It was a night of carefree – and often careless – performances at the Commodore Ballroom on Monday with Earl Sweatshirt and guests MIKE and (Liv).e.
MIKE, who features heavily on Earl’s latest album, last year’s Some Rap Songs, emphasizes mood over form. Like Earl, MIKE builds his songs from clipped samples and dreamy, off-kilter beats that sound intimate, even isolating. Details like the hazy afternoon piano line on “God’s with Me” faded out in a way that gave the track a distant, nostalgic feel. Same with his beats that featured brass sounds of any kind. Over these soundscapes, he mumbles to himself, like he’s recording field notes on solo excursions of self-discovery. He forgot the lyrics to his last song, laughed it off, and sauntered offstage, freeing it up for the more animated (Liv).e.
(Liv).e was more engaged. She even played lighting director, ordering the house lights to be brought down so that a few blue lights shrouded her in near darkness, save for her construction worker-orange hat. Her beats were clunky and wobbly, yet her songs managed to exude sensuality, too. Among hypnotic, backtracked vocal layering, her live voice funnelled out in energetic bursts.
Earl basically stumbled onto the stage 20 minutes early, surprising his sold-out hoard of hungry fans. His over-punctuality was the first of a few ways he bucked conventions of live performance.
Like his albums, specifically Some Rap Songs, his set was musically flitting, almost disorientingly so. In just under an hour, he jumped between more than 20 songs including “Run For Your Life,” “20 Wave Caps,” “The Mint,” and “Shattered Dreams.” They began blurring into one, but guitar-rock and triumphant brass distinguished songs like “Ontheway!” and “Shrooms,” respectively. (None of this instrumentation was live.) The energy levels spiked with tracks like “December 24 (Bad Acid)” but bottomed out with the dark beats of “Grief” and “Faucet.” The bass on the latter was so deep, it rippled as it throbbed.
Earl ended his set by hanging out onstage while his producer blasted 2 Chainz and M.O.P. for over 10 minutes. (Liv).e strolled in and out to top off their drinks, as she did throughout his set. Fans’ excitement and anticipation of a proper encore dwindled; bewilderment quickly sunk in. Yet they waited until the very end for something else to happen. Nothing did.
Earl’s music is abstract. The only form he follows is his zoned out demeanour. He barely moved his limbs as he shuffled sluggishly around the stage. The reclusive rapper treated his performance with as much visible indifference as he treats fame and his album titles. He’s praised for his rap skills, but he demonstrated nothing remarkable; he was neither poetic nor loquacious. Yet the show was quintessentially Earl Sweatshirt: perplexing but, for some fans, strangely satisfying.
review by Leslie Chu