This review is brought to you by Phoelix’ manager Chris, who got me in the building.
I was late—claiming my ticket at the box office took an anxious 20 minutes. I actually talked to another Chris at the ticket window for 10 minutes, politely waiting for him to produce my ticket at some point in the conversation. Turns out he was just a producer, waiting for his free tickets (and his girlfriend). Eventually, we figured out that more than one person could be named Chris and realized we had no great reason to continue talking. Luckily, my ticket had arrived at the window. By the time I arrived, the crowd had already condensed towards the stage, and I had difficulty sliding to the front. The concert was still in that introductory, dance-free standstill, and Phoelix had the stage. The crowd seemed not to recognize him, but they would. Head nods were hard and stank faces everywhere. The music was perfect for the setting—heavy drums thumped a consistent low-end, very clearly establishing that this was a hip hop concert. But Phoelix’ instrumentals kept it dreamy for weed-legal Boston: weird plinks and spaced out keys prompted that “what the fuck am I hearing, this is hard” face on his newest fans. As a vocalist, Phoelix was a one-man crew, slipping from solid, punchy raps to autotune-modulated, melodic hooks. The rapper-producer-singer-stageman has a quiet genius, one that showed throughout his show and peaked with his live, farewell performance of “Dreams.” The song on its own is gorgeous—spacey tones top soft claps, shakes, and kickdrums as Phoelix pines after a crush to no response but an answering machine. Shawty, why I only see you in my dreams?
Apparently in the mood to flex, Phoelix sat at a keyboard and let “Dreams” run in the background. For the next 3 minutes, Phoelix would play what sounded like a classy hotel piano, apparently improvising a wholeass other melody on top of the song. At the same time, Phoelix riffed with autotuned vocals to outshine the prerecorded chorus. The performance is intimate and emotional, and the set’s cache of stank faces morph into looks of awe, a quiet set of wow’s and oh’s. At the end of his genre-spanning, beautiful performance, Phoelix quickly thanks the venue’s small crowd, packs up his keyboard, and leaves the stage. The producer-rapper-singer was everything a venue could ask from an opener, and by the end of his set everyone was more than warmed up.
EARTHGANG is up next. The crowd is hype; these tickets are too cheap for this ubertalented lineup, and everyone feels (or should feel) very lucky. Not that they have time or silence to dwell on it—the DJ’s set cuts, and EARTHGANG bounces onto stage in matching orange jumpsuits. Doctur Dot wastes no time and is already rapping while Johnny Venus hypes the crowd, mask on, shirt off (journalistic integrity requires I mention that dude is ripped). The crowd immediately takes the hint and starts jumping, instantly evaporating the sky-high stupor Phoelix conjured. The rap duo’s discography is fully represented, from Spillage Village classics to their latest singles, and every second is live as hell. 808’s boom continually as the pair hit every word of their high-energy verses, trading off roles as rapper and hypeman. The crowd reaches a frenzy by the inevitable performance of EARTHGANG’s iconic (Atlanta-featured) “Meditate,” and for a second I worried that the song’s humming, finger-snapping vibe would kill the vibe. But this wasn’t Spotify’s “Meditate”—the calm musings were replaced with hard-spit bars, building on the hype they had established. EARTHGANG continued through “Artificial,” “Nothing but the Best,” and “Stuck;” energy high the entire time, until the whole crowd is yelling the chorus of “Proud of You”. As if the venue wasn’t already in a frenzy, EARTHGANG’s set ends with a screech, as the rappers ask the crowd to scream like their spirit animal. Any other group may have been met with weird looks, but the crowd gave their trappy witches a primal scream that took two years off my eardrums. Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot walk out to their Rico Nasty collab, “Big Titties,” and by this point, I’m relieved to get a break. I grab some water and position myself for the headliner.
