Despite being album-less and never having left the United States of America, this time last week excitement was running high for Frank Ocean’s first solo tour and European show. Selling out tickets in less than half an hour, many had to make the heart wrenching decision of choosing between Mr. Ocean and J. Cole (who was also performing in London on the same night.) Added to this the fact that Frank cancelled two shows in the days before his London gig due to illness, the relief and excitement was palpable on the faces of the few hundred individuals [including fellow artists Mr. Hudson, Emeli Sande and Etta Bond] who were present at XOYO on Friday, November 11.
Perfectly suiting the soothing vocals of Frank Ocean’s musical style, the venue is intimate in size and layout, jostling bodies lined up for his debut onto the stage. Drama free and perfectly on time, the man himself casually strolls onto the elevated platform. Effortlessly dressed to impress in a buttoned (all the way up) shirt, bandana and suit, he grabs the mic and immediately belts out a cover of Sade’s ‘By Your Side.’ And with nothing but a screen reflecting a multitude of 1980’s movies the likes of The Never Ending Story, the performance feels like one that is personally aimed at every single individual.
When teaming up his honest, endearing songwriting with a faultless voice and an evident passion and authenticity, it is pretty much impossible not to enjoy the execution of the songs we have all come to know and love. To that respect, the crowd echoes his sentiments, singing word for word every perfectly phrased sentence right back at him. Beaming smile on his face he murmurs ‘wow’ at the culmination of every song, seemingly blown away and ecstatic at the crowds reaction.
Performing the expected tracks of his debut Nostalgia, Ultra the likes of ‘Swim Good,’ ‘Novacane’ and ‘We All Try,’ Frank also debuts several new songs during his performance. “You won’t know the words unless I have a problem with the Internet,” he jokes, before launching into ‘Disillusioned.’
The Odd Future affiliate also introduced a number of other new songs, although he didn’t name them. Telling deep tales customary of Ocean, such as one which delved into the lives of rich kids with no morals; the sneak peek into what’s to come only served to cement his role as an exciting prospect.
Beaming smile plastered onto his face Frank Ocean appears to be wholly enjoying himself as much as the crowd are, even turning his back to us at one point to strap on a guitar shaped controller and play alongside the guitar solo to ‘American Wedding,’ which samples the Eagles; ‘Hotel California’ and features on the game Guitar Hero. Spinning round and round he faces us again, “I love you too, I swear.”
Night seemingly over, an encore brings him back to the stage where, sat at a piano, he belts out a goosebump-inducing, slowed down version of ‘I Miss You.’ Several criticised the night on the basis that Frank was singing over a backing track, no band in sight. Although the criticism is valid, anything else would have taken away from the intimate web the performance spun.
Judging by the reaction he got and the fact that so many adore his music, it seems we will have plenty of time to see Frank interact with big, bad productions in the future. The mesmerising effect he had on the crowd, as a solo artist with no support other than an individual pressing ‘play’ somewhere off the stage, is commendable in itself.
Photography by Ravi Sidhu [@REDNivars]