March 26, 2012 15 comments
The air in Philadelphia’s Electric Factory event venue is thick. Not stuffy, but pungent enough to warrant a slight screw-face. Even at the bar on the balcony — overlooking the bare stage boasting a portrait of OF member Lucas (bottom left album cover) — a multi-sensory fog of fresh sweat and uncertainty is beginning to obscure the view. There’s a trivial variety of skatewear novelty and Wolf Gang merch peppered throughout the hoard. Guy to girl ratio: Four white males to one white female… The outlier being their black friend. The atmosphere is tight, not tense, but there’s anxiety afoot. And, though no one of discernible recognition is on stage yet, the show has already begun.
See, when it comes to Odd Future, the ability to catch their audience off guard is a coveted asset in their act. But, this isn’t the same Odd Future from nearly a year ago. No, this is an Odd Future so fresh and familiar in the minds of their fans that shock value no longer constitutes as an effective approach to boosting appeal. Content is a major point of interest and, on the Odd Future Tape Vol. 2, high quality content is just as scattered and inconsistent as their collective catalog. But, what’s never been in question is this group’s energy.
Odd Future related albums occasionally underwhelm for one reason, and one reason alone: Vitality. Nothing felt more urgent than the drum and synth kicks that began Mellowhype’s set-opening “64” performance. I hadn’t even guzzled down the last half of my overpriced Yuengling before the frenzy had ensued. A wave of, seemingly, living corpses swayed uncontrollably as, one by one (by five), the crew disseminated across the stage. This wasn’t anything new to a surprisingly large portion of the crowd. As far as OF shows go (and compared to the last one I attended), this crowd seemed more well adjusted and prepared, even after news spread that neither Frank Ocean, The Internet, nor the newly free Earl Sweatshirt would be in attendance. Disappointment? Yes. A detraction from the experience as a whole? Well, not exactly.
As a cohesive unit, OF really knows how to bring the best out in one another. That said, the chemistry clearly flows through their core source of energy, Tyler, the Creator. Tyler makes Hodgy better, who, in turn, makes Domo better, which reverberates throughout the peripheral members. That trio though, shows up, in one form or another, on half of the 18 tracks here. As the lyrical nucleus of the crew, their presence and continuity smothers tracks that would otherwise stand pretty firm on their own. Although Mike G’s “Forrest Green” is nearly a year old now, it bangs heavy, and is one of the better showcases of Mike’s “acquired” flow. The Internet comes through with “Ya Know”, a Neptunes-circa-’04 R&B jam, and while it’s not terrible, I’d rather not hear it within the context of the tracks it’s surrounded by. Dark, familiarly brooding songs like “NY (Ned Flander)” and “Lean” cast an unfavorable shadow over some of the more misplaced cuts. Making for some choppy album flow.
In a live setting, this group doesn’t suffer from the awkward screeching of rigid, stylistic transitions. Their collective stage presence is one unified segue in and of itself. They can jump from the Tyler dominated “Tron Cat”, to Hodgy and Taco’s “Bitches”, to Domo’s “Rolling Papers” without much elaboration. They read the crowd better than most veterans can, and can use improvisational set adjustments in a way that only a group with similar catalog depth could ever remotely achieve (we’re talking Wu-Tang level set shuffles). So, when Hodgy mumbles “I Got A Gun” to “DJ Taco” (taking the place of his sister, and usual set DJ, Syd), and a fan shouts out “Do 50!” (MellowHype’s hardest track to date, from the record), Hodgy and company not only oblige, but they proceed to peel off three or four of MellowHype’s most raucous songs available (culminating in a gloriously violent rendition of “Fuck the Police”) with incredible vigor. The crew can definitely feed the hot hand, which makes the absence of their more versatile members (mainly Frank) an afterthought when you’re in the moment. And, that’s pretty much the ebb and flow of their show: A constant stream of chaotic atmosphere that never allows you to exit “the moment”. Even when you’re getting elbowed in the jugular by some shirtless Bro.
Some great moments are captured on the album that may strike a nerve that’ll possibly be unfamiliar to some fans. “Analog 2” is, by far, the most accomplished piece of music Tyler, the Creator has ever composed. The fusuion of melodies, and bursts of vocals (from Ocean, Syd and even Tyler himself) are inspired enough to forget the sinister imagery. Frank Ocean takes advantage of his short solo on “White” and turns a mostly percussion and bass-less ballad into a highlight. Even the chronically under-appreciated Domo Genesis gets a bewilderingly dope lyrical showcase on “Doms”. And, of course, who can deny Jasper and Taco reprising their “ignorant as FUCK” rhymes on “We Got Bitches”? When these guys are having fun, it’s infectious to a fault.
As per the old adage of how “time flies”, the fun permeating from the stage turned two and a half hours into what felt like 20 minutes. Before their usual set-closing finale of “Radicals”, Tyler took the time to acknowledge Philly’s reciprocal energy, even going as far as titling the Illadelph crowd “the best”, in those regards. It’s not out of the question to assume hyperbole on his part (as he probably says it to every city…
Slut), but, personally speaking, I can’t recall a time I’ve seen a crowd as “turnt up”, yet gleefully in fellowship throughout. And that’s including the post show search for abandoned Vans and tipped off Supreme 5-panel caps. While some vital members weren’t in attendance (we later found out that Earl was, indeed, in school that day), the general tone of the show never dropped from beginning to end. When there are five of them on stage, it can feel like 20.
That gargantuan stage presentation is, ultimately, what lacks on the album, and leads to a disappointing experience. All the familiar characters are in full force, but the only time you really get a feel for the distinct idiosyncrasies at play between each member is on the closing track “Oldie”. That 10 minute posse cut, that you’ve probably already heard (or seen) by now, is the closest to a live show you’ll get, yet it still somewhat overstays it’s welcome. Despite Earl absolutely murdering his verse (shouts to clutch Crunchy Black references), without the context of a live experience to display just what makes this crew so special, musically, the idea of a joint Odd Future album is somewhat pointless. Separately, these songs have some reasonable value, but, much like the majority of their collective careers, if you want the complete and fulfilling Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All experience, you’re going to need to stimulate more than just your ears.
*Note: Photo credit goes to The Electric Factory and that chick I met who texted me a picture of Lucas at the merch table (if you’re reading this, I didn’t save your name in my contacts because I was wasted by the time you walked away… My bad).