It’s been a year for Scott Mescudi. “A year ago today, I was in rehab,” he told the crowd at CSU’s Wolstein Center on Saturday night. Depression and suicidal thoughts—the demons he’s openly struggled with his entire career—drove him there.
But you can’t keep the Kid down. Mescudi—better known as Kid Cudi—returned to his hometown for a show with Hollywood blockbuster levels of special effects wizardry. Though the rapper’s material didn’t always live up to his stagecraft, his infectious energy and charm were on full display.
Since “Day and Night” exploded into airway omnipotence in 2008, Kid Cudi has built his career off elevating his personal struggles to intergalactic proportions. This has been one of the most endearing traits of his work and, at times, the most irritating.
His club-ready mix of self-doubt and swagger in 2009’s Man on the Moon: End of the Day
brought him instant stardom and acclaim. He followed it up with the unevenly paced Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
, in which he carried the balanced extremes of its predecessor to occasionally unlikable excesses.
As the title of his most recent album suggests, Passion, Pain, & Demon-Slayin’
brings the Cleveland Kid’s introspection to the forefront. The exuberance Cudi has brought to even his darkest songs gets largely swapped out for trippy, moody vibes.
There’s some cool experimentation with world music on tracks like “By Design” and “The Chosen,” both of which were well-received performances at the show. At times, though, Cudi’s inner explorations feel like shoe-gazing. This took on a sometimes-literal quality during Saturday’s performance. A couple of extended, seemingly freestyled humming sessions on Demon Slayin’
tracks brought down the energy of some already momentum-slowing moments.
But casual Cudi fans—your correspondent has to count himself among their number—were never the audience for Demon Slayin’
. And it wasn’t casual Cudi fans that packed the standing room and kept the energy up even as the tempo slowed.
At the beginning of the show, Cudi promised the crowd, “We’re gonna go on a journey.” The show’s impressive visual effects mirrored mirrored Mr. Rager’s vision quest lyrics. Cudi took the stage to the sound of crickets—the literal sound of crickets. The recording accompanied an incredibly realistic onstage forest, complete with tree stumps and digitally-rendered trees, giant clumps of moss hanging over the proceedings.
As Cudi’s set progressed, the forest changed to match the mood: shifting colors, swirling hallucinogenically, even growing a bunch of creepy, Loony Toons monster eyes at one point. There was a dramatic snowfall and, at one point early on, a sexy, holographic backup dancer.
Chip Tha Ripper (not a hologram) also took the stage.
And maybe that, more than anything else, shows that Cudi stays true to his roots. His music may evolve, but he’s still the Kid From Cleveland. A Midwest kid, burned by fame’s pitfalls but still grounded enough to give multiple onstage shout-outs to his daughter and mom. The kind of guy who’d be great no matter where he came from, but he’s nice enough to tell us that Cleveland is the reason he’s cool.