When Frank Ocean finally sauntered on to the walkway Friday night at Lovebox, twenty five minutes late and wearing headphones, the crowd didn’t exactly go wild. “About time you c**t” the girl next to me screamed. She’d been switching between compulsively taking selfies and taking bumps off keys for the half an hour or so I’d been in her close vicinity.
This was the first time Frank Ocean has taken a stage in the UK since 2014, and only his second gig in those three years. In that time Ocean has released two albums, the visual album Endless followed swiftly by Blonde, but had almost no interaction with the press and almost no public appearances.
But the albums speak for themselves. Blonde is a masterpiece. On the first listen it didn’t have anything like the immediate hit of the songwriting on Channel Orange, it took time to absorb into your subconscious. But when it did absorb, the result was intimate and dreamlike – refrains dance all the way through the album’s seventeen tracks with Ocean distorting his voice more often than not.
So Ocean is enigmatic, to say the least. A man who Beyonce will do uncredited backing vocals for, a man who only needs to stream a video of a room on his website (for a solid week with nothing happening) to bring the internet’s rapt attention. So when he did finally walk out on to that platform you would generally expect an impressive reception.
But the crowd was split. There were obviously people there that really enjoy Ocean’s music, but there was a palpable feeling of many people being there just to say that they had – and for the posts to the ‘Gram of course. Ocean mainly played songs Blonde, as well as recent releases like Biking, Lens, and Chanel; eschewing his much more festival friendly tunes circa Channel Orange, with the notable exception of Thinking About You, two versions of which he played back to back, restarting the first because the timing wasn’t perfect.
This personal and intimate performance, on a platform in a sea of 50,000 people, was perfect for Ocean and for the songs he performed – but undeniably disappointing for people expecting a banging headlining set, especially if they’d just strolled over from seeing Solange slay on the second stage.
Apart from perhaps for the extremely close and exceptionally savvy, the reveal that the guy shooting the incredible video was Spike Jonze was left for the day after. It shouldn’t really be a surprise though and rumours of a tour documentary are flying around.
Ocean’s level of stardom may not go with his artistry. He doesn’t make music for the fame or the money and performs on his own terms. He’s not on social media and doesn’t have scandalous headlines, and he’s not going to just play the hits.
Part way through the set he pulled his headphones off one ear and mumbled “sorry if I’m not engaging enough – I’m still trying to figure this out”. I’ll be getting tickets if he performs again, figured out or not.