Tyler, the Creator played the Paradise – 3/21

One year to the day after controversial rap group Odd Future played the House of Blues and were shut down mid-song by Boston police, ringleader Tyler, the Creator returned for a solo show in promotion of his new album, Wolf.

Thursday’s show was arguably the least disaster-ridden Odd Future event to take place in Boston thus far. The group’s first visit included a Newbury Comics autograph signing that turned into a small-scale riot, and last year’s House of Blues performance ended abruptly when a crew member was arrested outside the venue. Knowing the potential pitfalls in store, the Paradise ramped up their security to an unprecedented degree, patting down concert-goers at the door and stationing police officers inside. Another team of guards surrounded the stage, tossing back crowd surfers and doing their best to keep a set of flimsy wooden barriers in place as an ecstatic all-ages crowd tried to push as many bodies toward the stage as possible.

The sweaty, chaotic moshpit that ensued before Tyler’s set even began was typical Odd Future fare. The group’s antagonistic nature, energetic performances and pissed-off youth appeal are akin to punk and hardcore in many ways. The crowd, an even mix of older hip-hop heads and teenage skate-punks, converged into a violent mass of bodies at the front and spent the duration of the show raging as Tyler spit bile into the mic. A few very confused parents observed with concern from the back.

If one doesn’t find themselves among the thrashing masses at an Odd Future show, it’s difficult to know exactly what to make of it all. Tyler is nothing if not an entertaining presence on stage. He was bursting with barely-restrained fury during most of his verses, prowling the stage and barking his lyrics. Between songs he was a different character entirely, jokingly berating fans, accepting or rejecting their offered gifts and, in one particularly amusing moment, delivering a vulgar re-imagining of “Happy Birthday to You.” Despite all the violence and manufactured evil of his lyrics, watching Tyler goof around on stage with fans and Odd Future entourage members gives off the vibe that he’s actually kind of a nice guy.

Therein lies one of Odd Future’s various paradoxes. Tyler is clearly playing a character when his lyrics are in full-on chaotic evil mode, but even when you can separate the man from the music, the unrelenting darkness is still a bit much to take. With a setlist heavy on tracks from Bastard and Goblin, one’s tolerance for Tyler rapping about awful things was pushed to the limit. The sweaty kids in Golf Wang apparel didn’t seem to mind, but for a non-diehard like myself, patience began to wear thin by the set’s close. Just as listening to Bastard feels like watching a relentlessly bleak and gory horror film, an all-Tyler set can feel like something of an endurance test.

For a tour supposedly promoting Wolf, the set was surprisingly light on new songs. With the exception of a few short cuts mid-set, including single “Domo23,” Tyler didn’t touch on new material at all. He’s indicated in interviews that Wolf will move away from the pitch-black tone of his last two records, but it was hard to get a handle on any of the new songs with such cursory treatments. Performances of older cuts like “French,” “Tron Cat” and “Transylvania” made no indication that Tyler will be shying away from his more violent songs anytime soon, either.

That Tyler can deliver an engaging performance is undeniable. Most of the sold-out crowd at the Paradise was packed onto the floor and loving every minute. A strangely backward-looking setlist, however, indicated what seemed like a rare instance of compromise from the Odd Future camp. For a guy who’s usually quite vocal about not giving a fuck, Tyler seemed shy about unveiling some new and supposedly less conventional songs. Thursday was a disappointing evening for anyone hoping to catch a risk-taking, forward-thinking show, but that’s more the fault of misplaced expectations than the performance itself. Even when he’s calling them assholes, pleasing his diehard fans still seems to be Tyler’s top priority.

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