Like most of Vince Staples' art, the "Smile You're On Camera Tour" is bleak and minimal. Vince performs by himself -- with his DJ out of sight and no hypeman or guests -- in front of a greyscale backdrop that looks like mock security camera footage but mostly features footage of Vince performing on stage. He was decked out in a black and white "NORF NORF" tee shirt and he didn't say much on stage; he just let his music do the talking. But also like most of Vince's bleak and minimal art, the "Smile You're On Camera Tour" was endless fun. As dark as the imagery on stage and the lyrical content of the songs were, the crowd spent the entirety of Thursday night's (2/21) show at NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom bouncing up and down and yelling along and dancing and having the times of their lives. And Vince didn't have to ask or encourage anyone to do so more than a couple times.

He's on the road supporting last year's FM!, which was an intended as a mini-album rather than a proper album, but was one of the year's best nonetheless. He played almost all of its songs, along with a good chunk of the previous year's Big Fish Theory ("Big Fish," BagBak," "745," "Rain Come Down," "Party People," "Yeah Right"), and a few key selections from his earlier material, like "Blue Suede," "Lift Me Up," "Norf Norf," "War Ready," and more. And though all of Vince's records have distinctly different sounds, these songs all worked together perfectly in the context of a career-spanning set. It was really an impressive thing to hear how the cold, dead-eyed "Lift Me Up" worked perfectly after the humid one-two punch of "Feels Like Summer" and "Don't Get Chipped," or how the claustrophobic bounce of "FUN!" could flow right into the sharp, militant "BagBak." And Vince owned the room during every one of these songs. He had the crowd eating out of the palms of his hands the whole time, and his rapping was on point the whole show. With no hypeman and minimal backing tracks, it was on Vince to deliver his bars with the same precision and attack he has in the studio and he succeeded with flying colors.

Vince's set also went out on a powerful note. He didn't stuff all his biggest songs at the end or anything like that -- he interspersed them throughout the set and closed the night with "Yeah Right." Not because it's his biggest hit but because it's just a killer crowdpleaser and an excellent note go out on. And instead of an encore, Vince said "RIP Mac Miller" before leaving the stage, and then screened his late collaborator's 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Concert (featuring Thundercat) as a tribute to him. Almost no one left the venue early, and audience members cheered again and again for Mac as the video played. It was a touching and fitting tribute to Vince's friend who was taken from us way to soon.

The night began with two well-matched openers. First up was Philly's Armani White whose live show took a pretty different approach than Vince's but who fit the bill just fine. Like Vince, Armani White is a skilled rapper in the traditional sense but totally new and modern and not a throwback of any kind. Unlike Vince, Armani's set was very much a group effort. He had a hypeman on stage the whole set, his DJ often left the booth to come out and rap, and he had a guest singer at times too. It all came to a climax during Armani's last song, which had the four of them on stage singing and rapping at once, and sounding massive. I admittedly wasn't familiar with him before Thursday night, but I was a fan by the end of his set. You can catch him in NYC again at Greatest Day Ever. Watch the video for his great recent single "Onederful" below.

After Armani White was Vince's tourmate Buddy, who just put out an expanded deluxe edition of his 2018 debut album Harlan & Alondra earlier this month. He played a handful of songs from that album, and he sounded great and had a ton of command over the crowd. Buddy raps and sings, but for this set, he was mostly all about bloodthirsty raps until his very last song where he showed off his soaring pipes. Harlan & Alondra is a solid album, but I think I liked his set on Thursday even more than I like that record. It seems like he's only getting better.

Vince's tour continues in DC on Friday (2/22) and there's a second leg in March with JPEGMAFIA (who just released a new song with HEALTH) opening. Vince returns to NYC in June for Governors Ball.

UPDATE: Check out pictures from the show in gallery above. We have pictures of the show coming very soon. In the meantime, watch some videos below...


photos by Edwina Hay

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