Longtime Smino fan, I expected sing-song shit. Red and purple low lights, smooth crooning through Glass Flows and Wild Irish Roses with scattered Bari features, the hype peaking with “Anita.” In Smino’s own words, I expected “a Lauryn Hill nigga.” And don’t get me wrong, this show had its RnB moments, but this was a rap concert. Before I begin: as a journalist, I must apologize because a lot of this set is a blur. However, as a concert goer, I regret nothing—that show was insane, and recording it quickly became second priority. Anyway. Introduced by his backup vocalist, Smino came out to a live band with “TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD,” the crowd immediately back to peak energy. “Anita,” “PIZANO,” “Netflix & Dusse,” not one lull. If you’re ever at a concert and the band starts ditching their shirts, you’re getting a fucking concert. Smino was a performer first and foremost, melting funk into rap into RnB and soul; The crowd was eating out of Smino’s hand by song three. Every once and awhile, Smino would pause the concert and just stand there, mean-mugging, effortlessly hushing the crowd to an excited murmur. Smino raises a finger and everyone is silent, waiting for his next move. Then, the music would come back, Smino would start his verse, and the crowd would scream even louder than before. About halfway through the set, Smino hushes the crowd again, this time for a quick monologue. This next song was for anyone who queues him on aux, even when they get cooked for playing “a Lauryn Hill nigga.” That included me—last summer I had made my friend get out of the car and walk two blocks as punishment for Smino hate. That song was “Coupe Se’ Yern”, a track I had fought to get on WBRU’s “Songs of 2018” playlist. I heard the start of its chippy beat, I thanked myself for having great taste, and I hit that bitch word for word.
This was Smino’s crowd now. Not the City of Boston’s, not Paradise Rock Club’s, and certainly not security’s. By this point in the concert, it was obvious, but, unfortunately for his next concert’s ticketholders, we got proof. All of the sudden a bouncer is trying to rush the stage, and Smino is deadpan staring him down without missing a word of his verse. We’re still not sure what prompted the altercation, but soon Smino is actively inviting security to square up onstage after having summoned the largest man I have ever seen (Imagine St. Lou’s equivalent of GoT’s The Mountain). I’m craning my neck trying to see what’s going on, but I’m having difficulty—it seems that security is holding a bouncer back, Smino’s detail is on stage combat ready, and Smino is taunting the staff. After a minute, he turns back to the crowd.
“Everybody say FUCK SECURITY.”
Smino, imitating the Boston crowd, put on his best White Teen voice:
I’m honestly not sure what would have happened if security hadn’t quietly backed off, but the show continued, and everyone felt a little more comfortable lighting J’s in GA. Unbeknownst to the crowd (and Smino), security would force a cancellation for the Hoopti Tour’s scheduled concert there the weekend after. I’ll let the Hoopti Tour tell it:
imagine a venue callin da police on ME lookin for guns . Searching my ppl sht my bus and summoe shit MID PERFORMANCE . Paradise Rock Club y’all jus tweaked majorly .
— Smi (@smino) May 14, 2019
Fuck all these venues that love Black Dollars But don’t love Black People. FAWKEMALL
— EarthGang is Currently Touring the US (@EarthGang) May 14, 2019
There you have it, folks—fuck security.
Back to the concert: security had slinked off, and Smino’s concert progressively went from impressive to unreal. I was sure that every song had to be the last one, as there was no way this song wasn’t the grand finale. I was wrong four times—Smino just kept one-upping himself. This set, like EARTHGANG’s, ended with screams, as Smino whipped the crowd into making as much noise as it could for the end of the concert. A week later, my ears just kind of ring now. Worth it, honestly. The volume did not drop through a funkadelic monologue of Smino screaming YEAH’s, through a drum solo, through the last verse. Smino thanked the crowd graciously, and they thanked him back. His backup vocalist provided an unbelievable final run of high notes, Smino walked offstage, and just like that the concert was over. It felt like 30 minutes, it felt like 3 hours; I’m exhausted. Everyone gradually comes down to Regular Human Life as it sinks in that they actually have to leave. Like everyone else, I begin to file out, but first I cop a t-shirt without checking my bank account.
Hoopti Tour, Boston: 10/10. Catch the next show or you’re stupid.