The sun was setting on a gorgeous spring day in Ann Arbor. Students milled around outside Hill Auditorium, where A$AP Ferg would be performing shortly. I was occupied in the Panera bathroom, mixing a noxious concoction of tropical vodka, peppermint schnapps, Mountain Dew and Sprite in a plastic bottle. After my brew was prepared, my friends and I sat on a concrete ledge on the side of Hill Auditorium, passing the bottle back and forth among us. A$AP Ferg was due to take the stage any minute.
We entered into a dismal scene. The crowd was spread out throughout the auditorium, the energy lackluster. The liquor was an insufficient bulwark against the lameness of the situation. Soon, A$AP Ferg came on stage and, sensing the vibe, almost immediately called everyone to rush the front against the futile objections of the staff. Good move — but not quite enough.
It felt like the concert never really got going. One reason is that most people there were clearly not huge A$AP Ferg fans. This is normal — most concertgoers don’t know every song that is performed, and it’s common for non-fans to attend a concert. However, Ferg’s discography is particularly lopsided towards a few massive hits, so most people in the crowd only knew him from “Plain Jane,” “Work (Remix),” “Shabba” and “New Level.”
The real, unsolvable problem was the choice of venue — Hill Auditorium is packed with traditional auditorium seating, meaning the energy of A$AP Ferg’s music can’t really charge up the crowd since, if you move more than a foot in any direction, you’ll trip over a row of chairs. It is an auditorium designed for ensemble performances and lectures, not for hip hop or any other type of concert that invokes an active audience. I think this arrangement also led to a lot of pent-up aggressive energy in certain members of the crowd, most noticeably the guy in front of me wearing a Knicks jersey (with what I believe was his own last name printed on the back) who kept trying to fight people. Outdoor concerts in the spring are fun; maybe MUSIC Matters, having done outdoors concerts for the day portion, should consider that for future events.
While I think by and large he did his best, I do have one complaint with Ferg’s set. In the middle of it, Ferg played “First Day Out” by Tee Grizzley and “I Don’t Fuck With You” by Big Sean. While I understand the Detroit homage, it seems a little strange to play other people’s songs that you aren’t involved with at all during your set. If all people wanted to hear was a set of Tee Grizzley songs played over the aux, I would have done it for much cheaper.
I respect and appreciate that he continued to pretend we were a good crowd throughout, as many artists would have made their disappointment known. It’s a testament to his showmanship that he was able to keep up a fairly convincing facade the whole time, his stage presence likeable and serious. At the end, when he thanked us for being a great crowd, I saw some people laugh and shake their heads.
When the lights were turned on at the end, a quick glance around left me questioning the heavy use of the n-word throughout the concert by the audience during the refrain of “Plain Jane” given the obvious demographic tilt. After the show I walked to Fleetwood Diner and got a patty melt and fries. It was good. It left me hoping A$AP Ferg’s impression of Ann Arbor wasn’t limited to the narrow scope of Hill Auditorium.