Review: Odd Future goes nuts, but only slightly

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Five quick thoughts about Odd Future's Camp Flog Gnaw Tour, which stopped at Newport Music Hall last night:

(1) The plus side of Odd Future's almost two years on tour: This felt like a professional hip-hop show in a good way. There were moments when I could have been watching any number of crews from the mid-90s vibing out up there, with coordinated verse-swapping over increasingly impressive production. One of the great benefits of the mostly obnoxious modern hype cycle, in which certain artists are followed feverishly from the first MP3 they post on Tumblr, is that watching musicians grow up can be highly rewarding.

(2) On the other hand, much of the anarchy that made Odd Future's early shows so wildly entertaining was ironed out of last night's performance. They're decent rappers, but a big part of their appeal was a freakish intensity that made their concerts more like punk shows and skate videos. This was still chaotic, with the members choosing their setlist on the fly and energetic thrashing throughout, but that "anything can happen" spark was all but snuffed out. When I saw them at an unofficial SXSW gig in 2011, Tyler, The Creator dove off a speaker cabinet into the crowd. Last night, he climbed atop a speaker again to spit most of "Yonkers," but afterwards he just climbed back down. It wasn't a surprise.

(3) Speaking of Tyler, he came off pretty bored with the business of touring. He sleepwalked through that cliched routine where musicians ask various sections of the crowd how they're doing, and he seemed almost obligated to perform when his turn came around in the rotation. I missed the old bit where he ran out on stage wearing a ski mask, but I guess it's better to kill that off early in his career than to let it become a tired shtick. At least he entertained with ridiculous dancing; his body was gyrating from the moment he walked on stage, and during "Sandwitches" it would be fair to say he was skanking.

(4) Hodgy Beats and Domo Genesis seemed much more mentally present, and both delivered solid contributions that showed they're developing into forces worth reckoning with. Domo in particular sounded superb over a wide range of beats, proving he doesn't fit so neatly into the one-dimensional "weed rapper" column anymore. Considering the decreasing involvement of iconic figures Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean and even Syd the Kid (none of whom are on this tour), it's good to see some of the second-tier guys stepping up into roles worthy of stardom. That said, I could definitely do with less Mike G, who it seems the rest of the crew is trying to force on their audience despite widespread indifference. (There's a reason dude doesn't get 'round-the-clock coverage like the rest of his pals, and why nobody seemed to care when he walked out into the crowd, and why his fellow Wolf Gang members felt the need to start "Mike G!" chants every time he stepped to the mic.) He's fine as a background player, but they really shouldn't be giving him equal time.

(5) As for the setlist, they did a decent job showing off the full spectrum of their young but widespread discography. Early cuts like "French," "Rolling Papers" and "Orange Juice" (with Tyler handling Earl's verse) were in there, as were newer tracks including "Rella," "La Bonita" and "Elimination Chamber." (A rapid-fire new Tyler track sounded promising.) Hits like "Yonkers," "64" and "Sandwitches" were still my favorite part, even after the glow of Odd Future's initial music industry upheaval has worn off. On the whole, it showed an Odd Future still in the process of morphing into something new - still stronger than the sum of its parts, but splintering in directions both intriguing and confounding.