There are huge venues and there are small venues — think Little Caesar’s Arena compared to St. Andrew’s Hall — and then there is Hill Auditorium. Though I’ve been inside for academic lectures and student group performances, I’m ashamed to admit that until Saturday, I’d never actually been to a concert there. Under the auditorium’s sweeping, megaphone-like arches, I sat silently, waiting for the chatter of the audience around me to die down.
When Roy Woods sauntered onto the stage, I was slightly surprised. In my experience, I’ve never been to a single concert where the set actually started on time. From the upraised platform that overlooked the hall, Woods immediately threw his entire being into the stage; I don’t think he was still for a single second of his nearly hour-long set. His energy, magnetic stage presence and eclectic, bouncing dance moves captivated the crowd. At some point, he took his shirt off and stared at us silently while the auditorium echoed with screams for about a minute straight. I’d come in with no idea of who Roy Woods was, but by the time he exited, waving enthusiastically back at us, I knew that many people felt as if his performance was the perfect appetizer to the main course — blackbear.
On his tracks, blackbear’s voice is smooth, measured and chilled out: In the studio recording, “Idfc” is resigned yet emotionally hard-hitting, and carries an undercurrent of powerful, subtle grief. Performed live, the song takes on a heavy, intense desperation that’s absolutely intoxicating to listen to. With the help of some amped up bass and tinkly percussion, the same melody reached higher highs and deeper lows, and all this combined with the diffused light from an army’s worth of phone flashlights made for a very stereotypical (but not altogether unpleasant!) loud, boisterous concert experience. Besides “Idfc,” blackbear also performed some of his most popular tracks off of his most recent albums, including “4u” and “Dirty Laundry” from 2015’s Deadroses and “gucci linen” and “bright pink timbs” off of last year’s cybersex (although I was more than a little disappointed he didn’t actually play “Deadroses” itself). He closed the night with a feint by leaving amid a chorus of cries and then coming back for one last hurrah.
blackbear is undeniably one of the most popular artists in the U.S. right now. Some love him. Some hate him. Some think that his whole mega emo, bleeding-heart vibe is way overdone. Even though I’ve been listening to blackbear in some way or another since high school, I haven’t really made up my mind on his music. In the end, his tracks are probably still going to remain on my every-once-in-a-while, I’m-feelin’-kinda-basic playlist. To some extent, I agree that singing about love is cliché — people have been doing it for thousands of years — but at the same time, blackbear wouldn’t be popular if his lyrics and style weren’t deeply relatable to a broader audience, and there’s nothing wrong with staying relatable.