Tyler, the Creator fucks with Wegmans.
“Y’all aint got shit, but goddamn, y’all got the greatest grocery store I’ve ever seen,” the California rapper said during his tour appearance with Vince Staples at the Main Street Armory last Wednesday.
Tyler had only found out about Wegmans that day, but what set him apart from other artists who slip hometown homages into their performances was how earnestly, and extensively, he went on about our beloved store.
“They sell sushi in there, they bake bread next door — oh my God, bitch. Whole Foods is trash compared to this shit,” he said.
Contrast that monologue with Vince’s longest, and you get a sense of how the two artists mangle inhibition and indifference in their own ways:
“I don’t know what to tell y’all — I really don’t care,” Tyler’s fellow Californian said at the end of his performance, speaking to anyone who hadn’t had a good time.
You could see it elsewhere, too: Tyler, in a neon yellow getup, spazzed on stage like a caffeine-addled toddler. The black bulletproof vest–clad Vince spent stretches locked in a thousand-yard stare or lingering around the side of the stage, seemingly bored but effortlessly cool.
Tyler’s set featured greenery, starry-night lights, and a massive, halved tree, its knotted trunk leaning against its stump to create a ramp and platform. Vince was backed only by a wall of square screens, which spun and flipped, flashed elaborate strobe patterns, and together blasted glitched-out video clips and elemental montages.
Tyler exploded, Vince withdrew, and neither was bound by expectation.
The irony of course was that both artists care, a lot. It showed in their albums last year — the basis for their joint tour — and in their sets.
“Hitchcock of my modern day / Where the fuck is my VMA? / Where the fuck is my Grammy?” Vince flowed in his early performance of “Homage,” off 2017’s “Big Fish Theory.”
During many of the industrial-electronic “Big Fish” songs he ran through that night, he’d simmer in sound before launching into breathless verses. With intense spurts, he’d accent paranoid lyrics — “Pray the police don’t come blow me down ‘cause of my complexion / Everybody think they know me now / Cause I’m chicken-checkin’” on the opener “BagBak.”
Sometimes the systemic racism and choking fame and alluring materialism he often dissects have seemed too heavy for Vince to bear (see his audio suicide on 2016’s “Prima Donna” EP), and he conveyed that well by mixing in a few subdued but powerful performances.
“Sometimes people disappear / Think that was my biggest fear / I should have protected you,” he murmured during his performance of “Alyssa’s Interlude,” barely moving from one spot as purple waves churned on the screens behind him.
Tyler started his set atop his tree with “Where This Flower Blooms” off last year’s “Flower Boy” (get the theme?), ready to excite.
“Tell these black kids they could be who they are / Dye your hair blue, shit, I’ll do it too,” he rapped, ripping off his flat-brim hat to reveal not blue but leopard-print hair.
Then, as he made his way down the log, came his remix of Jay-Z’s soul-bearing “4:44” — “What’s the point of bein’ rich when you wake up alone? / What’s the point of goin’ home when it ain’t nobody there?”
Loneliness was the reigning theme of Tyler’s latest project, but with his performances that night, those ballads of isolation and shadowboxing turned communal. Tyler became the leader of a support group.
As the outro to “November” played, he rocked back and forth on his log, pleading, “Take me back, take me back, take me back,” at points screeching the refrain. Most the stage had gone dark, save for a low-key light in the background and some shimmering ones overhead. The rapper was a lanky, splayed-out silhouette.
“I ain’t doin’ fine, lost my mothafuckin’ mind / Time travel back and help me find,” he chanted.
Along with him moving like the human equivalent of popping a wheelie, what made Tyler so enthralling was how he transformed intimate cuts like “911 / Mr. Lonely” into sing-alongs. He crooned the intro to that song under orange-red lighting and with a “go!” and a purple-haze lighting switch sent the crowd into the chorus — “911, call me sometime.” Through the rest of the song, he’d have the instrumental go silent and let fans fill in the missing words.
And when it reached its “Lonely” half, he built its intro up in tandem with the crowd, growing louder with the audience as it reached a fever pitch repeating the opening lines: “I can’t even lie, I’ve been lonely as fuck.”
That type of Tyler-crowd therapy session — found also in his throwback rendition of 2013’s “IFHY” (“I Fucking Hate You”) — was sandwiched between mosh-inciting bangers like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time.” Before the latter, he asked people to put their phones away — “I’m right here, look at me, I’m right here” — and shake their asses. Afterward, he threw his pelvis across the stage while repeating, with a higher and higher pitch, “Rochester, that was fucking hot.”
On the whole, Tyler and Vince are a near-perfect pair for a tour. With Vince, you get sparse, industrial whiplash. With Tyler, a colorful mania that feeds, and feeds off, fans.
At the end of his swansong, “See You Again,” Tyler pointed his mic to the crowd and cupped his ear, listening as scores sang out, “I don’t know if I’ma see you again,” before rolling into bow and leaving stage. Unspoken was: “But I hope I do.”