It comes as no surprise that Pusha T doesn’t have any bells or whistles in his set up. It’s just not his style. Clad in all black bar his diamonds and his name in block white letters on the black stage the only decoration, it sets the tone for what should be a ferocious set from the former Clipse man’s sterling recent catalogue. After some half-arsed crowd warming up from his DJ, the main man enters his Dublin debut to the beat of My Name Is My Name opener ‘King Push’. “I don’t sing hooks” he tells us authoritatively midway through the first song of the night, and it becomes clear that he isn’t going to do much of anything else to make up for it.
Leaving most of the opening songs in the hands of his unintroduced hype man, Pusha somewhat surprisingly dances enthusiastically but barely rises above the muddy mix on ‘Blocka’ and ‘Millions’, two of the best cuts from his superb Wrath Of Caine mixtape. The tracks should shake a decently packed Button Factory as the intros spark the crowd to life but with little coming back from the stage that energy peters out in much of the room before Pusha is turning his back on the audience as the outro kicks in.
There’s none of the swagger that makes the Virginian so compelling on record and even by the time he warms up for a mini-set from the GOOD Music comp Cruel Summer the lack of showmanship lets him down. ‘Mercy’ and ‘New God Flow’ are two of the most essential tracks Pusha, or indeed Kanye, has worked on and should be thrilling live but they are treated like old hat here and even his breakout verse from West’s ‘Runaway’ is phoned in.
There are flashes of excitement but despite an eager crowd the rapper barely manages to make them last for a full track, even when so many are cut down to just his verses. ‘Nosestalgia’, the Kendrick Lamar featuring single, is abruptly chopped in half. The main set ends after 35 minutes just as it is getting going thanks to his high octane verse and the hook from another Cruel Summer number ‘Don’t Like’ and the full stuttering rush of ‘Numbers On The Board’. But then the encore starts with Pusha alone at a microphone stand running through the introspective ’40 Acres’, taking the last of the wind out of the show’s sails before he ends things in under an hour with a finale of Clipse’s finest moment ‘Grindin’’, performed with all the conviction of a pre-World Cup friendly.
The problem with the set isn’t that it’s no frills but that it’s no fun watching a headline act do the bare minimum to get the crowd going. His between-song showmanship which is supposed to build up to the recognisable intro just gets in the way of an already stop-start set. He’s built a reputation as one of the most ferocious rappers on tape but is positively docile on stage tonight. It’s all the more jarring when it comes after the support act, local upstart Simi Crowns who has the crowd eating out of his hand by the time he ends his set of hip-hop and afro-beat energy. It’s a shame the main act isn’t as hungry.
Pusha T photographed for State by Derek Kennedy