It was fitting that Odd Future opened last night’s Hammerstein Ballroom show with clips from their upcoming TV series, Loiter Squad. To the mob of high-schoolers, moshers and misfits that filled the venue – skateboards were confiscated at the door – the show’s comedy sketches are as pertinent as any of its stars’ rap lyrics. It’s their personalities that matter, from Jasper Dolphin’s spastic hubris and Left Brain’s thuggish wit to Tyler, the Creator’s unbridled youth. Seeing Odd Future is much like hearing them: they’re a collage of chaos, demanding your attention and then laughing because they made you look.
Their performance didn’t start so much as it emerged. DJ and vocalist Syd Tha Kid played the brooding “64,” Hodgy Beats crept onstage and began rapping along mid-verse, and other members followed one by one. They blasted through material with no apparent sequence – a Mike G track here, a Goblin track there – pausing between every cut to decide what to do next. “We don’t got no set list ’cause we some live ass niggas,” Hodgy shouted, summarizing Odd Future’s performance ethos. Energy trumps order, and humor excuses error.
Tyler seemed unusually reserved throughout much of the show, as if humbled by the scope of the moment. “I remember, it was like November 2010, we did our first show out here at Webster Hall,” he reminisced on this night, which doubled as a celebration for the release of the group’s official debut LP, The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2. “It was crazy how small that motherfucker was. Now look at us, performing for all of y’all.” Here was his teenage dream fully realized: a debut album in stores, a television show premiering nationwide and, soon, after over a year of suspense and speculation, every member present and accounted for.
Despite spending the last year enrolled in a reform school in Samoa, Earl Sweatshirt didn’t appear much different from the foul-mouthed 16-year-old of two years ago, the one whose deft flows hypnotized all those who stumbled across his YouTube account. Scores of fans, who up until this point were too busy hurling themselves at each other to mind the stage, grabbed their smartphones to record hip-hop history as Earl surfaced from backstage and ripped through “Orange Juice,” “AssMilk,” “Kill” and “Earl” live for the first time ever. “Y’all better act like y’all missed me,” he panted after an impassioned group hug from his crew. “That ‘Free Earl’ campaign is dead!” Domo Genesis added. “We got him back.”
The show immediately became one big homecoming party. Frank Ocean appeared to perform “White,” his metaphorical solo cut from The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2. But his pensive crooning and piano solo slowed up the celebration, and Tyler soon cut him off. “Y’all have no idea how awesome this is,” he grinned. Earl continued the revelry, creating a oddly intimate moment by leading the crowd in a sing-along of a vulgar non sequitur from the group’s “pre-Bastard, pre-everything” days: “‘Who keeps shitting in the tub? Please wash your ass, Mr. Steve.’ “You remember that shit?” he eagerly asked Tyler, laughing and smiling, as if barely aware he was still onstage.
As Earl rattled through his show-stealing verse on the posse cut “Oldie,” his only appearance on the crew’s newest release, Tyler motioned behind him for the rest of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All to come out toward center stage. Dozens of rappers, skaters, artists and extras soon flanked Earl on all sides, and their constant thrashing chilled to a somber head-bob as he spit his last rhymes of the night to raucous applause. Tyler closed the cypher a cappella: “Just admit: not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck.” There were no objections.