Concert Review: Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples at Madison Square Garden

Performance Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Audience Energy: 4/5 Stars

Atmosphere and Stage Design: 4.5/5 Stars

Overall Concert Rating: 4.3/5 Stars

“The next one is going to be ‘Tamale.’ I can feel it.” Sure enough, dressed in a neon orange vest and shorts with a white Golf T-Shirt, Tyler, the Creator began to dance around the stage to the beat of his classic “Tamale.” It was the mid-set pick-me-up we all needed. Throughout his track-list on Friday, February 23rd at the Madison Square Garden Theater, Tyler switched up the tempo from upbeat Wolf tunes to the chill, introspective raps of Flower Boy, that album that inspired the fantasy-like stage design.

Tyler spent the show climbing on an uprooted tree fallen with another one standing tall behind him. Behind the set was an illuminated backdrop which oscillated between sunsets and monochrome dreams and starry night skies to fit each song. Tyler brought us into the self-conscious “Garden Shed” and back out to the outspoken bravado of “I Ain’t Got Time!,” and ending with the glittering, heartfelt “See You Again.” The last number got everyone to bring their phones up, in lieu of lighters, and wave them from side to side.

Opening the concert was Vince Staples, whose vibrant blue and orange aesthetic for Big Fish Theory complemented Tyler’s bright yellow bee for the concert promos. He performed a medley of songs from each of his four albums, the highlights being “Blue Suede,” “Lift Me Up,” “Norf Norf,” “Party People,” and “Yeah Right.” Behind, him a screen broken up into lighted cubes moved around to form fast-paced supercuts to accompany each song, featuring interludes of fatalistic news reports that became more unintelligible and static-y as his set went on. Overall, Vince’s performance had little in the way of bells and whistles (besides a very active fog machine), with his energetic presence and razor-sharp lyrical precision taking center stage.

However, there were times when the audience was not at all matching the liveliness he was emanating. He kept trying to encourage and interact with everyone, but I am of the opinion that the lack of participation was less about his performance and song choice and more the fact that most people were there to see Tyler. This was a real shame, especially considering Vince’s talent and popularity. While plenty of people were hype for “Big Fish,” there was less excitement for his deeper cuts, but hopefully audience members were inspired enough to go home and give 2014’s Hell Can Wait a listen.

In terms of audience interaction, no Tyler appearance would be complete without some witty banter (e.g., “Those 15 year-old white boys are pushing each other for no reason,” referencing the rambunctious GA crowd). While the crowd of funky 14-23 year olds could have been more responsive to Tyler’s vibes in general, especially in the upper level sections, he knew how to bring up the energy. Occasionally, he would begin a song, usually an older one, and then stop halfway when he realized the crowd was not responding the way he wanted. I had mixed feelings about this: for one, I felt badly that he didn’t finish those songs due to lack of crowd reaction, but I also think there is value in an artist who can gauge the audience’s enthusiasm towards certain tracks during a performance. There is nothing more satisfying for an audience member, or performer, I can imagine, than everyone finishing a song’s line in unison when the microphone is turned their way, and thankfully there were many of these moments.

A personal high note for the concert was during “Who Dat Boy,” when A$AP Rocky came out right on time for his verse. The crowd went wild and rapped along almost without stopping. Tyler and A$AP went straight into A$AP Mob’s “Telephone Calls,” which also had a very positive reception. As A$AP left the stage, Tyler let everyone know how the two of them once “hated each other,” but were now friends. We all love a happy ending, especially when it leads to incredible music.

As someone who has been listening to Tyler, the Creator since high school, this was a wonderful way to see Tyler’s journey as an artist. His earlier tracks and persona have many “horror rap” elements, often relying on shock factors, excessively offensive language, and nightmare-ish images. While Tyler’s sarcastic and provocative spirit is still intact, he now displays a more sensitive side to his soul that listeners received glimpses of in earlier songs like “She” and “Answer.” Shifting his themes from heartbreak and abandonment, Flower Boy is a deep and candid look into Tyler’s personal experiences with loneliness and boredom, race and racism, gayness and coming out. Performing some of his verses a cappella lead to an intimate, stripped down feel, as though Tyler had written those songs “about us” and was “asking us for our opinion.” Live, Tyler brought the poetry and musicality album to life, from summers in California to eternal, nostalgic Novembers, from the depths of potholes to the heights of blooming flowers.