Watsky, etc. House of Blues (Bronze Peacock Room) October 21, 2014
One after the next, the acts that made up the sold-out Watsky bill Tuesday night at House of Blues' Bronze Peacock gave credit where it was due.
"You guys are awesome," said DJ Brick, who provided beats for opener Kyle. "This is the most fun we've had in a while."
The feeling seemed mutual. The crowd showed up early enough to impress opener Anderson Paak with a very enthusiastic and loud response to his soulful set. Maybe this group of tour mates shares enough common fans to ensure a full house from the first song of the opener's set to Watsky's encore. Or, maybe Houston really is rap-educated and truly does appreciate hip-hop that doesn't need to sound home brewed.
Whatever the reasons, the gathered were fully behind the night's talent. Paak, who would later provide vocals for Watsky's set, won the crowd over even while calling out one fan who had "no rhythm, but knows all the words."
His set gave way to Kyle, a Ventura, Calif.-based rapper reminiscent of another Houston appreciator, Drake (just don't tell him so). He and the afore-noted Brick were vibrant, animated party-starters. Or did their energy grow from the stellar crowd? It didn't matter, and it didn't hurt when Brick told the crowd, "I want you guys to turn up and pee on yourselves," while introducing Kyle.
"BANG" was the standout song of an infectiously fun set that featured Kid-N-Play-styled dancing, beach balls straight from the 99 Cent Store, a Super Soaker and literal crowd-surfing, with Kyle ending the night atop a boogie board held up by waves of fans. (May I remind anyone who doubts the strength of a Houston hip-hop crowd: this was happening on a Tuesday night before 9 p.m., with Ne-Yo performing down the hall in the big room.
Watsky, the spoken-word poet from San Francisco turned rapid-fire rapper, built his set largely around All You Can Do, his newest album. By the second song of the night, "Moral of the Story," -- an "Eye of the Tiger" for the new-era Rockys of the world -- he'd stripped his jacket off and stood before his live backing band in a white T-shirt and gray slacks. Topped by something close to a pompadour, the look recalled the toughs of the 1950s. Intermittent poems throughout the set bridged the beat poets to Def Jam. And, everything else he did was thoroughly modern and thoroughly Watsky.
He stormed through "Moral," from last year's Cardboard Castles, "Ink Don't Bleed" from the new album, back to 2013's "Ugly Faces" and "Never Let It Die," a key track from All You Can Do that features a trademark of the rapper's work -- inspirational words to help listeners press on and strive further. One of my favorite lyrics of the year is from that song: "So if you got a flame that's blazing hot within, take a deep breath and feed it oxygen."
Going to the live show was a priority because I wanted to see whether Watsky needed breathers during his songs, or, at the very least, a hype man or two to fill in lyrics when his lungs began to falter. But, he needed none of the above. If you've heard him rap on record with Usain Bolt speed, trust me when I say he doesn't trip between the blocks and the tape during the live renditions.
He stays in his lane, on track and is as fast and graceful as on record. That alone is kind of exhilarating, but as a fan, I cheered a little more as he paced his way through favorites like "Sloppy Seconds," "Energy" and the sublime "Tiny Glowing Screens Part I."
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The set closed defiantly with "IDGAF" and the world-burner "Whoa Whoa Whoa." Bringing the night to a close, he took a moment to tell the audience how grateful he is to be able to do what he does for anyone who will allow him to do it for them. Watsky stands apart from others who might echo those words because he doesn't have to come to your town and stand before your weirdly enthusiastic Tuesday-night crowd to admit it.
From one album to the next, his songs speak an honest truth about how hard he's worked and how blessed he feels he is. And, if he didn't find it something to be grateful for, he'd never suggest you keep feeding oxygen to your own flame.
Personal Bias: I am not a fan of the live concert medley. About two-thirds of the way through his set, Watsky turned some of his best-loved songs into one of those Time-Life Music collection commercials by mashing up snippets into a medley. "Rich Girl," "Hey, Asshole," "4 AM Monday," "Cardboard Castles" and "Strong as an Oak" all got the short shrift instead of full versions. Maybe one day in the distant future, Dre and Ed Lover will be pitching early 21st-century rap for Time Life; but until then, it'd be great to hear good songs performed live in their entirety.
The Crowd: Far less-dressed than the Ne-Yo-phytes down the way. Hurley ballcaps and one kid with Chewbacca on his T-shirt. Very few who were alive when Chewy made his big-screen debut.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I found a Tumblr that takes pop songs and turns them into Shakespearean sonnets" -- Two of the coolest teachers in the city discussing lesson planning, I think.
Woman: "Some bitch tried to rip my hair out because I was 'in her space.'" Guy friend: "How did that go for her?" Woman: "Not very well."
Random Notebook Dump: It seemed like a slow night at the Bronze Peacock's bar, so I assumed Watsky's fans abstain from the hooch. High moral character, I guessed. Then, I got my bar tab and saw why they were just saying no. Four beers cost me $32, roughly the price of a pair of tickets to the show.
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