Review: Frank Ocean, Festival Hall, July 25

The country over, Frank Ocean fans have curled into foetal positions and I consider myself extremely lucky that I got to witness him last night. Initially I just had tickets to tonight’s show. And I’m sure, like many of my fellow ticketholders, I resented that others would be seeing him before me when the second show was announced.

At 2 o’clock yesterday, a press release came through announcing last minute Frank tickets to both shows. I’ve had gushy feelings for the guy since first listening to Nostalgia/Ultra, so I asked the office Magic 8 Ball if I should get a ticket for the first show as well. It told me, ‘Outlook not good’ and, ‘My sources say no’. I told it to get fucked. You don’t control my credit card, 8-ball. A few minutes later, Ticketek told me I was going to Frank Ocean.

The line to get in to Festival Hall was more what you would call a herd of people, and not linear at all. No one knew which ‘line’ led to which door, and it was the perfect situation for fisticuffs between bros, but the crowd was just bemused at the disorganisation and came together in Frank comradery. Everyone was mates. The only concern was whether Frank would take to the stage before we all made it in.

I’ve said before how much under-18s add to the atmostphere of shows, their adrenaline and misguided hormones whole-heartedly directed at whichever musician is on stage. They remind you how you used to feel when listening to music in high school, and elevate your own experience of the show. Last night they were screaming at everything; Frank arriving on stage, Frank taking his jacket off, Frank facing their seated section of Festival Hall.

The backlighting made it difficult to see Frank’s (perfect) face, but his silhouette has become as unmistakeable as Hitchcock’s profile. Opening with new song ‘Feel California’, he paced the stage taking one of two poses as he went: either holding one hand behind his back like an English gentleman, or scooping the mic to his face earnestly.

The LED shroud behind him, hid his live band from view, projected cars drifting on icy landscapes (A motif he uses so much you’re wondering why some luxury brand of car hasn’t taken advantage of this yet) and close-ups of fires. Frank whipped out another two new tracks, both sound like they’ll be worth waiting for on his follow up album to Channel Orange. It’s also at this point that he slipped in ‘Novacane’. Like the title of the mix tape it championed, a wave of nostalgia pumped through me as the kickdrum built. The fluttering crush-like feeling I experienced on those first few listens in February 2011 returned.

Part of me was worried that his voice might not be up to the task of live shows, thanks to a couple of not great YouTube videos, and he told us at the beginning of the show that he had become sick since landing in Australia. But on hearing him, all anxiety was dispelled. It’s not the kind of voice that sent chills, but instead left you flushed with appreciation. (When I got home, my housemate told me I was “glowing”.)

There were a lot of women in the crowd, and this was most noticeable during ‘Thinking Bout You’ when the chorus sounded as if it were being sung by an all-girls school choir (kind of like this).

All of his songs were stronger rather than weaker in the flesh compared to his album. It was a Channel Orange heavy set, moving through ‘Sierra Leone’, ‘Sweet Life’, ‘Super Rich Kids’, ‘Pilot Jones’, ‘Lost’, and ‘Forrest Gump’. ‘Pink Matter’ was a highlight, with Frank performing Andre 3000’s rap at the end. The moment led so perfectly into ‘Pyramids’ that you knew the 10-minute track was coming. He had to restart the song though, thanks to some technical issues. He also coughed a few times and left the stage at one point, which in hindsight shows how much he must have been struggling to get through the show. Finally, he finished with ‘Bad Religion’, which featured that magnificent wail (you know, the one at 2:26) despite his being unwell.

I’m still in shock that I got to see him, especially being so close to missing out. For everyone who has missed out on catching him this time, I’m thinking bout you.

WORDS: Anna Horan

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Originally published 26 July 2013 on Everguide.com.au

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