Oldies But Goldies: Frank Ocean At Terminal 5 In 2012
Always a good thing when your lead artist is brimming with good vibes, as the r&b phenom and Odd Future crew member Frank Ocean was Thursday night at Terminal 5, it means he is gonna engage you more. “I’m fucking with New York City tonight” Ocean claimed a couple of times, and then shouted out his family who were “in the abattoir” (he may have said house). Frank also mentioned his recent, somewhat bizarre, “I had an unrequired crush on a man” statement, adding that it was his life and he was going to do whatever he pleased.
It was strange watching the usually brooding Ocean, in jovial mode. Dancing through one song, smiling through another, his sweat band glistening in the lightshow and his rock band (really: organ, bass, guitar, drums: the full monty) , and a broad winningness at extreme counter punch to his essence of r&b Chekov detachment from the rich kids, drunk kids, crack heads and strippers, not to mention crushboys, who constitutes his musical world.
This allowed Ocean, in what amounts to a victory tour, to widen his persona and fine tune his sound. As the set progressed it became increasingly that even with the structure of hip hop soul man supreme, frank was tearing at the insides of his songs, trying to break through. And he did, Frank became the arbitrator of pop he was aiming for… from time to time. More, it is as if he had gone from being a posse member, a good for hire, an art rock to a front man and on this night, Frank was out to prove he could front a band and again he did, to a point.
The 18 song set was, more or less, what we had come to expect from the tour. A Sade cover replaced a Prince cover, “Novocaine” was back in the mix, it went about as deep as you might imagine, some though nothing from his Odd Future collaborations. With Earl Sweatshirt, John Mayer, Tyler, in the audience, you might have hoped for some star turns but you wouldn’t get any. Some songs off his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, and nods to the King And Queen of pop, Jay-Z and Beyonce.
And if it was just that, it would be enough. But using his falsetto to great effect, he performed proforma, this is how it should sound, versions of all his songs. “Bad Religion”, which he advises was written about the situation causing all the controversy, was devastating. I couldn’t particularly hear it on the new album, Channel orange, but I could hear it Thursday night. The edge of desire made more sense with context and his passionate reading, in front of family and friends, was a coming out again and a transition from one form of outing to another.
Certainly one of several set highlights. “Thinking About You”, :Strawberry Swing”, “American Wedding” were all specifically awesome. He was in such good temper, he danced across the stage during “Sweet Life”, the lights, a really beautiful orange sometimes, purple others, a visual reflection of the same old story: sad stories does not necessarily make a sad man. I have seen Frank once before, with Odd future, and he seemed deeply introverted. Perhaps the joy of playing for his family got the best of him.
There were missteps. The biggest was a lugubrious penultimate “Pyramid” -ten deadly minutes as he should have been hitting it out the ballpark. And, whatever you feel about “I Miss You” , and I love it, it isn’t a set closer. “Super Rich Kids” disappointed without the one and only Sweatshirt, and “Lost”, the tour tee-shirts are based upon it, was a little nondescript on the album and is in the wrong place, maybe should be just shelved, maybe “She” should take its place.
This is more than nitpicking, I am a complete agnostic when it comes to Channel Orange, and while I like it more than I did after seeing him on stage, and perhaps more to the point, the songs make more sense stripped:bare ( the construction of certainly “Bad Religion” is still angular but less anti-harmonic), yet… I am still not sure how great he is.
Vocally, Frank is great, his range is really wide and his top end glorious, the songs are either great or not great and too much of it drags, but on stage that is much less a problem. The introspect eccentric rock star image is friendlier on stage,, and he gave a good performance, but the set construction was top heavy and only “Swim Good” saved the last half hour.
Certainly, a lot better than I thought it would be.