Brooklyn's 285 Kent was packed to the gills on Friday night for Blood Orange's Cupid Deluxe release party. The show had sold out in a matter of hours, and that was even before it was announced that many of the guests who performed on the album would take the stage alongside Dev Hynes, Blood Orange's sole permanent member. Just a few hours before doors opened, we were given the additional news that eccentric NYC rapper Le1f would be opening. Upon arrival, suffice it to say that the jungle breakbeats playing over 285 Kent's PA system weren't the only thing driving the crowd into frenzied excitement.
Tall, slender and visibly brimming with confidence, Le1f took the stage looking menacing in a puffy jacket and Monster Energy Drink beanie, both black. Blessed with a voice that's usually gravelly, but can rise to a sassy yawp for emphasis, the MC scowled at the crowd while rapping in the former style. But then came a buildup, a short pause, then Le1f dropped with the beat into a low squat, kicking off yet another iteration of the positively vicious twerking routine that's become his calling card.
When "Breezy," a cut from his Fly Zone mixtape, came on, Le1f stripped off his jacket so we could oblige the song's invitation to "watch [his] oversized tee billow." The white XXL Air Jordan tee he unveiled hung to the middle of his thigh. Some girls in the front row snapped iPhone pics, and Le1f obliged them by coming closer, eventually sitting on the stage's edge while rapping. He dedicated the next song to a very drunk man in the crowd, who turned out to be the rapper Heems (formerly of Das Racist). By the time set closer "Wut" was over, Le1f had danced off several thousand calories and the crowd appeared twice as inebriated as they had upon entry. It was a stellar opening act, to say the least.
Shortly before Dev Hynes and his six piece band made their grand entry, Samantha Urbani (who appears on most of Cupid Deluxe's tracks and sings in the band Friends) flitted around the stage, sticking flowers into every mic stand. Once she had finished, Hynes appeared, gleaming (literally, clad in a silver suit) and expressing his thanks for the venue-filling turnout. Then he launched into a front-to-back performance of his new album.
Caroline Polacheck of Chairlift joined him to sing on album opener "Chamakay," lending her powerful voice to the tropical-tinged jam. It was the first of many instances throughout the show where the intricacy of Hynes' vocal arrangements became apparent, with Polachek and him alternating between lead and harmony parts. Even after hearing (and loving) Cupid Deluxe, I was surprised to learn that Hynes has synesthesia, but after seeing him live it made total sense. The guy just has a knack for subtle, yet interesting composition.
Urbani replaced Polachek onstage for "You're Not Good Enough," 2013's most vicious slice of disco revival. The backing band displayed their considerable chops on the song's jerky rhythm, perfectly replicating the lush studio version. Since Hynes brought them together specially for this show, I was initially unsure whether they'd have the chemistry necessary to play the entirety of such a precise record, but put simply, they did. Drum beats were surgical, the rhythm guitar was sharper than a katana, sax stabs shimmered, and bass lines sounded even better than they do on Cupid Deluxe wax.
Hynes and Co. upped the ante at the end of "Uncle ACE," jamming the song out into a crescendo worthy of the Purple One. Prince has always been an obvious influence on Blood Orange's music, but Hynes' classy restraint as a producer usually trumps any virtuosic displays on his albums. During this show, he lowered that restraint two or three times, and proceeded to bust out utterly wild guitar solos. His all-black Fender Strat was used sparsely throughout the night, but just like Anthony Hopkins' brief 16 minutes on screen in Silence of the Lambs, it stole the show.
"No Right Thing" brought Dave Longstreth, frontman of Dirty Projectors, onstage to sing with Hynes. The song, which could double as the best Phil Collins song of
2013 the last two decades, grooved on an afrobeat rhythm while the duo charmingly bro'd out. Here's hoping that Hynes returns Longstreth's favor and guests on the next Dirty Projectors album.
Queens rapper Despot reprised his "Clipped On" verse whilst rocking a bright jacket, looking like Mr. Plow's arch nemeses (if such a character existed). The song's classic hip-hop beat got the crowd moving again after the epic, but plaintive "Chosen," and kicked off a string of three upbeat tracks from Cupid Deluxe's back half.
As "High Street" prominently features the British MC Skepta, and he was not present on Friday, the band instead performed "Sutphin Boulevard" from Coastal Grooves, the first Blood Orange album. The song was an excellent choice, as it didn't let up on the funk and threw in some groovy, faux-Japanese riffs to boot. Closer "Time Will Tell" brought the show full circle, incorporating melodies from earlier song "It Is What It Is" and repeatedly offering the line "and it keeps on running back," which ended up perfectly describing my mind's relationship with this concert over the next few days.
The event billed as "Blood Orange Record Release Party" felt just like that, a party. Heems might hit on your girlfriend, Dev Hynes might take a puff from an audience member's blunt, the crowd (yourself included) might be a little rowdy at times. But the party had a cause, after all: the release of a great album. The method of celebration (replicating Cupid Deluxe as best as possible) felt supremely apt, and the execution was dead on. This is how you make an "event" out of an album release in 2013, folks.
Stream Cupid Deluxe right here on Zumic, and view Blood Orange's setlist below.
Blood Orange November 15th, 2013 setlist: