Seeing Tyler, the Creator live is no typical Friday night. Standing in a rowdy crowd for hours before the headlining performance, dealing with blinding lights and sweaty teenagers, all for Tyler to begin the show by staring blankly at the audience for about three solid minutes with “IGOR’S THEME” playing fiercely in the background — it can be an overwhelming experience.
No initial movement, no elaborate introduction, just a single spotlight against a silk sheet and a flashy blond wig. But this is exactly the pull of a concert by an artist as eccentric as Tyler, the Creator — it’s not always about hearing the music live, but witnessing the music come to life.
To truly begin his show at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium two nights in a row last week, Tyler held up a single finger as he began to count, settling on a repeated “four” to introduce “I THINK.” His choreographed motion hit hard with each beat, entertaining the audience members who were jumping in perfect synchronicity.
Tyler’s movements often mirrored the very words he was singing, helping to amp up his performative qualities, as IGOR is largely beat- and feature-heavy. During the performance of “A BOY IS A GUN*,” he raised his imaginary gun-wielding hand as if aiming for the sound booth in the back.
And dressed in a sky blue suit, white creepers and a Warhol-esque wig, Tyler’s character truly came to life. As he said hi to “Frisco,” the mosh pits in the crowd opened up in anticipation of whatever tension the rapper would carry in his voice.
As the elaborate lights flashed, it became clear as to why Tyler chooses to pair sunglasses with his tailored stage wardrobe. “NEW MAGIC WAND” continued the calculated performance, a long set of chant-like breaths building suspense for the opening of the song. The bass was deafeningly intense but crowd members seemed unphased by the sheer velocity of thrashing throughout the countless pits.
As the second background of the night was mysteriously dragged away, the final setting was revealed to be layers of white fringe above a baby grand piano. Tyler took the moment to showcase his expert-level piano skills, his true musical scope flashing with each passing riff. The artist never introduced what song he was playing, but after reaching a certain point in the piano melody, the audience began singing the chorus to “EARFQUAKE.”
As the crowd got lost in the ivory notes, it was awe-inspiring to watch Tyler directing the crowd into the lyrics without having to say a word. Although there wasn’t too much singing to be done on “EARFQUAKE” (backing tracks did much of the work for him), he ended with an intimate acoustic section, singing directly to the audience in a stripped-down outro.
To introduce the following song, he said, “I feel like 90% of y’all won’t know what song this is until the drop comes in.” Taking recognizable lyrics from “911 / Mr. Lonely,” Tyler mashed the Flower Boy lyrics with IGOR flair, using high bass distortion before transitioning into the more familiar original style.
Holding onto a rose thrown onstage, Tyler walked to a platform as the dramatic intro of “IFHY” rang out. He took a firm stance as the platform stretched slowly into the air, sending him stories off the ground as the intense, stormy background projected the energy of the song through lightning strikes. The camera occasionally switched to live footage of the artist performing, mixing with images of the sky for an immersive experience.
One of the most unexpected moments of the night was the performance of “Tamale” from the 2013 album, Wolf. The spicy dance beat sent the crowd bumping, Tyler calming the energy with a short anecdote about a San Francisco trip he took in 2011. Discussing the beginning of “Yonkers,” he said, “That changed my life” before transitioning into the classic Tyler bop.
While it was confusing to see people crowd surfing during the performance of “See You Again,” it was obvious that the crowd was reveling in the nostalgia that Tyler’s older hits brought. After asking the crowd to make noise for openers GoldLink and Blood Orange, Tyler said, “I don’t need y’all to make noise for me ‘cause I know I’m tight as fuck.”
Ending the night with “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” was a solid move as the platform rose once again to give the artist full exposure to the bright lights of the auditorium. With a funky gospel buzz and a wave goodbye, Tyler, the Creator exited the stage knowing one thing for sure: He was definitely in the presence of friends in San Francisco.
Highlights: “I THINK,” “She,” “Tamale”