It's exciting to marvel at how big Brockhampton has gotten over the years. From humble origins as a self-described "boy band" that formed on a Kanye West online forum, the rap group has grown to near-international levels of fame, thanks to their popular, banger-filled Saturation album trilogy, and its more focused follow up, Iridesence. This year, the group released Ginger, their most cohesive and musically mature effort to date, and they promoted it with back-to-back sold out shows at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater on Friday (11/22) and Saturday (11/23). As an indicator of Brockhampton's ever-growing popularity, some notable celebrity names were in attendance during the Friday show, including Chris Rock and Paul Rudd, who were seen dancing in the venue's pit among many of the group's most devoted fans. We caught night two on Saturday (and so did Frank Ocean).
When Brockhampton first took the stage, the sinister opening bass notes of Ginger highlight "St. Percy" blared through the venue's speakers, as a massive black curtain was dropped to reveal the group's extravagant stage setup, consisting of three giant LED crosses hanging above a reflective, sloped stage. One by one, each of the group's members came onstage as they rapped their verses, with their entrances being received with deafening applause and screams from the audience. This excitement reached a fever pitch by the end of the track, as member Merlyn Wood ran wildly onstage, screaming his verse as large, perfectly-timed blasts of smoke came from the stage as the beat dropped. Without skipping a beat, the group then transitioned to "If You Pray Right," and led the boisterous, jumping audience through a series of their most popular songs, including "Zipper," "Gold," "Gummy," "Queer," and lots more, with nearly every person in the venue passionately shouting every lyric. Throughout the first half-hour of the show, I was stunned by the group's attention to detail during their performances, whether it be the entire stage's aesthetically-pleasing, symmetrical setup, or more choreographed moments, where the entire group would walk in a uniform motion to a song's beat. Compared to how bare-bones their live setup was when I first saw them nearly three years ago (it was pretty much just them and a couch), this new stage show made it clear how the group's creative potential has been realized over time thanks to their growing fame.
The show was heavy on Ginger songs, but Brockhampton worked plenty of older favorites into the set too, and sometimes mashed up older verses with other songs. Group leader Kevin Abstract rapped his memorable verse from "Star" during a quiet moment in the melodic "Bleach," and the group's most energetic member Joba yelled his fan-favorite "FUCK YOU!" verse from "Heat" at the tail end of another song he violently screams on, "J'ouvert." Throughout pretty much the entire show, the group managed to keep the entire venue's energy levels at 100% by performing a non-stop assault of bangers, not just within the sweaty mosh pits (which Brockhampton encouraged the crowd to open up several times throughout the night), but also through the seated areas, where everyone was up and moving all night. Near the end of the show, Kevin Abstract expressed how satisfying the crowd's enthusiasm has been, telling the sold-out audience, "I think tonight's crowd might be low-key better than last night's."
After treating the venue to an unrelenting, passionate performance all night, the group closed their set with the sobering ballad "No Halo," with most of the seated audience members taking out and waving their phone flashlights, while singing the track's melancholic hook. It was the perfect end to the night, no encore provided or necessary. Witnessing the group in a larger setting also made it clear how passionate and cult-ish their fans are, which makes their "boy band" tag feel fitting; a majority of those in attendance came wearing Brockhampton merchandise, ranging from sweaters with "GINGER" emblazoned on the back, to white t-shirts with the group's large faces on the front, and I spotted many fans leaving the venue with literal bags full of expensive merch.
The night's insane energy didn't begin with Brockhampton, however, as a pair of exciting, hand-picked openers took the stage. First up was experimental/bubblegum pop weirdos 100 gecs, who brought a Christmas tree onstage as a backdrop for their brief set, consisting of songs from their recent 1000 gecs album. The duo's blend of strange melodies, Sleigh Bells-esque pop distortion, and harsh industrial trap led to many shouts of "what the fuck?!" from those around me. Later on came UK rapper slowthai, who performed several tracks from this year's Nothing Great About Britain, and whose reputation for putting on wild, punk-esque live shows carried over to these Brockhampton fans, especially during his Ginger collaboration "Heaven Belongs To You" (also the title of this tour), and the Mura Masa-produced "Doorman", which predictably led to a massive mosh pit.
View fan-shot video from both nights, and night two setlist below. Their US tour with slowthai and 100 gecs continues through mid-December, before heading to Australia in January. 100 gecs also have several headlining dates surrounding their tour with Brockhampton, including an NYC show at Elsewhere on Tuesday (11/26) (tickets).
Setlist - Brockhampton @ Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden 11/23/19
IF YOU PRAY RIGHT
I BEEN BORN AGAIN
LOVE ME FOR LIFE