The eyes of the world have been on Frank Ocean lately, both for his music and his personal life. None of the latter should matter but it does provide more intrigue to an artist who is on the rise and one that stands out in a style of music that can be so generic. Regardless of the added attention of late, Ocean lets his music do the talking and this gig was sold out months before any gossip was revealed or Channel Orange was even released.
Despite the rapturous reaction to Ocean’s appearance onstage, he seems to not be phased on his first full tour as a solo artist and unassumingly sits on a stool to croon his version of Sade’s ‘By Your Side’. There’s a group of musicians accompanying him onstage with guitar, bass, keyboard and drums but Frank’s voice is the real instrument on show. His take on the song is raw and heartfelt and he could sing the whole set acapella and it would still engage the audience.
It is midway through the set’s second song, ‘Summer Remains’ that the backdrop lights up with a multitude of spinning television projected with a barrage of images flashing before us, appropriate given the added media focus around Ocean these days. The singer and band move into the album’s first song on ‘Thinking About You’ and the shrieks from the fans were deafening as they sang back every word and melody.
The set list encompasses new songs and material from the Nostalgia Ultra mixtape, plus a couple of covers including Coldplay’s ‘Strawberry Swing’ which segues into Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘‘Made in America’. Ocean’s voice reaches thrilling peaks and his songs clearly resonate with the crowd – especially ‘Super Rich Kids’, ‘Sweet Life’, ‘American Wedding’ and the ambitious, seven minute plus epic ‘Pyramids’, which morphs from a dance anthem into something more soulful seamlessly.
Before launching into the confessional, heart-wrenching gospel tinged ‘Bad Religion’, Ocean speaks to the crowd and gives one of the few endearingly shy speeches sprinkled throughout the performance. He admits that “this past month has been wild, this song speaks to a particular situation for me and means a lot to me, and hope you can just vibe with me and give me love back”, he said to a thunderous roar of support. When his falsetto hits during the line “brings me to my knees”, it sends shivers up your spine. It feels like a therapeutic release, manifesting through Ocean onstage.
Ocean’s stage presence differs from contemporaries; it is less about posturing to the crowd but seems calm and disconnected with the concept of smart moves or disingenuous banter. There is something decidedly pure about his presence and behaviour on this first tour, with no need for theatrics. His energy and genuine gratitude for being given the opportunity to perform in front of people hold the crowd captivated. Sat at a piano for the encore ‘I Miss You’ (a song writen Beyonce’s most recent album), this poignant version is a satisfying end to a self-assured performance from a man who has only just begun to find his true voice. One can not help but wonder if this is just a small glimpse of an immense talent.