[Live] Vince Staples at the El Rey 11.25.15

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Getting the crowd going is the main order of business at a show like this. Red Bull Sound Select, as part of their 30 Days in LA Event, brought out Martin $ky, Loaf Muzik and almost-local hero Vince Staples to the El Rey theatre, and all three worked their own magic to get the crowd to turn up. The first act of the night, Martin $ky was the neediest, frequently imploring the audience to come to life. It took a minute, but when they did, it was in roaring fashion: by the end of his set, he was in the crowd rapping in a mosh pit lit by cell phones. Even if it’s a standard set closing move, it was hard not to think of that as a special event. Loaf Muzik was less demanding, possibly because having an entire crew on stage leaves you less vulnerable. Their mid-90s style flow was presented on stage with little to no imploring. The audience could take it or leave it, and Loaf Muzik was fine either way.

Vince Staples was different. Normally crowds feel like they’re judging the artist, deciding if they’ve got the songs and the energy, and then showing approval. Staples was judging us — between every song he’d update us on our progress, getting ratings from his DJ, questioning if this was a police banquet and doing hilarious crowd work about industry people being forced to attend the show. The crowd wasn’t that bad at all — it was just funnier to constantly prod us, and he does so in a way that makes the mood casual. If you follow Staples on Twitter, you know that he’s funny. On stage, you get the sense he could be a stand-up comedian if he wanted to. He has the presence, the quick thinking and the charisma for it.

On another level, his mild roasting of the crowd’s enthusiasm portrays him as a seasoned veteran. He knows he’s good, he knows his songs are good, and if that doesn’t get you to have a good time, well, that’s pretty sad for you, I guess.

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Staples’ music is undeniable, and his talent wills its way through to an audience. Summertime ’06 remains one of the year’s best albums, and some songs truly pack a live show punch. “Señorita” feels more rapid fire and frenzied, especially the breathless chorus, which leaves you similarly gasping for air. “3230” brought the crowd to their energetic peak, adding their own claps to the menacing beat. On “65 Hunnid,” he cuts the track halfway through and speeds through the last half a capella.

There’s always been a weird, gnarly darkness to the studio versions of these songs. To have them blared at you, letting their bass hang in the air, is to turn these stress nightmares into parties. The encore of “Blue Suede” is a great example. On Hell Can Wait, it’s persistent, high pitch whine and intermittent bass drop is the height of dissonance. It’s chaos reigning. The live experience is anything but. It’s like the rubble of the originals falling to place.

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