I could not help but wonder, on the way to the venue, how the hell “Life Aquatic” would be incorporated into a Vince Staples concert. Like, the Wes Anderson movie? Bill Murray rocking the cool blue jumpsuit? Portuguese singers in burnt orange beanies? That Life Aquatic?
Vince Staples, rapper from Long Beach, Calif., is most known for his simultaneously graphic and reflective lyricism on a life around drugs, poverty and gang violence in the Ramona Park neighborhood. Even more so, however, he’s a pop-culture geek of many vocations, which might explain the tagline of his latest tour. Walking into the Roseland Theater concert floor, three huge screens welcomed me with a massive image of Bill Murray’s scruffy face. The Life Aquatic movie played in reverse while smooth hip-hop and the occasional Mac Demarco or “House of the Rising Sun” played through multi-tiered speakers and fog machines belted out their vapors to create a dim atmosphere cluttered with conversation.
When the lights dimmed, opener Kilo Kish casually walked on stage and sat down, before flipping through a newspaper. The screens began playing self-recorded videos of herself dancing, spinning or even eating cake, and soon enough Kilo joined in, dancing and singing with incredible energy in a performance that gave as much of a theatrical impression as a musical one. She flung herself across the stage in time to pounding bass rhythms, and at the height of her set the singer was reduced to a writhing mass on the floor, while dissonant music matched the tone. Annoyingly, it prompted many people to pull out their phones to take a video, which felt a tad disrespectful to the routine, not to mention wholly missing the point. The 30 minute length of her set, while captivating, was too long, especially because it took the crew another 30 minutes to set up for the main set.
Finally, the lights dimmed once again, the room went black, and in a sudden burst, the screens all flashed to reveal Vince Staples, ready to perform “Prima Donna.” In fact, the whole visual aspect of the show was spectacular. Although no more orange-red beanies were to be seen for the rest of the night, the “Life Aquatic” theme was reintroduced through a series of oceanic scenes. Sharks, coral fish and even creepy, multicolor seagulls swam and maneuvered in time to the beat across the screens set up behind Vince. Vince’s fiery energy fed the crowd, and he gave off an aura of seriousness and intensity which frankly contrasted his quippy, laughing interview persona. It was a little disappointing that his classic hilarity, exemplified through proclamations like “True Religion jeans were never fashionable” and “Russell Westbrook needs to stop wearing Keith Haring shirts” were not a part of the show. There is a definite irony in a trendy Portland crowd singing along to the long beach rapper’s life story of gangbanging and police persecution, and a good verbal lambasting from Vince himself would have made for some deservedly deprecating fun. That being said, the severe, almost urgent tone of his performance lent itself better to the music in its own right and made for a more complete and powerful presentation of his work. Vince was not messing around, and his deadly rhythm captivated the audience for the entire hour without fail. In a classic move, Vince saved his most popular song, “Norf Norf,” for the encore, before closing out the show with the slow burning and profound “Summertime,” which lead to thoughtful conclusion of a commanding performance.