A Satanic Rock & Roller Goes to the Gospel Hip-Hop Show
A couple of months ago, a good friend and I decided we wanted to go to a mega-church. We had been up all Saturday night doing things that make you stay up all Saturday night and make bad decisions, and this was one we definitely wanted to make. Being devout Satanists, we had no idea where in town we could find one, so we just drove to the earliest church service we could find on Google, but upon arriving we decided not to intrude on the hundred-or-so person congregation. As the faithful filed in wearing their Sunday best, we sat in my car and tweaked like creeps, lest they think the only two white people for miles had more evil intentions than a morbid curiosity with organized religion.
When Chance the Rapper announced that his heavily Christian-tinged hip-hop extravaganza was coming to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, I thought this could be a perfect chance to witness the Glory of Jesus crashing upon the masses under the guise of a simple concert review. I was at least half-right.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that instead of clusters of elderly in their it’s-Easter-every-week pastel finest, this sold-out crowd of 18,000-plus consisted of mostly Caucasian twenty-somethings in polo shirts and visors, a few of which had clearly snorted stimulants for their first time in their lives shortly before taking their place in the will call line. There were a few Tyler the Creator acolytes in crisp floral shirts and Supreme caps sprinkled in, but for the most part, this arena was looking like an Aeropostale outlet sale.
I took my seat near the stage just as opener DJ Oreo was beginning his set, which basically meant playing thirty seconds of every major rap hit of the last decade at deafening volume, occasionally coming out to throw bottles of water into the crowd. The audience roared their approval with each new Kendrick, Drake, Kanye, etc., track because they’re all huge songs, but the novelty wore off as his set reached past the 60 minute mark, especially when he switched to Adele and lost the crowd entirely. Still, I will never forget watching the geeky twelve-year-old I was seated next to adjust his thick Buddy Holly-glasses while crooning to himself about smashing pussy and rolling up his broccoli. Thanks for that, DJ Oreo, if nothing else.
Despite Mr. Oreo’s grand introduction of the headliner upon leaving the stage, another twenty minutes passed while The Rapper presumably finished up his pre-show praises backstage, and the entire arena breathed the same sigh of relief when the lights finally went down. Taking the stage on a motorized mini-bike, Chance kicked things off with “Mixtape”, a track from his Grammy-winning third album, Coloring Book, and any boredom that had crept across the audience exploded alongside the bevy of pyrotechnics lining the stage. Dubbed the ‘Be Encouraged Tour’, the show featured every staple of modern concert technology, from steam cannons to confetti, to fireworks, and of course a massive LED screen. Chance’s most impressive secret weapon, however, is his band, The Social Experiment, three of his best friends who also happen to be incredible musicians and who propelled the pulse of the show.
Things immediately took a religious turn with the second track, “Blessings”, as a four-piece choir joined the stage to repeatedly belt, “I’m gon’ praise Him ’til I’m gone,” and I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t get a little chill up my spine. The Holy Spirit was in the building, and we were just getting started.
Chance makes a committed effort to assure everyone in attendance is having as good of a time as him, bunny-hopping across the stage and stopping to check in with each section from the front row to the nosebleeds. He rushed through more tracks from Coloring Book and his 2013 breakthrough LP, Acid Rap, unfortunately having to abbreviate many due to his affinity for multiple guests on nearly every song he releases. Even his biggest hit to date, “No Problems” is given just sixty seconds of attention, although that brief minute fires the capacity crowd up to it’s boiling point in short time, with a little help from a confetti cannon. When his request for a spotlight was met within half a second, I wondered if there wasn’t some higher power controlling the special effects from on high. Doubtful, but let’s have some faith or whatever.
Though his music and lyrics are laced with His Almighty Power, Chance’s between song banter is about as far from the pulpit as one can get. After wrapping up the 2013 banger “Pusha Man”, he modestly mumbles about how he isn’t used to playing such big shows in Columbus, reminiscing about the many shows he played as a teenager at the small club Skully’s, claiming he used to “shake that bitch”. (A quick Google search revealed just two gigs at that venue, and the last time he was in town Chance headlined last year’s Breakway Festival at the enormous Mapfre Stadium, far from a small-time gig) His timid rambling between songs was a bit underwhelming, with the man himself even wondering aloud, “Why am I talking so much?”
When Chance did stick to the music, he was in top form, slashing through cuts from throughout his young career. He even paid tribute to his main mortal mentor, Kanye West, with a medley of songs from ‘Ye’s recent Life of Pablo record, including a faithful take on “Ultralight Beam”, a song Chance originally contributed to. Like much of Yeezus’ work, Chance’s songs are more than just rap bangers or R&B jams, they’re arena-worthy anthems that deserve to be belted out by a mighty throng like the one in attendance in Columbus.
Having packed most of his high-energy hits into the front half of his show, Chance’s last half hour lagged a bit in comparison, but it upped the religious ante considerably. He updated a phrase in Book‘s opening track, “All We Got”, to say “Jesus is all we got,” and no other singular moment of the night drew such a reaction. Crowd favorite “Same Drugs” elicited the biggest sing-along, and by the time he belted “How Great” from the illuminated catwalk that descended from the ceiling, just feet above the outstretched hands of his loyal lambs, he might as well have been walking on water and handing out fish. He wrapped things up with a medley recalling many of the songs he had performed throughout the night, and all seemed right with the universe, or at least in this arena.
As I walked out into the warm night air among thousands of bright-eyed converts, I overheard someone squeal “That was like the most lit church ever!” They were right, I assume. It was at least a pretty damn encouraging sermon if that’s your thing. Then I overheard the same person announce, “Now let’s get drunk!”, and thought, maybe they’re onto to something. I bought some booze and pondered existence. A fool is born again every minute.
Chance the Rapper set list- 5/16/17 Columbus, OH- Nationwide Arena
- Blessings 1
- Pusha Man
- Smoke Again
- Cocoa Butter Kisses
- Favorite Song
- Waves/Father Stretch My Hands/Ultralight Beam
- Sunday Candy
- I’m The One
- All We Got
- No Problems
- All Night
- Juke Jam
- Finish Line/Drown
- Same Drugs
- How Great/All We Got (reprise)
- Blessings 2/Medley