring an acappella version of “Swim Good” from Nostalgia, Ultra where his lyrics are echoed by the audience, his own vocals almost drowned out.

Clearly not forgetting his past as Christopher “Lonny” Breaux (as he was known before changing his name), Ocean includes the little known track “Acura Integurl” from The Lonny Breaux Collection, that although lasts less than two minutes could possibly be one of the most beautiful songs I’ll experience this decade. “Pyramids” receives the biggest reaction of the evening, having become somewhat of a cult classic without ever selling well as a single (only reaching No.129 in the UK chart), and the audience sway in synchronicity, hypnotised by the hook of the synthesiser.

The show ends rather abruptly, the house lights return to full beam and the lack of encore is a little disappointing but perhaps not surprising, given Ocean’s reluctance to engage despite his obvious brilliance. Although his vocals never falter, I couldn’t help but feel the need to clamber onstage to offer a consoling cuddle and a promise that everything with be alright.

Despite this, it is Frank Ocean’s sheer gift as a rapper, poet, singer and songwriter that enables him to still stand tall as a truly unique and unparalleled talent. 

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