Travis Scott brings the "Astroworld Tour" to the North.
Travis Scott’s Astroworld album found the Houston rapper exploring the benefits of experimentation. Drawing influence from the eclectic brilliance of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Scott and his Mike Dean led-brain-trust immersed themselves in a psychedelic and occasionally zany carnival. Two years in the making, Scott’s third studio effort was granted the benefit of time, which allowed a nuanced approach to song-crafting. Even immediate bangers like “Sicko Mode” come alive through a steady pair of headphones. Contrast that with the Travis Scott live experience, which forsakes subtleties in favor of a visceral, bass-fuelled response. The end result is nothing short of primal.
I must preface that I, unlike some of my colleagues, skew more neutral on the Travis Scott hype spectrum; it has been the source of many an inner-office debate. Alongside the homie Devin Ch, we found ourselves navigating through a veritable queue lined with fans eager to drop bills on the latest Astro-merch. Long before the show’s opening moments, it became clear that Scott has successfully inspired loyalty bordering on devout. “Self-Made,” if you will. In fact, the sheer volume of fans is awe-inspiring. The entire arena is sold out, a capacity of 21,273. Many attendees have donned merchandise from previous concerts. “Wish You Were Heres” in abundance. Two rows down is an elderly gentleman, game face on. He feels like an exception, perhaps foreshadowing the fate of the daring pit-dwellers below.
Image via HNHH
The production design centers around two mirrored stages, connected by a suspended roller-coaster track. On the leftmost stage sits the now-familiar carousel, a staple of the Astroworld tour. On the rightmost sits a massive screen. As Sheck Wes takes the stage, the mosh appears to come alive. It soon becomes evident that the sound is going to be an issue; big arena shows are often plagued by an enveloping wall-of-sound, in which the dominant lower frequencies serve to muddy the mix. Yet there are pluses to such an arrangement. The heavy bass can be felt down to the bones, which only enhances the night’s raw energy. I watch as the moshers engage to “Mo Bamba,” patiently warming up for the rage to come.
When Travis emerges to the sound of “Stargazing,” the arena comes alive. Eerie visuals flood the screens, setting an ominous tone not altogether conveyed through the music. Bathed in red light, Scott exudes the aura of a cult leader. Charismatic and enigmatic in equal measure, the Houston rapper has the audience eating from the palm of his hand. He moves with a notable sense of energy, bouncing across the stage delivering heavily autotuned, reverb-drenched vocals. The set moves at a breakneck pace, with Scott stringing together verses and hooks in a megamix of sorts. As he weaves through his myriad hits, sliding in 2 Chainz’ “4 AM” and the Birds In The Trap banger “Way Back,” fans line up for a go-around on the Ferris Wheel.
Image via HNHH
Eventually, Scott disappears into a hidey-hole. Across the stage, an eerie, Mannequin-esque figure issues a soothing message. The crowd explodes once Scott emerges on the other side, picking up where he left off. Flames flicker as mad pyrotechnicians live out their wildest fantasies. One fan proceeds to risk it all, clambering atop the stage during a spirited rendition of “Fu*k The Club Up.” As with most stage-crashers, his lack of a deeper plan only sinks in when it’s too late. Travis proceeds to halt the show, allowing the interloper a chance at redemption, inviting him to stagedive to the triumphant sounds of “Upper Echelon.”
At this point, Scott proceeds to slow things down, coming through with a surprising rendition of SZA’s “Love Galore.” It’s a welcome change of pace, given that the stripped-down arrangement does away with the cacophonous bass, allowing Scott’s autotuned harmonies to float as intended. The tradition is picked up later with “Stop Trying To Be God,” which finds Travis making a few alterations to the arrangement. As a personal favorite, I’m torn about the decision to deliver an acapella rendition; the slow-burning instrumental would have made for an appropriately hypnotic backdrop, made all the more haunting by the unsettling visuals. Still, it was nice to hear Scott imbue “Stop Trying To Be God” with a newfound sense of power, drawing additional attention through his decision to strip it down.
Image via HNHH
“I’m from Houston,” says Travis, after remarking at the frigid Canadian temperatures. “We like things slow.” As he queues up a tandem of “R.I.P. Screw” and “Houstonfornication,” a descending curtain of screens conjures up all manner of psychedelic visuals: neon-writ “Astroworld,” “Wish You Were Here,” nude silhouettes, skulls, an ominous “look mom I can fly,” and a circus tent. As the curtain ascends, it becomes clear that the roller-coaster is finally about to come into play. On that note, Scott appears to have synchronized a string of Astroworld favorites to coincide with his maiden voyage. He begins to sing the chorus of “Can’t Say,” as the fans harmonize, adding their voices to the mix. Upon touching down on solid ground, Travis slides into “Yosemite,” another late-game highlight; sadly the lack of featured artists can be felt on both counts, with Don Toliver, Gunna, and even the Learjet riding Nav’s absence being noted.
As expected, the back-to-back tandem of “Goosebumps” and “Sicko Mode” are saved for the climax, stirring a buzz off the strength of their reputation alone. In reality, Travis doesn’t have to work very hard to elicit a reaction. His die-hard fans seem eager to expunge ample energy without him fully committing to the performer’s dedicated cause. That’s not to say he isn’t spirited. Simply that many audience members, by my estimation, appeared to be content with simply basking in his presence. The fact that Travis is doing numbers befitting of a legacy act, despite being three albums deep, places him in a uniquely interesting position. He’s doing numbers equivalent to the Kanyes, the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, and yielding the same triumphant response. In that sense, the image of Travis Scott as a cult leader gains credence. Whatever he’s serving seems to have captivated a generation. Should he decide to snap his fingers, who knows what manner of neon-soaked madness might ensue?