Live Recap: Mick Jenkins at The Middle East

It took me just over a half an hour to walk to my first show in Boston. I’ve been here less than a week now, so I figured I may as well explore a little bit, and leave the public transit for later. The Middle East, a middle eastern restaurant (who could’ve guessed?) that doubles as a concert venue, was my destination, in the ever-trendy Cambridge neighbourhood. Mass Ave was packed with faceless EDM blasting from dimly lit nightclubs. This was not my crowd.

Finally, I saw a long line leading down a sidestreet, and I had arrived. I was surprised at the turnout. I got there about half an hour before doors, and the show wasn’t sold out, but there still seemed to be about fifty people waiting outside the club. After another forty five minutes, I managed to make it inside, and get about five rows back from the stage, where I more or less stayed for the entire show.

The bill had advertised only one opener, STWO, a french DJ, but the crowd was in for quite a surprise. Not one, not two, but four other openers! The first of these was a DJ duo, playing what was essentially Weeknd remixes for 40 minutes. This left my expectations pretty low for the next act. When a nerdy looking dude took the stage with a drum machine and a laptop, my expectations somehow got even lower. But I was truly shocked when, after five minutes or so, the music was actually good. Really good. Almost like a cross between Flume and Flying Lotus (which is why I was unsurprised when he spun a portion of Flying Lotus’ Over/Under interview into his set.) In addition to this, he told the crowd he was doing all original music. By the time his set ended, I was blown away. He never actually told the crowd his name, but I asked around until I found someone who knew it. Check this guy out.

Unfortunately, after this remarkable set, we were in for a bit of a letdown, to say the least. The next act to take the stage was a local rap trio of teenagers called DMT Mob. They consisted of one kid who literally just spit Joey Badass lines half the time, one kid who said things like “flow hotter than the Earth’s core,” and a scrawny white kid who said three words all night, despite running around the stage like he was actually doing something. This was bad, but at least it was kind of entertaining. The next two DJs (including the actual opener, STWO) pretty much played Drake songs. After all this, occurring over the course of about three hours, I was very ready for the headliner.

The DJ got up and played around on the CDJ for about five minutes until Mick sauntered out onto the stage, wearing a blue baseball cap and overalls. He immediately united the crowd in a chant of “Drink. More. Water.” which would be repeated all night. His live band was different from many rappers I’ve seen; it wasn’t just a DJ, or just a live band; it was a hybrid of the two. There was a DJ, a drummer, and Chicago vocalist The Mind, who has collaborated often with Mick. They launched into high energy versions of both fan favorites from The Water[s], and newer tracks from Wave[s]. For me, the star here was not one single person, but rather the chemistry of the group. I imagine it would be difficult for the DJ to match up perfectly with a live drummer, but they managed to do it. The Mind was a very calm presence on stage, but he sang with force and skill.

After three songs, Mick was down to just a t-shirt and jeans, sweating as hard as the rest of us in the crowd. After almost every track, he would once again call upon us to say with him, “Drink. More. Water.” Everyone went totally wild. During the breaks in between songs, sometimes Mick would give us bits of his personal ideology. He would tell us about what “water” means to him, how everything is just perception, or how love is the most important thing in the world. This may read as generic, but somehow he managed to seem so genuine about the whole thing. And sometimes, in the breaks, as the crowd clapped and screamed, he would just stand silently and look at us. It’s almost as if he was trying to figure out whether or not we really got it. If we really understood what “water” was.

Regardless of whether or not anyone really did get it, it was clear that everyone in the band played their hardest. The energy was palpable. When we emerged from the hot, overcrowded basement, it was pouring rain. I’m not one for reading too much into things (well, maybe I am,) but it’s hard not to derive some sort of universal affirmation from that rain. We were thirsty, and Mick Jenkins delivered.

Check out Yr Album’s review of Wave[s] here.

Written by Preston Fulks

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