There came a point, naturally for most any longtime fan, of utter and somewhat awe-inspiring incredulity during Tyler, the Creator’s concert this past Thursday night at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
For some, it could have come the moment he appeared on stage, casually walking out in shades, a pink and red suit, and a blonde Anna Wintour-bob wig. Stock-still in front of a shimmery silver curtain, he posed under the roar of a packed house and the droning opening note of “Igor Theme,” before eventually exploding in motion and setting the house off.
In 2019, this is Tyler, the Creator: an unironic full-on character — not played for laughs, but an alter ego from “IGOR,” his latest album — jumping, contorting, wailing for a boy who has driven him love-crazy, a boy, he sings, that is as dangerous as a gun.
On Thursday night, the 28-year-old rapper’s thoroughly electrifying show was a striking display of one of music’s most stunning artistic transformations in recent memory. The version of Tyler, the Creator that burst onto the scene as a teen early on in the decade — a perpetually mischievous leader of the rap collective, Odd Future, that would create a new paradigm for a generation of hip-hop — felt at times like an improbable, deceptive memory. For the majority of the show, this newer iteration of Tyler took fans instead through the journey of the doomed, if sonically lush, love story that is “IGOR.”
The record, released in May, is the stellar follow-up to his opus “Flower Boy,” which in the summer of 2017 signaled a sudden and wholly unexpected shift for the rapper. Gone, at least in part, was his youthful bombast, replaced instead by a shimmering, daydreaming revelation of vulnerability and of queerness.
The more recent “IGOR” offered a sharp-edged concept album on unrequited love, largely shedding raps for a gorgeously polished, instrumentally focused record that Tyler produced on his own. It was his most cohesive project yet and confirmation of an artist operating on new creative tiers.
This much was evident in the masterfully calibrated experience of Thursday night’s show. Among multiple backdrops shifted, he orchestrated tension with delightfully calculated transitions — literally grunting slowly into a beat drop for “New Magic Wand” and teasing “Earfquake” with a gorgeous piano rendition before letting the hit song itself take over an intensely pulsating crowd. At the Bill Graham, every attendee knew the words throughout the night.
The full night was wonderfully diverse, including sterling opening acts in rapper GoldLink and singer Blood Orange, who also brought out Toro y Moi for a cameo. But the night was undoubtedly Tyler’s.
At times gliding and grooving and at others kicking and screaming, Tyler was explosive and mesmerizing in character. Notably, he virtually never addressed the crowd, even in between songs, during the first half of the show as he focused on a tour through “IGOR”: it was a carefully orchestrated immersion into the world of his latest record.
It wasn’t until he began turning toward his early-career songs that Tyler spoke to the crowd. “Oh, y’all like that old s—-, huh? You stupid b—-,” he said, jabbing wryly at his audience after a performance of “Yonkers,” his very first, nearly decade-old breakout hit that was chock-full of willfully offensive lyrics. Old Tyler, it seems, dies hard.
The “IGOR” experience, though, provided the most breathtaking parts of the night. Ignorant of the audience and performing as if possessed on a largely spare stage, Tyler commanded the crowd effortlessly as a veritable, if unlikely, superstar in a blonde bob. In the latter portions of the show’s stage setup, a video of Tyler’s performance was projected onto intersecting layers of shredded curtains, intentionally creating the intriguing effect of a cut-up vision of Tyler: a version of the monster of “IGOR,” a reflection of a shape-shifting figure.
The show wound down with “See You Again” from “Flower Boy,” as Tyler addressed the crowd in the song’s closing moments before stepping onto an elevated platform to sing and sway into an exit with “Are We Still Friends?,” the closer from “IGOR.”
“San Francisco, I want to thank you for a great show and s—,” he said, while thanking Goldlink and Blood Orange. “Make some noise for y’all selves. I don’t need y’all to make noise for me. I know I’m tight as f—.”