Let's get this out upfront: Frank Ocean at FYF Fest was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. I've never seen a show like it. Not at a festival, not in a concert venue. Nowhere.
This is not simply because Brad Pitt acted out a phone-call on stage while Frank Ocean covered Stevie Wonder's version of the Carpenters' "Never Can Say Goodbye." (Brad recently made his Frank-fandom known in GQ; Frank has never verbally acknowledged Pitt's existence in public, not even after last night's surprise one-act telephonic play.) Nor was this a show like no other simply because of the recreated indoor-studio-on-outdoor-festival-stage setup. This was not an unforgettable show just for the set's incredible video production, artfully and cinematically shot in part by video legend Spike Jonze, hopefully for some later release, incorporating ultra-crisp and dramatic shots of Frank's luminescent rap-sung splendor, which were juxtaposed with highly intentional shots of someone sitting near stage on a computer surfing random apps and Hello Kitty videos and clips of people dabbing, like we all do all the time, even while in the midst of life-defining moments. And it was not unforgettable simply because Frank was taking a stage he was meant to headline two years ago, but canceled last minute, as he has so many times at festivals since. And it wasn't indelible just because this young man's songs are so ridiculously on point, and so clearly tap a nerve with aesthetic and sexual renegades of all types.
It was probably a little bit of all those things, but as with most things Frank Ocean, the truth lay somewhere deeper.
Last night was the portrait of the artist as a young perfectionist, a glimpse into the psyche of one of our most gifted people, and why it's taken him so long to release new music and, why he's so cagey about performing for other humans. His talent is legendary, he knows it. And so he can't settle for anything less in his performance.
The most direct example of this came with "Good Guy," a piano ballad Ocean performed while kneeling onstage. The video directors took a beautiful shot of Frank's back, slowly panning around to a tight shot of his face, deep in the moment. The performance was raw and vital and transported the crowd to a rarified space, capping a beautiful run of songs from "Solo" to "Chanel" and on which showcased his autobiographical and identity-oriented lyrics, and his post-modern fluidity between rapping and singing. But as the Frank-solo section ended and his on-stage studio musicians joined in with some dissonant riffing, Frank was nonplussed. "We're going to do that again because I wasn't really feeling it," he told the crowd. And then he started the song over. From the beginning! We were like, OK maybe do those final moments of the band segue again for Spike's video documentary or whatever, but the whole thing? It was a puzzling moment which chilled the crowd and seemed to rattle his band, who seemed even less sure of their way through this section the next time. Frank eventually was pleased enough to let it go. "This is my fourth or fifth performance in so many years," he said, "so please be patient with your boy."
It is rare that a show gives such an in-depth glimpse into the psyche of an artist. Just like that, we understood, in real time, with thousands of witnesses, what Frank's perfectionism looked like. It is literally show-stopping. We'll study this one forever.
But man. Those moments aside, this set was incomparable. Things about Frank Ocean that are on another level: his fluidity between rapping and singing, his perfectionism, his conceptual aesthetic, his swagger, his way. Thank God we have him.
Pour up for A$AP...
FRANK OCEAN SETLIST
"Be Yourself" (Instrumental)
"Close To You"
"Thinkin' Bout You"
"Pink + White"