It’s been nearly a year since Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All emerged, via thorny mix tapes and cryptic Tumblrs, but the chatter surrounding the L.A. hip-hop collective has maintained a remarkable fever pitch. Last week it came to a heard around the release of frontman Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin, the crew’s proper retail debut. The internet asked: Is Tyler a brash, brilliantly troubled new voice – or a petulant, overhyped kid? During Friday night’s show at New York’s Highline Ballroom – wherein GZA, ?uestlove, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner and possibly every music writer you know watched the bodies fly – the argument was paused for a different sort of appraisal. And the conclusion was: These dudes know how to put on a goddamn live show.
Around 1 a.m., OFWGKTA finally blitzed the stage. Thirty seconds later, Tyler – in a BBC varsity jacket and the same green ski mask he rocked on Jimmy Fallon – was in the crowd. A minute after that, he was back onstage, the mask and the jacket gone. With his undershirt torn down the side, he was endearingly pinning back his upper lip so a buddy could check to see if he was bleeding. And from there on, no one needed much prodding. Actual, full-blown mosh pits, complete with hardcore windmills – about as common at rap shows as the unicorn Tyler occasionally claims to be – broke out regularly. Dudes would tear their way onstage and, if they waited a beat too long before flinging themselves back, one or another Wolf Gang member would gladly shove them on their way. At one point, a fresh-faced blond girl roughly the same age as Tyler landed on the stage and accosted him for a kiss; he complied, wondered aloud if he might now have herpes and then tossed her off, too.
In between the bouts of frenzy, Tyler would banter in his inimitable, incorrigible way. He unjokingly lambasted members of the media (the same institution that has shown Odd Future near unanimous support) for possibly getting their copies of Goblin for free. He bragged about the fact that he was 20 years old with his own record label, capped that bit off with a “Suck my dick,” then earnestly thanked everyone for letting him say that. He called out one lady, who apparently wasn’t being entirely responsive during one of the many times he went full-head-of-steam barreling into the crowd, by deriding the firmness of her breasts.
Tyler would cede the stage regularly – mostly to Hodgy Beats, Mike G and, most notably, the crew’s in-house R&B crooner Frank Ocean, whose smoothed-out interlude was a pleasant surprise – but was never too far from the focal point. After Ocean’s “Novocaine” led to an impromptu row of gyrating girls that eventually had to be politely shooed to the sides, Tyler broke in with a “Real quick: That was the most awkward shit ever,” and the rowdy status-quo was reestablished. (Also, by the way: “I can honestly say that this nigga has the most bitches in Odd Future. Give it up to Frank for having the most bitches.”)
The crew ended the night with “Radicals,” and its now time-honored refrain: “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” By this point of the set, Tyler’s shirt was fully off and he was spending more time in the audience than on the stage – and every time he dove in, the crowd would again wrap him up lovingly and bug out their eyes right along with him. Afterward, as the house lights came on, a track by Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt played on the speakers. Fans, dazed and hungry for more, wandered zombie-like, rapping every world. Earl, who’s been missing since the start of the group’s ascendance (he was recently discovered enrolled, evidently unwillingly, in a Samoan military academy) would most likely have a hard time believing this.