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Frank Ocean - Brixton Academy - July 9 2013 (Live Review)

Thursday, 11 July 2013 Written by Owen Sheppard

It’s safe to say that Frank Ocean is a man in demand. All 10,000 tickets were snatched up in minutes for his brace of shows at Brixton Academy and, as anticipated, the reception he receives is nothing short of hysterical.

Without any support acts he strolls onstage at 9pm, ankles to elbows in flamboyant floral. From the word go - with an unexpected opening salvo of Feel California and golden oldies Novacane and Songs For Women - the screams are ear-piercing. The crowd is immediately awash with camera phones held high and to anyone gazing from the balcony above, it must resemble a human LED screen.

It’s quickly apparent that Ocean is not one for big rock ‘n’ roll gestures. There’s no room  for jumping around, or for hackneyed crowd interactions. In fact, he remains glued to the spot, front-row centre, with his back arched over the mic and eyes transfixed on the crowd, for the majority of the set. The layout of the venue, with its slanted floors, affords a perception of intimacy even for those stood at the back.

Ocean’s charisma comes from his shyness, setting him completely at odds with the usual values of larger-than-life stage antics and showmanship. It’s endearing to hear him awkwardly utter, “I don’t usually talk much”. There’s a sense that you’re cheering him on, not just cheering in approval.

On the other hand, though, you need to have bought-in to Ocean’s personality and character, and be earnestly in love with his music, to walk away from this gig fully satisfied. For anyone looking in from the outside, Ocean’s performance could have appeared lacklustre and lacking in action.

But creating some spectacle were the six-piece band, all suited and booted and flanking Ocean. Super Rich Kids and Monks hugely benefited from deeper, more urgent percussion, while a horn section replaced strings on tracks like Thinkin’ Bout You, Sweet Life and Bad Religion, adding a dash of grandeur. There were also keys, lead guitars and all manner of effects to bolster Crack Rock, Pink Matter  and Lost.

The biggest reactions of all were reserved for a full and utterly melodramatic outing of Pyramids, while Forrest Gump, the most sing-along-able of Ocean’s back catalogue was another highlight among a full airing of ‘Channel Orange’.

Ocean has the tunes, the fanbase and the technical ability to take him to arenas and beyond, and reserved though he may have been, you can’t help but think that practice may yet make perfect. Quite frankly, the boy needs to get off his arse and do some more damn touring.


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