The show was called for 7 p.m., but Tyler, the Creator, didn’t go on until well after 9 p.m. So, for a few hours, I sat in Little Caesars Arena, eating Little Caesars pizza, watching three very different opening acts.
First up was Teezo Touchdown. With a brief hook-feature on Tyler’s latest album, Call Me If You Get Lost, Teezo embraced his cold-open role, rocking a crowd bedecked with plaid shirts and jewel-toned hoodies with his signature heavy metal, moaning rap. He was supported onstage by a guy with blond braids and a construction belt, hyping up the audience by perching himself on a ladder and yelling “clap” and “stomp” during off-beats. And it kind of worked.
Vince Staples received no such hype-support — not onstage and not from the audience. Beyond his smooth flow and grounded-gangster bars, Staples is well known for his boisterous banter. But a set-less platform isolated in the middle of a large arena, with an oddly disengaged audience on all sides, was not the best place for his popping personality. During “Take Me Home,” Staples lay with his back on the floor of the bare stage. Had he been on his feet, he might have seen that I was the only one in my section who knew the words: “I don’t wanna die, but I will for the cause.”
When the curtains came up on Kali Uchis, she was chained to a crucifix. As soon as four dancers, dressed forehead to toe in red, see-through cloth, released her from her bondage, Uchis began a slow, beat-synced promenade. She continued this saunter for almost the entire set, stopping only to turn around and twerk, which was every time met with striking applause — without fail, more applause than she received at the end of her songs, which I found somewhat unsettling.
Much like the headliner (Tyler, the Creator, and yes, I’m getting to him, don’t worry), Uchis is a great example of an artist pushing the boundaries of the American pop-mosphere. With a background in R&B and hip-hop and a burgeoning commitment to reggaeton, it’s almost impossible not to bop to at least a few of her soothingly groovy tunes. But she, too, seemed a little distant. Uchis addressed the crowd only once, between her last two songs — “After the Storm” and “Telepatía,” which I recommend for all of your playlists — saying simply, “Thank you so much, Detroit, please give it up for my dancers.” And with that last song, she was off.
Teezo Touchdown was fun, Vince Staples is a bundle of beast and Kali Uchis can fix a vibe like no other, but none of them sold out Little Caesars Arena. This was the Call Me If You Get Lost tour. This was Tyler’s show. And we were ready for that show to start.
The Creator himself rose onto the stage screaming, “I might buy a boat!” from the sunroof of a white Rolls-Royce, donning a hot-green-grandma-fit. He continued with a slew of crowd-hyping songs from his latest album. At that point, if anyone still had doubts that Tyler would show up for Detroit, the sheer veracity of his performance during “Lumberjack,” with its booming bass and lyrics, “Rolls-Royce pull up, Black boy hop out / shoutout to my mother and my father didn’t pull out,” quelled all such thoughts. He spat into the mic like it had truly done him wrong. And we hadn’t even gotten to the bangers yet, much less the slappers.
During the album’s biggest hit, “Wusyaname,” Tyler hopped in a speed boat at the edge of the stage and rode it to Vince Staples’s formerly lonesome platform in the middle of the arena. But it wasn’t so lonesome now, with the whole crowd filling in Rex Orange County’s hook on “Boredom” and Tyler frothing about the newly fern-coated stage, yelling the song title ad-not-nauseam. Things were clicking into place.
I was bummed when Kali Uchis didn’t show up for “See You Again.” She could not have been very far away. I wondered whether it had been her decision or Tyler’s. But it was hard to fuss too much once Tyler teleported me to my old SoundCloud days with “She” and “Yonkers,” from his 2011 album, Goblin. (All of a sudden, I felt this strong urge to listen to Chance the Rapper’s 2012 album, 10 Day, straight through. It was weird.)
After a sing-along boat ride back to the mainstage with the mesmerizing crowd favorite “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance,” Tyler took a break to do some mass-heckling.
“Can you turn the lights on? I wanna see all you ugly motherfuckers.”
He was coming for everyone. And most started booing.
“I like when I get booed, give it to me,” he responded, holding up a middle finger and waving it around for all to see.
Much of the crowd returned the gesture, and the booing increased, this time filled with appreciative irony. Someone threw a beer can onto the stage.
“That’s all you got, you fucking dick fuck?” he asked. “Your family hates you.”
The crowd erupted with laughter. Tyler then asked someone in the audience to pass him the book they were holding. He proceeded to read aloud the description on the back, but sensing the end of a good joke, stopped the reading short and proclaimed, “This is trash, alright, play the next song.”
The crowd was a riot for the rest of the concert. The ground was surely shaking for “Earfquake” But before I knew it, the house lights came up, and the crowd was shuffling to the cold wind at the exit. There was no encore. Apparently, that’s just not Tyler’s thing.
And if Tyler doesn’t like it, well, then who needs it anyway?
Daily Arts Contributor Joshua Medintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.