Frank Ocean fails to catch fire in Vancouver

At the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday, July 14

All the pretty boys and girls in the city wanted to party with Frank Ocean Saturday at the Commodore, all of them but Ocean himself. Because it was the weekend, because it’s summer, and because the 24-year-old headliner is the current news cycle’s hottest breakout pop star, this show had all the makings of a classic. But for all his strengths as a songwriter and singer, Ocean is either too inexperienced, too moody, or too introverted to deliver anything approaching a transcendent live experience.

The singer’s plain attire jeans, T-shirt, headband—hinted at his approach to the night’s events, his four-piece band a similarly understated bunch which skilfully re-created the bleary atmospheres found on his just-released debut, channel ORANGE. Like Drake’s Take Care, Ocean’s record recasts R&B as music for the head first, and the body later, tapping into a lineage of freaky black bohemianism that stretches from Stevie Wonder to Prince to D’Angelo. It’s an approach that makes for a fascinating album, but a mostly dull concert experience.

Because he’s built them from the ground up, Ocean can rip apart his songs and reconfigure them on-the-fly, as on his rendition of “Thinkin Bout You”, channel ORANGE’s sultry mood-setting opener. The singer altered the song only slightly, but to devastating effect, delaying a single falsetto note in the chorus to induce involuntary squeals of delight, the kind of orgasmic shiver that only the finest soulmen can conjure.

Judging by their lusty response last Saturday, the passion of Ocean’s female admirers seems only to have intensified with his recent coming-out as bisexual. When he crooned about falling in love with women (on “Novacane” and “Pilot Jones”), a girl could imagine he was singing to her alone. And when he turned his attention to his own guy problems (see “Bad Religion” or “Forrest Gump”), he was commiserating with any woman who’s ever been in love with a schmuck.

Despite the ladies’ best intentions, the room temperature stayed well below boiling for most of the evening, the throwback Fender Rhodes and funk guitar accents of songs like “Sweet Life” suggesting Ocean might better be suited to the soft-seat theatre circuit. The energy hit its lowest point with the singer’s shaky cover of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”, which the New Orleans native rendered in a smeared synthetic style that recalled Toto’s ’80s-era AM-radio staple, “Africa”.

Near the set’s end, Ocean told the audience, “It’s been a wild week for me,” the closest he came to discussing the publicity storm his coming-out has entailed. If he was a cannier businessman, or a born celebrity, the singer might have addressed his sexuality head-on, and he surely would have been showered with adulation in this friendly setting. Instead, he put his head down and went back to work, unfurling “Pyramids”, a sprawling 10-minute discothèque epic about a stripper in which his inwardness finds glorious outward expression, providing nourishment to both the mind and body of anyone in earshot.

Somewhere around the song’s five-minute mark, as he closed his eyes and repeated the song’s central mantra (“She’s working at the Pyramid tonight”), Ocean became a full-fledged star, commanding the room with his eyes closed. If he can learn to sustain moments like those, there’s no telling how many boys and girls will fall in love with him.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
moses joans
Completely disagree with this review. He's making R&B not rock and roll.
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17
Rating: +5
KiDDAA Magazine
This guy can sing his ass off. Church of the Wild with Kanye West is one of the best songs out now. Most people are hyping the fact that he's gay. So what he can sing and that's why we download music, oh I mean buy it.
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Rating: +4
Indi
If you've listed to Lonny Breaux, Nostalgia or Channel, you'll know that even having them on at home, there's no point during the albums where you can start catching fire/rocking out/jumping around/screaming. His best moments are the moments that give you a slow, happy fever - just like you mentioned with Thinkin' Bout You and Pyramid. They envoke moods. Titling the article "..Fails To Catch Fire" is just dumb. That's not what he's meant to do.
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Rating: -4
Trixie P
You need to retitle this article.
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Rating: 0
Alec Ross
By the end or your review, you obviously realized how harsh your criticism was so you through in the little uplifting part at the end. Poor form Martin - You clearly are not a fan, and i am assuming you jumped at the chance to review this show for the sole purpose of being "THAT GUY" (Ya, the one that has to go against the grain JUST to go against the grain)

Frank Ocean is part of a huge movement in allowing traditional genres of rap & R&B to get a bit more introspective and weird. His concert was exactly what we wanted, albeit for the refusal to play Swim Good.

Your review was distasteful, and was poor from a journalistic standpoint, and has without a doubt depreciated the caliber of The Georgia Straight.

All the pretty boys and pretty girls wanted to party with Frank Ocean, and we did just that.
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Rating: +2
Indi
For the record, my own dumbass-ness is not lost on me. *listened, *evoke. Even if you're passionate, slow down, yo....
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Rating: -2
WB Carson
This review just reeks of "I-stand-with-my-arms-crossed-at-the-back-of-the-venue" to me
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Rating: 0
Kwanele
What sort of journalism is this? You can't review a music genre that you don't understand, sad times
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Rating: 0
Therzo38
I'm a bit older; been to hundreds of gigs, including many first-tour gigs. This review is pretty unfair in it's stating nothing. Ocean is a very young guy that's only coming into his own as a live performer. He even said last night was about his 10th gig ever (I'm assuming he meant solo). I think everyone there was very lucky to see a young man, whose star is sure to rise, play a small venue and, though in an understated way, blow the roof of the place with an AMAZING voice. The music he makes touches people of all ages and from all backgrounds. In light of the letter he released to the world a few weeks back, he's going through a LOT of stuff right now, the solo tour being a huge thing in itself. I understand this review is not necessarily negative, but I don't think it's right to say he didn't "catch fire" (I understand that headline may not have been your doing, Turenne). Ocean seemed to be having a good time, and the entire crowd seemed to be moved. What else can you ask for as an artist, or as a fan?

Also, I thought last night's version of "Strawberry Swing" was pretty damned good!
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Rating: +8
LJ
Went to this concert and completely disagree. Frank Ocean had the crowd hanging onto every word. His voice live was one of the best voices I have ever had the privilege of hearing
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Rating: -1
Ed
This is awesome. I'm sure that there is a music journalist out there who dismissed Prince's performances in his first concert tour: "this airy post-disco goes nowhere" or something like that. Of course that journalist's ignorance won't be accessible on the internet for the rest of recorded history!
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Rating: -2
Oceanfan
Sorry Martin. I think you need a new job. This was an excellent concert despite what you think. A real fan should have written this article.
Also, "All the pretty boys and girls in the city wanted to party with Frank Ocean Saturday at the Commodore" .... why did you even have to include that? Very distasteful.
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Rating: +7
GSEA
I thought the concert was amazing! I was a little disappointed to not hear Swim Good- but the show itself was stellar. Frank Ocean is still coming into his own with his live show- but as another apt commenter mentioned- fans were in the crowd to hear a young talent blow the roof off the building with his voice. And that did not fail to deliver.

I went to the show with 4 friends- two of which who had never heard of Frank Ocean prior to this week- 2 who have been listening to him for over a year..... everyone had a great time!

As for the article title..... I don't think there were many in the crowd expecting a Katy Perry show..... so Frank's "moody, inexperienced, introvertedness" or whatever noise you were talking about doesn't really follow. It's like reviewing a Coldplay show and saying that the crowd was yearning to hear less estrogen-soaked ballads.

anyways Vancouver... "Why see the world when you've got the beach?"
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Rating: -2
PK
I also enjoyed the concert...but I do think his inexperience was apparent when he came back for his encore and only did one song and did not give audience what they were asking for (Swim Good). It put a sour tast in my mouth and disapointed my BF who is a big fan.
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Rating: -5
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