Big Sean isn’t that big. Like, physically.
At the Dandelion Day concert Friday night, the five-foot-eight rapper looked submerged in the giant, two-tier screens casting colors and elemental patterns behind him, more a silhouette with a voice than a spotlight stage stomper.
But he’s arguably the biggest act UR has snagged for its annual spring show in years, maybe ever, and under that billing, he didn’t disappoint.
With a live drummer and keyboardist/DJ rounding out his trio, Sean took the crowd through old hits, fan-favorite feature verses, and songs from his fourth LP, “I Decided,” released in February.
The show started with “Voices in My Head / Stick to the Plan,” a slow-burner off that album perfect for allowing Sean to build the atmosphere: a gradually more-intense song with a tempo boost at its tail, delivered from the top level of his setup.
“No Favors,” an 808-heavy banger, saw Sean down on the main stage platform, feet away from the front row, his flow as effortless and intense as it would be for the rest of the night, save for some softer songs. “Paradise,” from his 2014 album, was up next, the same story.
And then: “If the University of Rochester is in the building, make some fucking noise.”
He got our name right the first time—a good sign for a visiting artist. And later, after he said, “This that Rochester University shit,” he seemed aware of his mistake and kept right.
You could see flashes of Sean’s mentor, Kanye West, in his performance, and that’s not just because he ran through his guest verses on West crowd-pleasers “Mercy” and “Clique”: every few songs, Sean would stop to talk about being in Rochester for the first time, or his come-up, or God, but mostly about inspiration, the currency West often deals in.
“I seen the impossible happen 10 fucking times, man,” he told the crowd, which unsurprisingly was less engaged in these quiet moments. “Don’t ever let nobody tell you shit, tell you what you can do with your life, what you can be—that’s only up to you.”
And: “I made music for go-getters, I made music for dreamers.”
These were humbling moments for a rapper whose biggest hits often feature braggadocio about ass, but a bit Diet ‘Ye or Diet Drake, like some of his discography. On a similar note, it’s weird that some of the hypest songs of the night weren’t even Sean’s. But that he could whip up such excitement off features alone speaks to his electricity as a performer.
Most of that energy came from hooks and flows, Sean’s strong suits.
The concert’s two closers—“I Don’t Fuck With You” and “Bounce Back,” his highest-charting singles to date—sent the crowd into frenzies.
Sean said to throw your middle finger up for the first song. Most obliged. He screamed, “I don’t, fuck with, you.” His listeners followed suit, stop-start cadence, drawn-out final syllable, and all.
His run-through of “Sacrifices,” off “I Decided,” toward the end of the setlist was a good example of how Sean can transform songs live. The studio version of the song’s outro is somber—live, Sean turned his lyrics about how his “great, great, great aunty was a slave” into a springboard for a blistering a capella delivery that brought cheers from the audience.
Sean Don is a nimble performer, too, dancing around the stage, jumping to the cadences, animated. That, combined with the dynamism of his drummer, the hear-it-from-Phase bass, and the churning crowd, made this concert a welcome one for students who’ve been here for the last three D-Days.
“We heard that in Rochester, they were crazy,” Sean said early in the show, explaining his team’s decision to take up UR’s offer. Hopefully we lived up to his standards—his show rewrote ours.