2016 was an enormous year for Chance the Rapper: taking the consensus best verse onThe Life of Pablo, dropping Coloring Book, starting a world tour, performing most of his mixtape on American television and, oh yeah, he got nominated for a handful of Grammys. Now he’s managed to tick Australia from the list of destinations to bless and on Wednesday evening, Melbourne’s Festival Hall became another church for Chance hold service.
From the jump, there was an airy buzz circulating the crowd – the all-ages seated stalls were packed and raucous whilst the licensed standing section was near-full when doors opened. It wasn’t uncommon to see fans essentially cosplaying Chance the Rapper, wearing tan overalls with Converse sneakers and bandanas tied around foreheads like a headband. More than anything, there was a sense of anticipation that only seems to be come when an artist plays Australia for the first time. It was a cult around Chance’s personality and Wednesday service was set to begin.
In lieu of an opener, the speakers of Festival Hall played its own DJ set and it was, if anything, helpful for diagnosing the broader taste of the assembled group. 21 Savage got little reception whilst Drake drew some murmurs and swaying hips. It was approximately 0.5 bars into Broccoli when Festival Hall erupted and the tone for the evening had been set.
Chance the Rapper bounded onto stage to the dazzling Angels, a song just made to open. Hitting a cold crowd, many of whom had been waiting for upwards of ninety minutes, would kill many shows but all was forgiven as the headline act scooted across the stage with his million-dollar grin.
Kitted out in a big jacket emblazoned with Angels cover art and wearing his trademark black Chance 3 hat, the stage around Chance was simple but impressive. Joined by the Social Experiment, the band behind Surf, Chance had Petter Cottontale on keys and Stix on drums. Nico Segal (fka Donnie Trumpet) had his own small platform behind Chance and received a lot of love as he played a prominent role through the night.
The live band added another dimension to the performance: All We Got and Summer Friends were two songs that felt boosted by the live percussion and horns, injecting even more energy into the lively audience.
In the opening half of the set, Chance burned through songs at a rapid pace. Without the luxury of bringing along his mixtape guests, songs like Cocoa Butter Kisses, Pusha Man and No Problems were blitzed through rather quickly. It worked well as it allowed the sizeable hit catalogue to be ticked off in short succession, keeping the room energetic and content that all of their favourites would be played.
As a notable stealer-of-every-song-he-appears-on, it was also welcome to catch a short medley of guests verses from Chance. Baby Blue by Action Bronson was first on the card, followed by the underrated Heaven Only Knows from Towkio’s .Wav Theory. Then came opening gurgle from Ultralight Beam and the crowd roared their appreciation, singing along to every word of Chance’s instant classic verse.
All Night came across on the mixtape as one of the most danceable songs on the project and it was unsurprising it got such a great reaction live. After guiding the audience through a verse and some hooks, Chance let the song simmer down as he freestyled some famous verses: Too $hort, Drake and then Kanye, a nice selection of his key influences.
Chance strolling around the stage rapping some of his favourites was a nice way to mark the shift in the set as the rigidly high-speed first half gave way to a looser second act.
The set maintained a healthy balance between Coloring Book, the breakout release more fans are familiar with, and Acid Rap, the indie darling that remains beloved amongst the sizeable contingent of long-time fans. Although the set gave preference to the former, the latter was well represented with Smoke Again, Cocoa Butter Kisses and Favorite Song amongst the highlights of the evening.
As the set drew to a close, the party softened and the songs wound down. Whereas most sets tend to go big before they go home, Chance slowed it up with Blessings. “Are you ready?” flashed on the screen in big letters as white confetti showered the sticky and sweaty Festival Hall. A burly man in an Eazy E shirt bore a toothy grin as specs of confetti wafted through the sky and onto his face. Surreal doesn’t even to begin to describe it.
It made for a closing act that meant something. Whereas most artists play their big hit and dance off the stage, Chance took a moment to talk. For all of his sincere energy and excitement, Chance finished up looking humble and relatable on stage. With a nervy cadence to his words, Chance explained that his messages sometimes get lost in translation as he tries to create clever, creative bars and, at its source, his message was simply “You should talk to Him”, which he repeated for the audience.
The religious overtures throughout the performance won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it never felt like it was over the top or excessive. It gave the evening thematic consistency, it allowed for a sense of escapism and regardless of denomination, it made the performance feel especially meaningful for the artists involved.