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Review: Odd Future stirs a nihilistic storm at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

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November

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Up close and in person, the devil isn’t all that scary.

He’s charismatic, to be sure, but also funny, energetic, impish and even a little charming, in his way. (He does have the crazy eyes, though. We’ll give him that.)

You almost wouldn’t know that Tyler, the Creator has become, to borrow a line from Eminem, the most hated-on out of all those who say they get hated on. But depending on your point of view, the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All ringmaster is either everything that’s wrong with the future of alternative hip-hop, or everything that’s right.

The 1,000-plus youthful fans at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa Wednesday night fell into the latter camp. The line to get inside was two blocks long hours before Odd Future took the stage, and inside, the crushing power of the pit had the force and fury of quicksand. But all night long, the crowd fed off the energy of the L.A. rap collective’s breathlessly hyped, gleefully nihilistic music.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Odd Future. On Monday in Miami, they were joined onstage by Lil Wayne; On Friday in Atlanta, the guest of honor was Waka Flocka Flame. In between came a newsmaking appearance at the Voodoo Music Festival in Miami, where member Left Brain allegedly took a swipe at some photographers, slapping a female shooter in the face. (The group has denied this.)

(There was a little photo controversy Wednesday night in Tampa, too. Local photographer Radko Keleman, normally the Ritz’s in-house shooter, said he was denied permission to shoot the show because he tweeted on Monday: “I’m Embarrassed to be photographing you this WEDNESDAY @ofwgkta what a f---ing shame...” Reached Wednesday night, Keleman, an outspoken concert-photography rights advocate, said, “My personal opinion basically got me kicked from the show.” An AEG Live spokeswoman confirmed that he was not granted a media credential, but did not elaborate why.)

Tyler brought most of the Odd Future crew with him to Tampa — Hodgy Beats, Syd tha Kid, Domo Genesis, Mike G, Taco, Jasper Dolphin and Left Brain — but he’s the collective’s most visible and outspoken member, and as such he’s the one who gets most of the credit — or blame — for their much-discussed music. Critics have called him misogynist, homophobic, violent and — perhaps most most damning of all — a product of media hype.

Tyler’s response? Eff ’em. Eff ’em all.

Because really: How seriously can you take a man who loves screaming, “It’s the golf! Wang! It’s the golf! Wang!” — simply because it’s a dumb pun on “wolf gang?” Even on Tyler’s most rabble-rousing track, the set closer Radical — a song whose infamous chorus is, “Kill people, burn s---, f--- school” — he can’t help prancing around the stage like a jester, in a gait somewhere between a duck-walk and a goose-step.

Tyler can be a mesmerizing frontman when the spotlight is on him, lunging and lurking and leering at the crowd. He’s got a wildly expressive face and a gutteral heavy-metal growl (the other day he tweeted, “i wish i was in a punk band. they’re way cooler than rappers...). Tyler’s best-known song, the menacing Yonkers, inspired at least one fan to crash through security and onto the Ritz stage. Tyler took it in stride, and switched back into goofball mode as soon as the song ended, chasing fellow jokester Domo Genesis around the stage for no good reason at all.

And in case you were wondering, Odd Future didn’t bring out any surprise stars on Wednesday — although Tyler did tease a guest at one point, gesturing to the back and yelling, “Give it up for Nick Cannon!”

Obviously, Nick Cannon was not in the house. Tyler laughed maniacally. “F--- Nick Cannon,” he said. Well played, Tyler. Well played.

Though Tyler is the group’s breakout star, he’s far from the only member worth watching. From the opening lines of 64, Hodgy Beats showed he could be a bona fide hip-hop star in his own right. Fighting a sore throat, the raspy Hodgy excelled on Turnt Down, which is good enough to be a modern club hit — though it seems in many ways to be a satire of a modern club hit, so maybe the rest of us just aren't in on the goof? Who knows.

Hodgy joined the equally talented Mike G on the synth-driven Go Mike G. But the latter’s finest moment was Everything That’s Yours, a funky, loping slice of West Coast swagger that stood out from the rest of the setlist like a crooked thumb. Later, he went a cappella on King, turning the track’s brash braggadocio (“If I had two f---s, I wouldn’t give you one.”) into something akin to a poetry slam.

Odd Future’s ace in the hole, though, might be its sole female member, DJ Syd tha Kid. While no member of Odd Future is a particularly fantastic rapper, Syd is a dynamite DJ and beatmaker, as anyone who’s heard her remixes and work as The Internet can attest. Slender, spritelike and spunky, Syd got the crowd rolling with a tight opening DJ set. There were too many awkward pauses between songs for my taste, but that didn’t seem to be Syd’s fault. She’ll be in demand as a producer and DJ for years to come.

If there was a moment that sums up what Odd Future is — and also could yet become — it was the unfortunately titled Bitch Suck D---. It isn’t clear whether Syd dropped the beat intentionally, or there was some technical glitch, but whatever happened, the backing track killed about a minute into the song, leaving the entire Odd Future crew to perform their latest single a cappella for at least a couple of minutes. Left Brain beatboxed, Tyler offered a few odd sound effects, a circle pit broke out in the crowd and the entire audience rapped along to the profane, nonsensical chorus. It was a bizarre piece of, dare I say it, performance art that left even Tyler astonished.

“You made Bitch Suck D--- a cappella,” he marveled. “Have you actually sat down and read the lyrics to that song? That happens to be not only the single-handedly dumbest s---, but also the most awesomest s---, I ever wrote in my life.”

So ... the joke’s on us, then? Or is it still on the rest of the world? Does all of Tyler’s strange sounds, all of his unfocused fury, signify anything at all?

The fact that we’re even asking probably has Tyler rolling with laughter. That’s why he’s the devil — and until further notice, the rest of us are his minions.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos: Luis Santana, tbt*

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[Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 12:00pm]

    

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