Show Review: Earl Sweatshirt @ Paradise Rock Club 8.21.15

by Terence Cawley (Biology), published August 26th 2015

photos by Ben Stas (Journalism/English)

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When Earl Sweatshirt took to Twitter to confirm that Odd Future had disbanded, the surprise wasn’t the end of the L.A. rap collective which stormed the Internet five years ago, it was that anyone considered this news. A lot has changed since the group’s shock-and-horror assault got a bunch of adolescent white boys whose previous interest in rap had stopped at Linkin Park to stalk the hallways in Golf Wang shirts muttering “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” under their breath, and no former OF member besides Frank Ocean has done a better job of taking their solo career to more interesting places than Earl Sweatshirt. Luckily for Earl, his fan base seems to have grown up with him, as evidenced by the sold-out crowd at the Paradise.

New York upstart Remy Banks kicked things off with a no-frills set, rapping with authority over simple but effective hard-nosed beats, mostly from his very good new mixtape higher. Banks mentioned multiple times that he had never played Boston before, but he worked the audience like a pro and completely won the crowd over with his ingratiating style. The momentum Banks built up was killed when the next opener, NxWorries, showed up 45 minutes late and only played three songs before getting kicked off stage. Those three songs, featuring Knxwledge’s soulful beats and Anderson Paak’s melodic flows, still worked as an effective sampler of this new group’s ultra-smooth sound, and the crowd was audibly disappointed that the set was cut short.

Earl opened with four songs from his debut album, 2013’s Doris, ignoring the singles in favor of deeper cuts like album opener “Pre” and the RZA-produced “Molasses.” While Earl mumbled his way through that record, live he employed a deep-throated yell which lent his introspective verses a forcefulness which they had previously lacked. The unshakeable confidence of Earl’s stage presence extended to his set list, which featured nothing from his 2010 horrorcore mixtape EARL, no Odd Future songs and nothing from Doris after those first four songs. While a lot of Earl’s fans would have loved to hear the older tracks which put him on the map, it’s doubtful that an artist as obsessed with artistic progression as Earl would have been able to fake the necessary passion to rap them well. It’s for the best that he focused on his latest album, the excellent I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, instead.

Earl rapped every song from the album in order, skipping only the last song, “Wool.” Playing hype man for Earl was Na’kel, who reprised his emotional verse on album highlight “DNA.” Performing the album straight through meant no surprises, but Earl compensated by absolutely throwing himself into his verses. The new album is a heady brew of confessions, doubts, boasts and insults, and Earl’s claustrophobic beats made for an intense live experience. After “DNA,” he played three new songs, which mixed trap stylings with his trademark murkiness. Earl then proceeded to get the crowd jumping with the unreleased firestarter “Hell” before closing with another unreleased track, “Quest/Power.” The show then devolved into an aimless DJ set, with Earl inviting his opening acts and crew onstage to drink and smoke with him while he played hip-hop for about a half hour before they finally left the stage. It was weird for Earl to end an otherwise strong set by ignoring the audience while he and his friends had fun, but if the cost of letting Earl do what he wants is the occasional act of self-indulgence, then the rest of the show rendered this a cost worth paying.

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