On Thursday night, as part of its “I’ll Be There” tour, hip-hop’s favorite boy band stormed the stage of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in matching black, collared button-downs and jeans. As the smoke machines spilled thin clouds over the venue, the synchronized outfits might have signaled to the crowd that the band members of BROCKHAMPTON are one and the same. Yet, once the first beat flushed through the crowd’s ears, launching the boys into a set of violently exuberant and beautifully unforgiving music, the exact opposite was made clear.
While streaming BROCKHAMPTON’s albums through headphones emphasizes the eclectic nature of its music, this show highlighted the curated but spontaneous individuality of the group. From their rap styles to their dance moves, each member was easily identifiable for their own artistry.
A perfect emblem of this was “NEW ORLEANS.” The track of sonorous, grinding bass lines and spaceship hums is chaotic upon first listen, with the nuances of each verse lost in the stormy rhythms. When performed live, the diversity of the jubilant bars was powerful, as Joba’s polished dynamism and twitching hand gestures melted smoothly into Kevin Abstract’s call-to-action chorus.
Not only did the boys work to define their individual styles, but they also gave one another space to do the same. As Merlyn Wood took the center with his verse in “GOLD,” Abstract and Joba mouthed the words, hyping him up. And while Dom McLennon took his turn rapping “WEIGHT,” Wood and Matt Champion encouraged the audience members to raise their hands and get on their feet.
During “SWEET,” unfettered, raw emotion was key for all the performers. Abstract delivered the chorus in a mellifluously amorous manner. As Wood popped around the stage with helium energy, he spit out the line, “Try’na see if Beyonce would take me for adoption.” Following suit, Joba shifted from buoyant, jazzy singing to falsetto rap to buttery dreaminess with fluidity.
Just as the members of BROCKHAMPTON interacted with one another, audience participation was a big part of the night. Most of the popular songs performed — “SWEET,” “BLEACH,” “GOLD” — featured moments in which BROCKHAMPTON allowed the audience to sing the choruses.
Abstract teased the crowd by asking them to repeat the chorus to “BLEACH,” “Like a whisper.” As the hushed notes fell quietly in the pit, he screamed: “I can’t hear you!” The lyrics “Who got the feeling? / Tell me why I cry when I feel it” then surged like a passionate, pulsating wave from the swarm of people, hands desperately reaching toward the twinkling band members.
The boys lay together on their backs for the entirety of “SAN MARCOS.” This ineffable image of them — projected on the screen at the back of the stage — was reminiscent of boy scouts looking at stars. And the communal, warm power of this minimalist performance was amplified when the audience took over singing the final lyrics, “I want more out of life than this” — the voices of this crowd of strangers all singing these hauntingly relatable lyrics.
It was these serene moments that made it hard to remember that Ameer Vann was once performing alongside this hip-hop brotherhood. Vann was ousted from the group in May 2018 after sexual misconduct allegations against him surfaced. And on iridescence, the group’s latest release, the absence of Vann’s vocal clarity could be unfortunately felt.
Yet, on the stage of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, draped in fuschia lighting and wispy smoke, the band made it clear there was no hole left unfilled. The songs performed off iridescence impressed as live versions, and those that once featured Vann took entirely unique shapes as the group shared the limelight, built up one another and liberated themselves from the former member’s shadow.
And on this tour, BROCKHAMPTON is proving that it is something new, completely whole and very magical.
To close the show, the band performed the kinetic dancehall tune, “BOOGIE.” It encouraged the mosh pit to become a dance floor instead — the crowd hanging on one another as it began to, for lack of a better word, boogie. It was here that the nature of this tour was most evident: BROCKHAMPTON is here for us and for one another. And it isn’t going anywhere.