Chance the Rapper, the Chicago hip-hop prodigy, hit the stage for his Austin City Limits Music Festival headliner slot on a motorcycle … with pyrotechnics at his back. Austin360’s Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb break down what happened after that.
DSS: I’m just going to kick this off by saying, watching a rapper turn an Austin City Limits Music Festival headline set crowd into the city’s biggest gospel choir is something I never expected to see. With the harmonies and the Jesus shout outs it really did feel like we went to church. But with more pyrotechnics.
EW: When “Jesus is all I got” is your biggest turn-up line, you know you’ve got a reeeeeal different kind of show on your hands. Coming from the background I do (which is as Christian as you can get without any snake stuff), I would say that Chance is living out his witness in the way that it looks like in the textbook. Which … is the Bible. His words have come rolling off his tongue, his actions can be seen in his work, and now Chance’s fans are singing praises in a massive festival concert venue. Blessings come down, indeed. So, Deborah, you went to see Jay-Z last night. Compare/contrast?
DSS: Chance 2017 > Jay-Z 2017. In terms of energy there’s really no comparison. Sure, Jay had the massive sing-along hits and the bigger crowd, but Chance has the fire, the mission. Jay came to play some songs he knew we’d love then jet back home to be with his babies. Chance came to have an experience with us, to move us. Also, Chance is an ensemble player. His brother is his drummer. His right hand man, Nico Segal, is a trumpet player. He wanted us to know he was there with his whole instrumental crew, the Social Experiment. They’re all part of his movement. Jay-Z had a band, but they were hidden behind a giant sculpture of a balloon dog.
EW: That’s a thing that struck me, as well. There’s this concept of your “friend family” that’s taken root with people in my generation (though I know it’s nothing new — Armistead Maupin wrote about “logical families” in the ’70s). It’s so affecting to see Chance bring his people with him, the people that are just as much a part of this thing called “Chance the Rapper” as Chancelor Bennett is. At least, I identified with it and respect it. Now, I did not witness the Hova-ning on Friday night, but I can attest that Lil’ Chano was anything but phoning it in. His showmanship was so all-consuming that I was reminded of Florence Welch, from when Florence + the Machine headlined ACL Fest a couple years ago. How a single person can enrapture A LITERAL PARK FULL OF PEOPLE is beyond me. On “All We Got,” the man entertained me just by counting off beats with the fingers on one hand. He swiveled his hips so subtly on “Juke Jam” that you might have missed it if a siren of woo’s didn’t erupt. It was a total “young Frank Sinatra” moment. Or pick your heartthrob.
DSS: Florence is a great comparison. I think a lot people were affected by both of those sets in similar ways. I, for one, cried at both of those shows. During “All We Got” I was thinking about how hard he’s trying to heal the world, just send something beautiful and positive out there, in the face of so much adversity. “Very recently I made a strong switch to a new path,” he said at one point in the set, no doubt, in reference to the fact that his latest album “Coloring Book” is straight gospel rap. He thanked the audience for sticking with him. Watching him sit on the stage and sing “Same Drugs,” I felt tears streaming down my face. It’s such a poignant and painful story about the people we sometimes must leave behind as we evolve. Are we planting the seeds for a Florence/Chance collab?
EW: I am willing to take any steps, legal or otherwise, to make this happen. Speaking of other musicians, I quite enjoyed the medley of Chance’s verses from “The Life of Pablo,” the latest album from Kanye West. Yeezy is Chance’s mentor, and the images of the two projected on the Honda stage screen invited me to consider their differences. Kanye, the man for whom ego exists as a concept. Chance, humble without peer. Several times, he downplayed the fact he could draw the size of a crowd that he did. “With the lights on it’s even more people,” he said. “Turn the lights off.” It all seemed self-effacing in the way, say, a Taylor Swift “who, me?” schtick would not. And man, he brought this massive moment down to such a person-to-person level. Before “Sunday Candy,” he asked, “I’m Chance. What’s you guys’ names?” To think that he played that same song in the same park just two years ago, when so much has changed for him. And for the world, for that matter. Come back, 2015! OK, final thoughts?
DSS: Final thoughts: It was a bit odd that his set was scheduled to run til 9:30 p.m., but actually ended at 9:08 p.m. Chance and ‘Ye DEFINITELY don’t do the same drugs no more, sometimes all you need is happy thoughts and every ACL headline set should have pyrotechnics. You?
EW: Mic drop for Deborah. For me, one thing is abundantly clear: Chance isn’t going anywhere, because he moves people. And I don’t mean just physically or just emotionally. After “Blessings” turned Zilker into the Sermon on the Mount at the top of the set, he said “Yeah, we got a show,” and the lights went dark. And before launching into “All Night” (a personal fave), he told us that “there’s a lot of brave people here tonight.” That’s what we look for in music: Someone who can show us something about ourselves. For Chance, it’s how to have the courage of your convictions.