Just a month after sharing the stage with Eminem at Wembley stadium with his infamous droogs Odd Future, the 22-year-old provocateur Tyler, The Creator returns to London tonight for his solo headline show. It’s a swelteringly humid evening, and with no support, his followers wait laboriously for his arrival at The Forum.
After several trap bangers from his DJ, Tyler dives into the stage mid strobe in his pink suede ‘Golf’ sweater. He is joined tonight by fellow Odd Future member Jasper Dolphin, whose hype is particularly effective in “Sam (Is Dead)” by directing a wave of arms go “left, go left, right, left”. They plough through songs with speed and fury, sometimes getting lost in the booming acoustics of the venue, but “Nightmare” from 2011’s Goblin is particularly powerful, with Tyler’s a cappella ending of “I’m the devil, fucker, get on my level”.
By now everyone knows to take anything Tyler says with a pinch of salt - or in his case, perhaps a handful is more appropriate - and there’s no denying he’s incredibly entertaining. In a pseudo-sulk, he admits, “I just wanna talk about how rich I am but how depressed I am”. This self-deprecation is of course part of his humour, but lyrically there is clearly some truth in what he’s saying, as in with “Cowboy”, which follows this admission: “You think all this money will make a happy me?/But I’m ‘bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat”. But the crowd aren’t there for reflection, tonight energy fuels everything, and of course the artist knows this and responds accordingly by pumping the tracks up a notch. His flow is remarkable, abrasive rhythmically as it is lyrically: “I’m okie dokie and loopy and booboo nana and caca/If you think I’m fucking koo-koo, try talking to my shrink then”.
In a way, it’s evident that a good portion of the persona - or should that be personas? - that surrounds Tyler is augmented, perhaps to some extent created, by the press. That is not to say he’s actually quite the gentleman - indeed, at one point he sticks his middle finger up at a girl in the crown and makes a phalacio sign - but he plays with them and he clearly does appreciate the support. After starting “Domo23” from last year’s Wolf, in which he references our own David Beckham and One Direction, Tyler has to stop and start it again, looking at Jasper and admitting: “that felt so fucking good”. London is pleased, if not proud, not least because their hero lets out that “this is why I fuck with London… London, we about to go HAM”. The track has an undeniable grime sound, and I can’t help but feel this may be in some way responsible for its fantastic response tonight in the city in which the genre was born.
For “Yonkers”, Tyler drops beneath the stage to join the crowd who have somehow endured The Forum’s intense heat of the venue; they shout “Wolf Gang” back at him like he’s their messiah. It’s a little hard to not be cynical of the crowd who mostly look like kids who have just played supermarket sweep at Urban Outfitters, taking selfies and deciding among themselves who will be the first to go into the ever-widening chasm of a mosh circle. But many of them are there for the right reason, and they are truly losing their shit to this.
The highlight of the set is towards its end, when Tyler sits on top of one of the stage speakers for “Answer”, another of the more reflective and personal tracks from Wolf, in which he imagines what he’d say to his absent father if he were to ring him. He admits he hates singing alone, and the track allows us to see a sensitive side to the artist; well, almost, anyway. Still on the speaker, he makes an admirable tirade against the many filming him with their phones “put your fucking cellphones away, you’ve got memories you dicks”, and the embarrassment is comically palpable. Closing on “Tamale”, in which dwellers from the back rush to use their last modicums of energy to join in on the wildfire-spreading chaos at the front, in true trolling Tyler, The Creator style, he mocks us and starts it from the top to make them do it all again.