Decked in a yellow reflective vest and perched on top of a giant diagonal ramp shaped like a log, Tyler, the Creator captivated the audience with mischievous character and masterful showmanship at his Feb. 26 performance at The Anthem.
Tyler produces innovative rap music while maintaining a goofy attitude that avoids pretentiousness. His penchant for outlandish lyrics and colorful videos as the leader of the rap collective Odd Future has earned him a reputation as hip-hop’s resident oddball. The rapper first gained internet traction with his 2009 mixtape “Bastard” and released his fourth studio album “Flower Boy” in 2017 to widespread critical acclaim.
Opening for Tyler was Odd Future member Taco, who played a brief DJ set featuring tracks such as “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West and “Crew” by Goldlink, followed by Los Angeles rapper Vince Staples.
Vince focused on the material from his 2017 album “Big Fish Theory,” which combined elements of electronic dance music with an industrial rap core. Although Vince brought a confident stage presence and passionate delivery, the crowd was not enthralled with the bouncy club beats of songs like “BagBak” and “745,” only bringing energy on the hard-hitting 2015 track “Señorita.”
The crowd’s reticence should not reflect poorly on Vince’s performance, however. The rapper passionately delivered verse after verse, and the set used apocalyptic news clips and distorted bursts of noise between songs to impose an uneasy atmosphere. The performance also made full use of The Anthem’s resources to create an impressive light show, while the powerful speaker system projected sound effectively throughout the massive arena without drowning those on the floor in excessive bass.
After Vince’s set ended, the crowd waited restlessly for nearly an hour as the crew transformed the stage. Tracks from punk jazz musician King Krule, who was not in attendance, played softly in the background.
Finally, the curtains retracted to reveal a nature-themed set bathed in orange and purple light. Tyler greeted an ecstatic audience with the opening track, “Where This Flower Blooms.” Ascending the log ramp that dominated the stage, Tyler commanded the massive room. The crowd chanted along to his most recognizable lines like “I can’t even lie / I’ve been lonely as f–k” while Tyler contributed the longer verses, creating an effective symbiosis between audience and performer.
Tyler bantered frequently with the crowd. An audience member threw a massive bouquet of flowers at the rapper’s crotch between songs, making Tyler double over in pain before he laughed and thanked the fan. Later, he demanded a single dollar from the crowd before he would play the next song. When a fan tried to hand him five dollars, he jokingly refused: “No, I don’t want five dollars. Give me one. F–king. Dollar!”
The rapper also remarked about the contrasts of Washington, D.C.’s demographics.
“Here in D.C., y’all have suits right next to homeless n—-s all over the city hanging out, s–t’s crazy,” Tyler said.
He elaborated that the last time he performed in the District, it was at U Street Music Hall, a much smaller venue. Appearing humble and genuinely thankful, Tyler recognized his new fans, before catering to his dedicated supporters with the 2013 track “IFHY.”
Although he played a few of his older hits like “Yonkers” and “Tamale,” most of the show focused on his latest album “Flower Boy.” Slower, more emotional songs like “November” had the crowd swaying and rapping along, while Tyler performed the tongue-twisting finale of “911 / Mr. Lonely” with extraordinary energy and nailed the third verse of “I Ain’t Got Time!” a capella.
Yet, the show’s standout track was without a doubt “Who Dat Boy,” a ferocious banger that lurches from ominous to explosive in seconds. When the bassline dropped and Tyler began spitting bars, the floor of The Anthem erupted into a violent mosh pit, releasing the pent-up energy that had been building the entire night.
When the track finished, the tension in the venue evaporated and the show maintained a calmer tone through to the end. Finishing with the soft but satisfyingly upbeat “See You Again,” Tyler thanked the crowd, tore off his reflective vest and tossed it nonchalantly into the crowd as he strode offstage.
Tyler is clearly a practiced showman who has performed at countless venues, judging from the precision of his set and masterful use of the stage. Still, rather than appearing tired or jaded, the rapper created a distinct and personal experience for the audience through his antics and spirited performance. Tyler’s genuine character, demonstrated by his appearance at The Anthem, is what continues to earn him a devoted fanbase.