Fans of BROCKHAMPTON were getting antsy. It had been 45 minutes since the show’s scheduled start time Saturday night, and there was still no sign of the band.
Any glimmer of action earned an exaggerated reaction from the audience. An audio recording of Agganis Arena safety protocol set off roaring cheers.
A lone girl, dancing feverishly on the floor of the arena, earned screaming encouragement from almost the entire crowd.
Finally, the band appeared. Not on stage, but on a large projected screen behind it. It was a livestream of BROCKHAMPTON frontman Kevin Abstract, apparently still backstage.
“Boston,” he said into the camera, “we’ll see you guys soon! For now, get some water.”
The livestream was emblematic of the band’s personality: energetic, excited and a little bit awkward.
BROCKHAMPTON is a hip-hop collective based in Los Angeles, California. Along with frontmen Abstract, Matt Champion and JOBA, there are 13 members in total, as the band considers producers, mixers, a graphic designer and their photographer as all part of the band.
They got their start in 2012, when Abstract posted on a Kanye West fan forum asking if anyone wanted to start a band. Six years and a $15 million deal later, the band is on a nationwide tour and has four albums to their name, including “Saturation,” “Saturation II” and “Saturation III.”
Their latest, “iridescence,” debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums chart.
Fifteen more minutes had passed by the time BROCKHAMPTON finally emerged. Any impatience in the audience evaporated in an instant. The screaming crowd rose to its feet as the band strutted around stage.
Each member was donned in a navy blue jumpsuit, complete with matching white sneakers. Fog rolled across the stage, and a single spotlight shone on Abstract. He launched into an emotional and reflective rendition of “WEIGHT,” a song off the band’s latest album.
Their performance Saturday ranged from poetic, thoughtful and emotional to loud, spastic and electrifying. The opening track was set over a simple, relaxed bass line with verses filled with vulnerability and honesty.
With his eyes closed, Abstract rapped, “They split my world into pieces, I ain’t heard from my nieces / I been feeling defeated … / I ain’t sleep in some weekends, tryna headline both weekends.”
The very next track was a far cry from the tone set with the first. Abstract pointed to the crowd at the front of the stage and commanded them to make a mosh pit.
They obliged, and the band launched into the thumping “NEW ORLEANS,” an aggressive track.
The verses were almost screamed over the pounding bass, to the point where the words could barely be distinguished from one another. Those in the crowd didn’t seem to mind, and fans in the mosh pit shoved one another indiscriminately, their bodies pin-balling off each other as elbows flew with no regard.
The large screen behind the band flashed with images of New Orleans, Louisiana, set in a jarring negative, spliced with live shots of the band on stage.
The next several songs all followed this pattern: loud and aggressive rapping set over chaotic and bass-heavy beats with disjointed and off-putting images flashing behind them.
The tracks began to blend together, as the band sprinted across the stage and jumped in awkward attempts at dance. Their movements were not driven by thought or strategy, but pure emotion and ecstasy. The mosh pit raged on.
After about 30 minutes of high-intensity energy, the band slowed things down. They turned their backs to the crowd and toward the screen, which filled with a solid purple. A slow, emotional and melodic piano came through the speakers, and the mosh pit stopped to look up as fans waved their smartphone lights in the dark arena.
Abstract was emotional and reflective again, rapping “TONYA” lyrics, “I’ve been in my feelings on an island in the dirt / I feel like brothers lie just so my feelings don’t get hurt / I said, I’ll try vacation, I’ll try to run away / I deleted Facebook, I’ll trade fame any day.”
BROCKHAMPTON has no trouble getting fans out of their seats and jumping around with fast-paced, loud and bass-heavy tracks. Their emotion and energy is raw, and it seemed at times as if they were outside themselves, channeling the energy from another dimension.
But the group’s musical skill and poetic artistry shine when they slow things down. It’s on these tracks where a variety of thoughts, emotions and ideas are explored in a way that can’t be when the energy level is turned up to 100.