Chance the Rapper’s venture pays off
At the Commodore Ballroom on Monday, December 16
What was the true test of Chance the Rapper’s Social Experiment tour? Was it to figure out if the 20-year-old Chicago native could hold his own on this, his first headlining trek? Judging by the three-quarters-full dance floor at the Commodore on Monday night, he’s definitely getting there. Was it whether he could get a Vancouver crowd to fervently sing along to most of the cuts off this year’s much-acclaimed Acid Rap mix tape? Yup, that definitely happened too.
On the flip side, was the MC born Chancelor Bennett able to alter the mood and get the fans to shush up for a second during the gentler moments of an hour-plus set? Well, no. The faithful—hipsters in pea coats and tight jeans, sportos spilling half-drunk Molsons, Amazons in short-shorts, who had just been grinding it on the dance floor to “Hot in Herre” and more—just couldn’t contain their excitement at seeing the rising rap star in person.
Ahead of Chance’s entrance, two big screens flanking the stage began rolling out images of rocket ships lifting off into outer space, synced to a tender piano melody coursing through the speakers. Poignant though that may have been in regard to his career arc, it was overpowered by a steady, staccato soccer-hooligan rallying cry of “Chance, Chance, Chance”.
The spitter arrived on-stage solo to a hearty welcome and proceeded to turn the crowd up even further by rifling off rapid-fire lines from “Good Ass Intro (So Good)” atop a guide track of bouncy juke beats and gospel soul backups. After cocking his baseball cap and breaking out a crucial set of ankle-cracking footwork, he slowed his roll for the spliff-driven, soulful older track “Brain Cells”.
Putting the focus back on Acid Rap, Chance busted out an Action Bronson–less “NaNa”, showcasing instead his bewilderingly oft-used, adenoidal schoolyard ad-lib, here playing more petulant than playful. That signature vocal tic also ran hard through “Pusha Man”, which was accompanied on the screens by some skin-revealing black-and-white shots of couples getting their smooch on.
Chance’s live show soon turned into a group thing when a four-piece backup band came to the stage, accentuating the rapper’s “buck buck bang bang” from “Everybody’s Something” with a series of brass blasts and cymbal shots. More harrowing was the heartfelt “Paranoia”, which found Chance dialling down his animated flow to talk about the gun violence wreaking havoc in Chicago (“Down here, it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot”).
The band took over from its leader for a minute, with keyboardist Peter Cottontale’s vocoder and Nico Segal’s trumpet both channelling the golden throat of U.K. downtempo R & B crooner James Blake on a cover of his “The Wilhelm Scream”. Less successful was a Chance-sung run-through of Coldplay’s soft-rock ballad “Fix You”, which, while showing off a pretty left-field influence, just seemed to drag down the night with its schmaltziness.
Thankfully, the second half of the show ratcheted the quality back up with the bounce of “Juice” and an encore that featured more Chicago house rhythms, the Visine-squeezing stoner rap nostalgia of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and the Bic-flickin’ “Chain Smoker”.
With only a few shows left on his tour, Chance thanked Vancouver for giving him so much love on his first big trip. “I’m tired and I’m sick, but I’m not sick and tired of you guys,” he quipped early on. With the crowd chanting his name again following an encore that promised one more song but ended about a half-dozen cuts later, Vancouver is hoping Chance books his next experiment soon.