Frank Ocean @ Festival Hall, Melbourne (25/07/2013)
ED SHARP-PAUL was lucky enough to see Frank Ocean’s only Australian show. Here’s what you missed out on.
Channel Orange already feels like an old friend, a soundtrack to falling in and out of love, of lust, of boredom. Beyond this, though, Ocean is a star, not just in terms of his profile, but in terms of the intensely personal connection he arouses in his fans. A lot of this is down to his songs and his voice, which are introspective, intimate, and very, very good. Much of it is down to the man himself. He offers up a lot of hints through his music, but he doesn’t give too much away: he humbly invites you into his world, but he always keeps something hidden. And yes, there’s that almost-mythical tumblr post, too.
A dressed-down Ocean seemed impervious to all that as he strolled out to a predictably rapturous reception, hunched over his mic and delivered new track ‘Feel California’. There were no supports, which meant everyone rocking up moments before show-time and long delays (not helped by the enthusiastic pat-down policy of security); there was no band on display, except as glimpsed behind a dazzling LED curtain, and only when the light fell just so. It was all about Frank. Unfortunately, Frank had a cold.
The early part of the set rolled by, Ocean silhouetted against rolling clouds and somewhat silly footage of the golden Nostalgia, Ultra car rolling around on the salt flats. Though the sharply-dressed six-piece band were largely obscured, their contributions were telling, particularly as the horns became more prominent, lending the music a James Bond-soul vibe.
Ocean is known to have a withdrawn stage presence – his is a strange anti-charisma, an absence at the heart of the performance. Perhaps this is part of his appeal: as a fan, you can fill that absence with whatever idealised image that you prefer. This is fine and good, but it became increasingly apparent that there was something not quite right. After ‘Whip Appeal’, Ocean took a tea break before announcing: “It’s frigid as fuck in Australia, I caught a cold, so you’ll have to bear with me.”
Ocean did his best from this point, but it was obviously tough going. He took a few more tea breaks, and his otherworldly falsetto ground to a halt on the chorus of ‘Thinkin Bout You’, and missed a few lines on ‘Forrest Gump’. The likes of ‘Novacaine’, the ‘Benny And The Jets’-cribbing ‘Super Rich Kids’ and the Stevie Wonder-esque ‘Sweet Life’ were undoubtedly the tent-pegs that held the show up, largely because they were swept along by the crowd’s energy.
“He mumbled his thank-you’s and trudged off before his band had even finished”
Things kicked up a gear towards what was intended to be a dramatic finale, with the band loosening up, and some seriously psychedelic burning palms providing visual accompaniment for the final clutch of songs. Ocean, however, was clinging to his mic stand for support by this stage. Finally, he mumbled his thank-you’s and trudged off before his band had even finished (the admittedly excellent) ‘Bad Religion’. The house lights came up, and it slowly dawned on a bemused audience that yes, that was it. It was admirable that he soldiered on through obvious discomfort, but might have been fairer on his fans had he postponed, rather than struggle through.
And yet plenty of people were buzzing afterward. Ultimately, what you thought of Ocean came down to what you hope to get out of a performance. Did you want his songs, performed accurately? Did you want occasionally engaging, occasionally silly visuals? Did you merely want to breathe the same smoky, sweaty air as your idol? Or did you want, y’know, a performance? Personally, I was hoping for performance, one that Ocean was in no state to deliver. Plenty got exactly what they had come for, though – a devotional ritual, a sÃ©ance. It’s a pity the rest of Australia won’t be afforded the same opportunity.
Thinkin Bout You
Super Rich Kids