Frank Ocean at Brixton Academy
In 2011 Frank Ocean played at the intimate XOYO in Shoreditch to a frenzy of positive reviews from blogs and the music press. Two years later, he is one of the biggest and most exciting names in music. His major label debut album Channel ORANGE topped many “best of 2012” polls and he is one of the most talked about artists in R&B right now.
The audience lucky enough to make one of two dates at the Brixton Academy are obviously aware of how hot their tickets are. Queues form around the block from late afternoon despite being a show with no support act.
From the moment Ocean steps onto the stage, the crowd is enraptured. Singing every word of a complicated and wordy album with him and right back at him, the audience clearly love every second.
Frank Ocean performs in front of a screen showing the image of a car travelling across the Californian desert, a live band flanking either side of the stage and him alone in the empty centre stage. It’s a simple but effective set up allowing the gig to feel so much more intimate than it is. He is a natural talent, commanding the crowd and working the stage without ever seeming to try. The songs, which seem so personal and emotive on record, are brought to life with a realness and a purpose. Ocean is clearly genuinely touched and overwhelmed by the love for him in the room, but he plays it cool.
And what of his voice? He quickly (and thankfully) dismisses the auto-tune effect on his vocals to reveal an incredible R&B timbre. His natural tone combined with the band’s live instruments hark back to real soul music, brought up to date with hip-hop beats and his own star quality. He plays tracks from his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and his debut as well as some new material, which sounds suitably impressive.
Ocean’s performance of the ten-minute sprawling Pyramids is the evening’s spectacular moment but he reveals his soul most when the music is slower, he sits on a chair centre stage and sings his socks off – as he did with the wonderful Forrest Gump. The result justifies all of the hype, and then some.
Photo: NRK P3
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