Frank Ocean last year suddenly cancelled his tour to consternation from fans who had been anticpating the debut of already much-delayed new material. He has now finally reappeared at a select smattering of summer festivals, including LoveBox, Parklife, and Fyf. I was not able to to attend so have been instead avidly consuming online footage, and trawling the fan response.
A lone videographer projects an expansive monochrome live stream of Ocean’s performance above a stage filled with installation art resembling Ocean’s bedroom. The setup brilliantly envelopes the viewer, managing to capture the simultaneous claustraphobia and loneliness pervading the troubled relationship at the centre of “Blonde”.
Given the levels of fan anticipation and my own positive response , I have been struck by the uniformly negative fan reaction to these recent appearances. General consensus online seems to be of a flat atmosphere stemming from a lack of crowd interaction. Even a live cameo by Brad Pitt during Fyf festival was flatly dismissed as a gimmick. This criticism misses the point. Frank Ocean isnt an artist to “holla” cursory niceties to arbitrarily involve the crowd. Thats not his way. (Go watch P-Diddy if you wanna be “hollered” at!) Frank Ocean’s strength (much like Kanye West or Solange) is of a nuanced musical ear coupled with a singular artistic vision reflected in live performance which cocoons the viewer into a complete visuospatial experience and elevates the music.
During my online viewing I was sober and in the comfort of my bedroom. Likely the nuances of the latest live appearancesare not best appreciated by those pissed at a festival. Perhaps he will garner more positive reviews when he takes the stage on his own merit away from the festival circuit