Whilst Watsky’s unapologetically American lyrics may seem incongruous with Clwb Ifor Bach’s dogged Welsh culture and language pride, his uninhibited dedication to the portrayal of youth against a road trip-esque backdrop, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, quickly enamours the crowd, uniting entertainer and audience through the common human experience which dominates his work.
Watsky’s performance at Clwb Ifor Bach on the 30th September began with an amped up opening from Jez Dior riling the audience as he performs from his new hook-rich EP, Youthanasia, similar enough to the main act as to intrigue unfamiliar watchers though dissimilar enough so as to not draw away from the main act itself. Dior’s focus on interaction with the audience is analogous to Watsky’s own – a known factor of his performances – with a break between fast paced riffs interspersed over bass heavy beats to share a more intimate moment in dedication to his father similarly mirroring the composition of Watsky’s own albums, suggestive of how these rappers establish connections with the multitude of cultures they perform for.
Following a guest performance from fellow Funeral Crew member 12am, and a brief performance by band drummer Chukwudi Hodge, the crowd, either restless in excitement or impatience, takes to chanting Watsky’s name for the few minutes before he takes to the stage. With band and backup vocalist, the talented Camila Recchio, assembled, Watsky opens not with a fan favourite, but with the darker ‘Knots’, a mix seemingly torn between rap, spoken story and poetry, an inconsistent tempo and shifting cadence leaving most of the audience silent in observation. A faithful few chant along with the slower lyrics before the crescendo of the story renders none able to keep up with the fast paced rapping which launched Watksy’s initial viral video fame five years ago.
Despite beginning the European leg of the tour following a gruelling American leg, the entire crew seem to turn on as if by battery power, immediately feeding off the crowd’s energy and bursting into action. From the beautifully terrible ‘Knots’ Watksy erupts into the mix of rap and rhapsody which has evolved throughout his career, taking different forms exemplified by the dissonance between the lovingly forlorn duet, mixing his equally haunting ‘Sarajevo’ and ‘Wounded Healer’, and the raucous effusion on road trips and unending desire. This leads to ‘Sloppy Seconds’ which has the crowd pushed up against the short stage, absent of a barrier, grasping hands thrust toward the band and wrapping around their ankles. Watsky repeatedly launches himself into the crowd, screaming the words up against and alongside his audience, at one point physically splitting the crowd in two in ode to a line from his new album’s stand-out ‘Pink Lemonade’, reiterating his lyrics through actions. Guest spots from Recchio and Mody keep the performance varied and add to the atmosphere of community as opposed to the oft seen one-sided performance which can fast grow stale.
Though new album X Infinity’s songs intermingle fluidly with previous lineups and popular recalls they stand out as being particularly frank, even against the backdrop of a rapper known for his frankness. Any precedence of false self-reverence or praise as seen often in the larger pool of rap is lost in the ups and downs of self-deprecation and self-recognised ego which dance across the album; this communication of the human experience is rendered more transparent by the lack of filter, reflecting with the greatest sincerity the experience of seeing the artist live. Returning to the poetic beginning of the setlist is the trio – split across albums in parts – of ‘Tiny Glowing Screens’, which seems to round out the show back to its beginning.
Ultimately, returning to the stage and a crowd already hoarse but still screaming, Watsky brings out his phone to call a younger fan, who, unaware of the age limit, was unable to enter the venue, and dedicates the roaring encore of ‘Whoa, Whoa, Whoa’ to Gabriel, imploring the crowd to post and tag their videos and ensure that though Gabriel may have missed the show this time he will still see what he has to look forward to the next time around.