Concert Review

Frank Ocean @ Terminal 5, NYC 7/26/12

Though Frank Ocean has performed in New York before, those shows were lesser moments, by design; to date, he’s appeared on stage with Odd Future and performed a lone solo show at Bowery Ballroom in November. The Bowery show, to be sure, radiated signs of the talent promised by Nostalgia, Ultra, but it also seemed a little bit like a dress rehearsal; after all, since Ocean was submerged for so many years, he owed it to himself to try to figure out the live performance, and you know, maybe get in some on-stage Guitar Hero. However, last night’s show bore all the trappings of a star’s look, from the towering prowess of Ocean’s live band down to the thoughtful, climactic setlist. Last night’s show proved that the question is no longer “Will Frank Ocean be a star?” It’s now about the amazing things he can do now that he is one.

Though Frank opened the show with his understated, sterling Sade cover “By Your Side”, he used that piece to build off of, driving that more minimal acoustic setup toward fuller arrangements like “Thinking About You” and “Sweet Life.” You could feel this wave of adrenaline in the crowd — my stars, the crowd at this show — latched on to “Thinking About You,” screaming every lyric, which was pretty much the way it went for every single Channel Orange cut throughout the night (seriously, people screamed themselves hoarse at Terminal 5 last night. Many of these people were in the crowd, it would seem). Their voices, as overpowering as thousands of voices can be, couldn’t even make a dent in the strength of Ocean’s emanating voice; to my ears, he hit every note all night, never trying to hide behind effects or reverb, completely unafraid to sound like himself. It was a vocal performance worthy of a seasoned, practiced veteran; it might sound silly to applaud the professionalism of something you’re paying to see, but, in a landscape where musicianship is not always the focus, it’s sort of astounding see something that shows genuine prowess. It was like seeing R. Kelly, or something — seeing someone who’s already made a career out of bringing it each night.

All of that serves as a good jumpoff for the song most people were waiting to hear all night, the majestic “Bad Religion.” All night, Frank hadn’t done much to directly engage the crowd, only pausing to introduce songs or mutter “New York City” before being drowned out by screams. But, “Bad Religion” wrested the focus totally on him, and the intensity of that moment (to me, at least) was so sharp that it felt like it was over in 30 seconds, a short spurt of honeyed strings conflicted with lyrical sting. After that, he played “Pyramids,” his longest song at ten minutes. I think I can safely speak for everyone by saying we could have all done ten more.

After stepping off stage for a moment, he came back alone to play “I Miss You,” the song he wrote for Beyoncé but one that’s now totally his own, just like how “Thinking About You,” a song Ocean originally wrote for Roc Nation artist Bridget Kelly, is now totally his own, inseparable from his narrative. The life of “I Miss You” is perhaps the best example of the gravity of Frank Ocean; once you know it’s something he’s written, it no longer makes sense as someone else’s song. Last night at Terminal 5, the rest of us were lucky enough to be in his orbit.

01 “By Your Side” (Sade cover)
02 “Summer Remains”
03 “Thinking About You”
04 “Novocaine”
05 “Sweet Life”
06 “Forrest Gump”
07 “Super Rich Kids”
08 “Strawberry Swing”
09 “Made In America”
10 “American Wedding”
11 “Voodoo”
12 “White” (Instrumental)
13 “Crack Rock”
14 “Swim Good”
15 “Lost”
16 “Bad Religion”
17 “Pyramids”
18 “I Miss You”

Tags: Frank Ocean