Frank Ocean has achieved some pretty remarkable things in his short career.
Just 25, he’s carved his own eclectic but wildly popular niche in R&B; seen his first, and only, album Channel Orange lauded as one of the best of 2012; come out as bisexual and received near-unanimous support from the hiphop community (save for pantomime baddie Chris Brown); and gone from backroom songwriter to collaborating with Kanye and Jay-Z. But, perhaps most remarkably, on tonight’s showing, he can deliver a whole set of hits, from just one album and a mixtape.
Opener ‘California’, a new track about his home state, sets the tone perfectly for a crowd who’ve come in from a hot London day. It’s atmospheric: the lush, laconic piano chords and muted kick drum, all sun-bleached with reverb, sound like driving down a hazy LA freeway with the top down. Blinding flashes of white light through copious smoke, give the sense of a storm approaching, triggering a huddle instinct in the audience.
He doesn’t pull punches, sliding into Novacane, which concludes warped and high-tempo, then 'Thinking About You', 'Super Rich Kids', and 'Lost', pepped up with live trumpet and trombone. The boy got hits. And he can sing: his characteristic R&B falsetto lacquered in adolescent longing, shown off by his restrained live band.
Tonight’s about one man, his voice, and his sex appeal. When he comes on, the crowd scream; with the first chord of every new track, they scream; he talks, they scream. It seems the only time they don’t scream is when they’re chanting every word of pretty much every song back to him. ‘Songs 4 Women’, a confession that he only sings to get you round to his after school, is music for the loins: “I’mma give you chills harmonizing to Otis, Isley, Marvin.”
Moments are shiver-inducing: 'Forrest Gump', sung alone, sat on a chair pushed right to the front; a slide guitar solo in Pink Matter; the heartfelt philosophising of ‘Wise Man’.
At one point, he says “I don’t do much talking”. His coyness sees screams reach fever pitch. He smirks and turns away, like the good boy in the teen drama. When a girl at the front asks him to take her phone, he says “I cant do that. But I love you”. The crowd go wild and you bet she’s had her night made.
His sun-tinged repertoire is favoured by the recent good weather. But Ocean has thought hard about how to translate his tracks live, and for that he’s justly rewarded by fans that adore him, rain or shine.