By Rebecca Thomas
Frank Ocean writes songs for women, but performing his lush numbers for the opposite sex has proven to be bit more complicated for the mighty, mighty Wolf Gang crooner. After kicking off a highly anticipated mini-tour in his hometown New Orleans, at the top of the month, Ocean canceled the subsequent New York run at the 11th hour, crying sick via Tumblr. While he endured B12 shots, the commentariat lit up with speculation that the ultra-talented singer had been gripped by stage fright.
So it was with some trepidation that his devoted trekked back to the Bowery Ballroom on Sunday night for the first of two NYC shows set to wind down tonight (November 28). But if Ocean appeared jittery in NOLA, on the L.E.S., he was nervous yet warm, charming and ready to touch palms with the screaming girls who peppered his anecdotes with “I love you Frank!”
Ocean, 24, is silver-screen handsome, but onstage he still appears to be wrestling with his heartthrob status. Suited up with his signature striped bandana knotted along his forehead, he sang hands-tucked-in-pockets, a pose that reminded me of class pictures, instead of the thinking man’s balladeer that Ocean is clearly primed to become.
“Thinking,” rather than “emoting” is one of the key factors that sets Frank from the pack of ab-baring, bona fide stars in his set, which includes Chris Brown and Trey Songz. In fact, Ocean took umbrage not long ago after Breezy compared him on Twitter to the unsung singer/songwriter Kevin Cossom. But Frank Ocean defies categorization, as a singer very much lost in his head, who has a knack for weaving layered narratives into pop/soul ditties, rewriting the cerebral conversation that you had with your ex.
Even Ocean’s opening number had some fans stumped, with one whispering that she couldn’t ID the song but was sure it was “very old.” (It was Sade’s “By Your Side” from about 2003, btw.) Perhaps Ocean best described his particular alchemy when he said that his standout Nostalgia, Ultra was about “romance with days that we’ll never get back.” “What’s the world without a love song?” he went on to ask the room. Odd Future’s resident soul man made the case for why it’s absolutely necessary as snapback-wearing guys and clutch-toting girls swayed under the influence of aromatic kush and his tender vocal delivery.
For clues as to where he’s headed, the singer unveiled a few cuts from his upcoming album like “Super Rich Kids,” which evoked early Prince records. After a few seriously endearing self-affirmations (“I’m doing OK so far” he said mid-show) and turns through his Watch The Throne cuts, Ocean seemed to have finally absorbed the enormity of the moment: “New York f—ing City,” he shook his head to laughter from fans.
Next stop, if it doesn’t let him slip by: the world.