Ruminations on Frank Ocean's Dallas Debut.
Frank Ocean waited about an hour into his first-ever Dallas performance before getting to the most relevant talking point surrounding his name of late — his eariler-this-month, Tumblr-hosted reveal that, as a 19-year-old, he'd had feelings for another man.
The lauded, up-and-coming R&B singer didn't linger long on the subject. It was just a brief mention.
Still: He mentioned it.
“I've said a lot of things lately,” he announced somewhat sheepishly to his sold-out South Side Music Hall audience on Friday night. “Things that needed to be said.”
The crowd erupted with supportive applause. And then? Well, nothing. Ocean just moved on and introduced another song from his set list.
If you blinked, you would've missed it. But, nonetheless, it still felt like a heroic step in the right direction within a part of the music world known for looking down its nose at homosexuality.
Let's face facts: Even Ocean's closest collaborators have had their bouts with homophobia; over the course of a four-bar stretch in his breakthrough “Yonkers” single, fellow Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator went seemingly out of his way to say that listening to Marvin Gaye doesn't make him gay before going on to call out another rapper, B.o.B., a “faggot” (his word choice, not ours).
So, yeah, Ocean's announcement was maybe a risky one.
But the shocking — and certainly encouraging — thing about Ocean's reveal is the fact that, for the most part, the performer has been showered in praise rather than slurs since his decision to go public with his feelings.
Hip-hop elder statesman Russell Simmons was among the first to lift Ocean up.
“I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean,” he wrote in a blog post for Global Grind. “Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do.”
That final thought from Simmons was a difficult one to shake at Ocean's South Side Music Hall performance on Friday night.
This concert would likely have sold out regardless of whether Ocean had revealed his past struggles with sexual orientation. But the crowd, no doubt, was waiting to hear Ocean acknowledge them.
They waited for it patiently, too. Between songs, the crowd was rapt whenever Ocean spoke. More so than his song lyrics, which walk a fine line between refreshingly real and ludicrously trivial, they came here to listen to him and what he had to say rather than sing.
To be frank, that's a part of the gig that's still coming to young performer — and not surprisingly so. After a string of one-offs since the release of his breakthrough Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape, this show came in support of Ocean's just-released formal debut, Channel Orange and as part of Ocean's first-ever actual tour. And this Dallas stop was just the sixth date in the tour's three-week run of North America.
As such, his asides were raw and his audience interactions fell somewhat flat. He unnecessarily introduced every song he performed, identifying them all by album and song title alike. Much as he tried to appear casual, loose and improvisational, he appeared to be using these announcements to keep his efforts centered; before revealing each upcoming song, Ocean had to return to his mark, glance down at the set list taped to the floor by his mic stand and take a calming breath.
But the talking portions weren't a complete loss. Ocean also happens to boast a magnetism that supersedes his flaws. He still very much charmed his fans, flashing a toothy, almost blindingly white grin at nearly every opportunity, and, at one point, offering up an endearing aside about the fact that he'd been dreaming of asking a room full of people to “make some noise!” for as long as he could remember.
He shined brightest, though, during his actual performances. On record, Ocean comes off as talented enough, but as a singer as reliant on aesthetic and subject matter as talent.
Live, however, he's a powerhouse. His vocals lilted and swerved masterfully as he nonchalantly swaggered about the South Side stage in front of his four-piece backing band.
Ocean, without question, is a singer in complete control of his instrument.
“Sweet Life,” “Thinkin Bout You” and much-improved “American Wedding” (now thankfully without its eyeroll-inducing “Hotel California” sample) impressed the most, as Ocean effortlessly switched on and off his affecting falsetto and without even the slightest hint of computer assistance to be heard.
The crowd loved him for it — and especially the women in attendance, whose shrieks of glee at each smirk and step Ocean offered seemingly indicated an utter unfamiliarity with the Internet news cycle or perhaps just complete disregard for it.
In their defense: Ocean's lyrics still revolve around his trials of chasing detailed female antagonists.
And, to be fair, he still hasn't actually come out at as a homosexual. He's simply revealed himself to be a man who once professed his attraction to someone else of the same sex. Those two things, to be sure, are not the same.
After this 75-minute performance, it seems the same can be said of the on-stage and on-record Ocean. No, they are not the same. Not even remotely. The former is well-hyped and not necessarily without reason. But, well-hyped as the latter might be, the praise still seems to undervalue his skill set. He really is that impressive of a talent.
As such, yeah, there was indeed a buzz as the crowds arrived at the South Side Music Hall on Friday night — one seemingly equal parts indebted to Ocean's music and his headline fodder. As audiences left, however, the former unquestionably had the upper hand.
So, in the end, maybe Russell Simmons was only half right when he praised Ocean and said that “secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do.” Secrets shouldn't matter — that much most can agree upon. But perhaps Ocean's greatest accomplishment will be proving that they really don't have to matter at all, and that we can know without a doubt that they don't.