When discussing his 3D tour prior to its jump off, Flying Lotus outlined three major components. The first, that this concert experience would not be sufficiently enjoyed through phone screens; second, that each live show would be different and improvisational; and third, that the goal was for fans to "hopefully leave and feel like there's still some magic in this world that they haven't seen yet."
During Monday night's show in Brooklyn (Nov. 6), the Los Angeles-born experimentalist delivered on all three.
Flying Lotus (born Steven Ellison) has spent the entirety of his 12-year career pushing boundaries, blurring genres and setting a barometer high for artists with experimental, visual tendencies.
From releasing five critically-acclaimed studio albums to founding his own independent label Brainfeeder to cultivating his rap persona Captain Murphy to transitioning from scoring films to actually directing them, the now-34-year-old is renowned for consistently elevating both his own craft and the culture of multi-genre weirdness in all its glory.
Considering Ellison is a veteran tastemaker in his own respective lane, one that expertly manages to weave between instrumental downtempo hip-hop and boutique electronic genres without compromising his cool factor in his music, it doesn't come as a surprise that the acts he tapped to open his new concert experience were particularly fitting.
With Brainfeeder's PDBY warming things up behind the decks and a live set from Ninja Tune producer and recording artist Seven Davis Jr. (complete with live drums!), Brooklyn Steel organically became the ideal host venue, with the massive warehouse space conceptually falling in line with the show's gritty, mind-bending aesthetic. For a sold-out show, the crowd was still relatively breathable, with those in attendance allowing themselves to be captivated by the evening's special guests despite being fully aware they were still a full hour or two away from its main attraction.
The Buttress, who appeared in Flying Lotus' mesmerizing (and terrifying) gore-laden 2017 directorial debut Kuso, took to the stage in a Korn hoodie, advising those in attendance "to take [their] acid now," with her dry humor soon transitioning into the kind of off-the-beaten-path raps that make you a fan on the spot. As she defiantly ran through cuts such as "The Attic" and "Inferno" off her debut EP Behind Every Great Man, her lyrical prowess set the theme of the night to be one of unfiltered introspection, challenging those in attendance to dive deep, confront the status quo and stand ones ground with both a grin and an unapologetic middle finger up, further indicated by the manic laughter she concluded her set with.
The evening transitioned to make way for So-So Topic, an emerging rapper-producer who is currently amid his first-ever tour, a detail many would not have guessed, save for his saying so point-blank. As the Dallas-raised, L.A.-based rapper, who is self-described as "young, awkward and really quite nice at what I do," got into his zone, his authenticity is what shone through, making it that much easier to cheer him on.
After dedicating his set to Jordan Walker, a piano-playing friend and collaborator who passed last year, So-So Topic put his passion in front of his handshake, explaining that because he's not "as catchy like Lil Yachty or Lil Uzi Vert," he's there to tell stories. Doing exactly that through songs such as "Be Good & Do Well," "Peer Pressure" and "I Just Wanna Chill," So-So Topic took listeners through his day-to-day, bar-for-bar, effortlessly weaving through a relatable, self-expressive journey as multifaceted and complex as his talents are. As he garnered heartfelt applause from attendees all the way from the back of the venue to the front, So-So Topic further solidified yet another night where, after the show, fans will be asking, "So who was that guy opening up for Flying Lotus?" – something he's happily accepted as his fate.
As So-So Topic humbly thanked the crowd for rocking with him and exited the stage, the giant screen soon revealed that it was time for the "3D" aspect of the affair, with those in attendance eager to don their red, plastic glasses as PDBY set the ominous, anticipatory soundscape.
With a resume and reputation such as FlyLo's, the prospect of stamping the letters "3D" on a show bill comes with inevitable pressure to deliver to undeniable high expectations from fans — a challenge he was not only clearly up for, but is built to creatively handle, encouraging fans who have "seen [him] five times to come for the sixth."
The evolving allure of 3D technology is the idea that once those plastic glasses are being worn, there's a whole new dimension to step into and get lost in, making Flying Lotus, in both theory and practice, an exemplary mad-scientist-meets-tour-guide, perfect for leading the way through the experimental fringes.
As fans can attest, Flying Lotus has put a massive focus on the visual aspect of his live set for years, with his latest tour production proving he's spending his money and time wisely. As he transitioned from DJ to producer to vocalist to visual architect, the mostly-instrumental set was in glorious tandem with the giant screen behind him. Poised behind an obscure tree trunk-esque prop housing his equipment, FlyLo went on just before 10 p.m., soon disappearing in the juxtaposition of real smoke and the 3D effects behind him.
While testing the waters with certain visuals, FlyLo began to take it a step further into the surreal, concocting a rendition of his ode to Twin Peaks in tune with the flickering effects. After casting an immediate spell over the audience, FlyLo snapped into Captain Murphy mode, performing "The Killing Joke" with a rendering of his Duality mixtape cover art swirling behind him, making for one of the high points of the evening.
Smiling visibly behind his abstract control station, FlyLo switched gears once again, experimenting with primarily new material and letting the 3D visuals melt past him. At times, it was too intense, but that's also what fans signed up for, with FlyLo and his creative team assuming the role as a master-manipulators of over-stimulation.
With kaleidoscopic, collage-esque imagery in constant motion, the focus shifted from objects such as death moths to jellyfish to spaceships to floating heads and everything in between, all while in tune to the rhythm curated by FlyLo. The designs became more complex as the music became more intricate, with the Grammy-nominated artist incorporating some old material in the with the new, such as 2014's "Coronas, The Terminator" and a preview of his latest unreleased material with Anderson .Paak.
"I actually can't play that song," he said, laughing. "Someone knew I was playing some s—t I shouldn't, I can feel my pocket vibrating. I know Anderson .Paak is somewhere like, 'Please don't play our song for the first time in full.' I'ma play it anyway."
He let the teaser track breathe a bit longer, before returning to his reputed bag of tricks, toying with emotive instrumentals as bursts of light charaded in brilliant, chaotic choreography.
While FlyLo was characteristically a man of few words during his vibrant, hallucinatory set, his present excitement made the show that much more enjoyable, with many wondering what he'll be able to achieve as he spends more time with the blossoming technology. For those looking to get lost in their own heads for awhile and simultaneously catch some inspiration to do something out of the box, FlyLo's 3D show helps whet the palette, with the limitless future of live show production just now arriving at our whimsical fingertips.
Flying Lotus returns to Brooklyn Steel tonight, with tickets still available here.