This Thanksgiving break, my stuck-on-campus self and a friend who lives half an hour away hopped on the MARC train at our respective stops to reunite in D.C. for an evening we had planned in August — a concert part of BROCKHAMPTON’s Heaven Belongs to You Tour, which was happening on Monday, Nov. 25.
I bought the tickets in the middle of the very first Physics lecture of my junior year and had been excited about attending ever since, with the band’s new album, GINGER, having grown on me as the semester went on. Within my social circle, it is customary to occasionally monitor each other’s Spotify activity, and I had received several comments about how I “always just listen to GINGER” as if being in a BROCKHAMPTON mood for three months was a crime.
Doors were set to open at 6:30 p.m., so we arrived at The Anthem at 5 p.m. — a reasonable time, or so we thought. The general admission line already curved around the block and down a long pier, and an equally long priority admission line stretched in the opposite direction. It was hard to believe that just three years ago all 13 members of BROCKHAMPTON lived in the same house and worked minimum-wage jobs while making music on the side.
The self-proclaimed “boyband” originated on a Kanye West forum in 2012, while several of the members were high-school students in The Woodlands, Texas. After high school, the members serious about being in the band moved to San Marcos, Texas and later to South Central Los Angeles. Now, with five studio albums, BROCKHAMPTON is performing at sold out shows.
After two hours of waiting in line, we were inside the venue. Another hour passed, and it was time for the opening acts — experimental duo 100 Gecs and British rapper Slowthai each performed a 30-minute set. Much of the crowd, myself included, was thoroughly confused by the arcade-machine-like sound of 100 Gecs. Slowthai was a more generic opening act and ended his set with the tour’s title song: “Heaven Belongs to You,” on which he is the only vocalist.
At 9:30 p.m. on the dot, the members of BROCKHAMPTON were on stage. The show started off with “ST. PERCY,” a song that starts quietly with a verse by Kevin Abstract and eventually escalates to what I can best describe as energetic screaming by hype-man member Merlyn Wood.
Kevin Abstract, the founder and self-proclaimed leader of the band, introduced the five other vocalists one by one before their first song. The setlist was equally split between the new album GINGER and older songs from the SATURATION trilogy of albums and IRIDESCENCE. The crowd’s energy was at its high during “GOLD,” “QUEER” and “BOOGIE,” fan favorites from each of the SATURATION albums that represented the classic sounds of BROCKHAMPTON. The band did a good job of ordering their songs to keep the crowd’s energy levels just right. They interspersed the more energetic songs with calmer beats to avoid an outright rave, which I appreciated, since being a small woman in a mosh pit is not the best experience.
The band also chose to include a couple tracks from IRIDESCENCE, the 2018 album released following Ameer Vann’s departure.
I personally appreciate the album, but I’ve read and heard negative reviews due to its odd sound and eclectic storyline. Regardless, everyone at the venue seemed to know the lyrics to the songs, which were performed with minimal sound effects and therefore sounded much more typical of the band.
The show ended with “NO HALO,” the first track from GINGER, which contains Deb Never’s (a collaborator) vocals on the chorus. This made sense as a choice of exit — it’s the kind of song that calls for phone flashlights and is one of the more popular ones on the album. Afterward, Abstract once again called all the vocalists out by name and thanked the audience, and the huge crowd began to disperse.
This tour marks a new era of BROCKHAMPTON. Following the scandalous departure of member Ameer Vann due to assault allegations, the band has partially shifted away from their loud rebellious sound, incorporating a more vulnerable sound in the form of softer vocals and choruses that almost resemble pop songs.
While IRIDESCENCE was also released after the scandal, it comes off as louder and less polished than GINGER. Both albums reflect the members’ process of coping with betrayal and conflict while being closely watched by the public, but GINGER sounds like it comes from a calmer place of acceptance. BROCKHAMPTON’s sound is still more boisterous than what you would normally expect from a boyband, but there’s a new element of vulnerability that both resonates with their longtime followers and attracts more of a mainstream crowd.
The band’s wide appeal was represented in the audience. The crowd was comically diverse, including middle-schoolers, adults, college students and even parent chaperones. It is hard to deny that the band is currently unique in the music industry. BROCKHAMPTON is more successful as a collective than as individual artists, which comes in stark contrast to other hip-hop collectives such as Odd Future, formerly including solo artists Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean.
With their unique sound, wide appeal and impressive rise to fame, BROCKHAMPTON is a collective to keep an eye on. While attending a general admission rap concert is slightly terrifying, their live performance did not disappoint, and I would highly recommend grabbing tickets the next time the band comes around.