Frank Ocean makes his entrance for his Parklife headlining set – and first UK show of 2017 – 40 minutes late. On the plus side, at least the neo-soul icon has actually turned up – which was the looming question mark, considering his habit of cancelling shows this year.
When he does finally arrive – fresh from performing for the first time since 2014 at Denmark’s NorthSide festival – it isn’t without its hiccups. On a walkway protruding deep into the crowd, he launches into ‘Solo’ – one of a clutch of songs from 2016’s game-changing ‘Blonde’ receiving their British live debut tonight. But Ocean isn’t happy. “Stop! Let’s start it again and let’s start it right!”, he demands cutting himself off and beginning again. Only to curtail it once more to swap headphones. He re-starts then… you’ve guessed it. “Stop this!” he implores.“Sorry, sorry, we’ll try this again folks.” At this point you wonder if another three years will have elapsed before he finishes his opening number.
Raging I missed Frank Ocean at Parklife. Sounded amazing pic.twitter.com/qqq6yGQdwu
— ryan (@rhenderson832) June 11, 2017
Some might ascribe this to diva-ish behaviour (photographers aren’t allowed in the pit); others would point to Ocean’s perfectionism. As behoves someone who accompanied Blonde with an ambitious visual album and magazine, the set is artistically-arresting. Screens show him filmed in the style of a smartphone camera- giving the impression of the crowd filming Ocean being filmed, like a Droste effect.
The meta-feel is continued by his shirt, emblazoned with the face of Brad Pitt, an apparent nod to recent comments made by the actor that he’d been listening to Ocean in the wake of his divorce from Angelina Jolie. ”Talk about getting to the raw truth. He’s painfully honest. He’s very, very special”, raved the actor.
With a setlist culled from ‘Blonde’ such as and ‘Endless’ songs ‘Comme Des Garcons’ and ‘Good Guy’, as well as standalone singles ‘Lens’ and ‘Chanel’ (which was repeated until he was happy with it), it’s a stripped back performance with only bare-bones musician backing. While rewarding in spades, ‘Blonde’is a slow-burn, difficult record; which means there’s some dissent in the crowd. Meandering R&B is always going to be a hard-sell on festival floating voters who’ve imbibed a weekend’s worth of booze and are basically waiting to hear the immediacy of ‘Thinkin Bout You’,and it’s not helped by the formless drift setlist, which proves off-putting to dilettantes.
But the reverential faithful – – including Stormzy who’s Snapchatting himself singing along – are rewarded with that spectral voice, flexed to staggering effect on a cover of The Jackson 5’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’. In a rare moment of crowd-engagement (even Gremlins seem more welcoming of spotlights), he tries to get the audience to imitate his ever-higher vocals, exclaiming ‘Hell Yeah!” in appreciation. Before finishing with ‘Nikes’, he apologises as “the park has a curfew”. As he observes himself at one point, “I ain’t been on a stage like this with any consistency for seven years. Thank you guys for sending all this love,” then puts the handbrake on the gush: “Alright, let’s not get too emo.”
Welcome back, Frank – don’t leave it so long next time.
Frank Ocean played:
Comme des Garçons
Close to You
Never Can Say Goodbye
Thinkin’ Bout You
Pink + White