A young, largely teenaged crowd packed out the bleachers at Jacobs Pavilion last night, buzzing in their seats with a palpable energy that peeked out in bursts when the warm-up DJ spun the right tracks.
At first glance, you might think you’d stumbled into a pan-Cleveland high school assembly, if one of the hottest hip-hop artists of the zeitgeist was the headlining act. An overcast Sunday cleared up just in time for the city sunset, gleaming off the Cuyahoga and casting the warehouses across the river in a hopeful, golden glow.
Travis Scott made his way over from the Cavs game to begin his set shortly after 10 p.m. Emerging onto a vine-laced, jungle-themed scaffolding to a series of bird screeches (it is the Birds [sic] Eye View Tour, after all), the Houston-bred rapper announced that today’s show would be a little different. It was the four-year anniversary of the release of his first mixtape, Owl Pharaoh
; in its honor, Scott popped off the concert with some deep cuts, charging up the day-one fans with a four-track medley from the project. His vibe was ferocious, contagious; by the end of his opening salvo, the once-placid, bleacher-banished teens rushed the general admission pit, a tidal wave of youth inundating the semicircle closest to the Jacobs stage and never letting up.
Just last week, Scott was arrested for inciting a riot at a show in Arkansas after encouraging fans to rush the stage. As concert-goers mobbed the pit to a soundtrack of trap beats, Scott exclaimed, “I plead not guilty!” while bounding across the stage. “This shit just happens on its own!”
The high-octane, collective energy seldom let up; Travis rocked through a setlist of hits, popping off with “way back” and “the ends” from his latest album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
, before a simmering rendition of “Mamacita” from Days Before Rodeo
. He stalked the stage, dragging his mic stand behind him with understated menace, and bounced into a newly released track, “Butterfly Effect,” which he called his favorite song.
Scott performed his remix of “Uber Everywhere,” whose original lyrics dawned on the crowd as oddly presaging – the song from late 2015 references Scott’s new boo, Kylie Jenner, with lines like “Shorty bad as hell, yeah/with them Kylie Jenner lips." It came just before an unexpected and well-received romp into Kid Cudi’s verse on Kanye West’s “Father, Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.” Scott paused to laud Shaker Heights-native Cudi as an “idol” of his in a rare moment of calm, explaining that he had hoped to bring him out to perform, but Cudi couldn’t make it. In his stead, Scott rocketed into their collab “through the late night” on his own.
At this point, seemingly brazen teens started running onto the stage, with Travis (and his security) reacting relatively nonchalantly before urging them to dive into the crowd in a ritual that lasted the entire set. Typically, stage-crashers are tackled by security or artist, but Travis would rap a few words into their faces, occasionally gripping their hair like they were about to be given a swirly, then point them towards the audience to jump in. A few fans posited that these were contest winners or VIP ticket holders, having been gifted or purchased the opportunity to briefly rage with Scott.
Just after “90210,” the stage darkened and a black dropsheet behind the scaffolding fell to reveal a huge animatronic bird, complete with slowly flapping wings and eerie flashlight eyes. As Scott ran through his final few songs, the bird became more and more animated, chewing on what appeared to be entrails, eyes glowing red. Scott rocked a run of “outside,” “beibs in the trap,” and “sweet sweet” before tearing the house down with “3500,” the just-dropped “A Man,” and his hit single, “Antidote,” which he kicked off by literally place kicking a water bottle into the crowd.
It should be noted that musically, the show wasn't exceptional. Scott’s auto-tuned vocals felt scattered amidst all the raging; his voice, unique, textured, and nuanced in recordings, often just defaulted to yelling. His beats came from a backing DJ and could be best characterized as “loud.”
That said, the musicality of this show was peripheral; you’re not coming to the Travis Scott show just to hear music (or if you are, you’ll leave somewhat disappointed). No one departs a Scott concert thinking that they just have to get their hands on a copy of a live version of a Scott song. His performance is more a signalling of his tracks rather than a loyal rendition of them.
The real art is in the atmosphere he creates during the performance. You’re there for the ear-ringing, unbridled, moshpit-inducing chaos facilitated by Scott. His music primes a listener, but his performance itself stands as an independent entity, an experiential upshift into an activated energetic state that can tantalize thousands. His capacity to grip a crowd by the throat and never let go is truly impressive.
On this note, Scott closed, as expected, with “goosebumps.” Last week, he performed this single 14 times in a row to set what he claimed to be a world record, beating out Kanye West and Jay-Z’s iconic performances of “Niggas in Paris” during their 2011 Watch The Throne Tour. Last night, he clambered atop the animatronic bird and broke his own record, performing the track (or at least its chorus) 15 times in a row. Scott began each rendition sitting down, reiterating he wanted to make it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, singing the first few bars acapella before springing up at the beat drop and catapulting across the stage. The audience responded in kind: bellowing every word, rowdy, bouncing, in unison, each and every time.
It was hypnotic. Like a fire alarm, the song faded in and out of consciousness despite its unyielding omnipresence; its effect ranged from numbing to stimulating to oppressive to stirring. The 20-minute segment could be alternatively gimmicky and poignant. It was a transfixing moment, a fitting, extended exclamation point upon which to end a seizing, electric evening.
Teenage sensation Khalid kicked off the evening with a subdued, soulful set. The 19-year-old crooner from El Paso paced the stage with earnest, understated dance moves, a groovy backing band scoring his hits like “Let’s Go” and “Saved.” The crowd was low-key but receptive, singing along with his finale as he delivered a sweeping rendition of “Location” that sent hands up and bodies swaying, trailing off into a guitar solo coda.