All you need is happy thoughts. Don’t forget the happy thoughts.
I have seen Chance the Rapper in concert twice. I have seen Kanye West in concert twice. The first time I saw each of them was one gorgeous summer evening on the farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Kanye was Bonnaroo’s headlining act; Chance relegated to a 2:15 a.m. set. Kanye toured his brilliant 2013 effort “Yeezus”; Chance his groundbreaking mixtape, “Acid Rap.”
Bonnaroo was not the venue for Kanye. Despite 90 minutes of typically otherworldly musicianship, the crowd hardly dug the Ye vibe. Turns out, an 80,000 person festival of ex-Deadheads and their offspring is not the place to dedicate an evening, as Kanye dedicates all evenings, to oneself.
“They won’t let me play the Super Bowl,” Kanye auto tuned over substantial groans.
“I’ve got a quiet confidence,” Kanye unironically offered at another point. It was a weird vibe: great music, beautiful atmosphere, crowd not totally into it.
That evening, Chance was everything Kanye was not. He soothingly electrified the audience, urging us time and again to sing along to his rollicking hits. (I can still hear myself screaming “Juice! Juice!” like Al Cowlings.) After about an hour, he told us he had no more songs left to perform. Nobody was slated to take the stage after him.
“You guys want to make some music?” He beckoned.
“DFSKDJLGHASGAGS!” We replied.
So we experimented, me, Chance and a couple hundred hippies. He had us chant certain phrases over beats, mixing and laughing and enjoying himself. It was all about us.
“Let’s do something that’s never been done before,” he said.
Smash cut to 2016. I’m less than a month removed from another sublime Kanye West concert experience. A lot had changed about the Kanye-Chance dynamic. They were closer to equals, with Chance snagging prominent roles on two of the best songs off of Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo” (“Waves” and “Ultralight Beams”). Chance had also dropped two critically-acclaimed albums in a little more than a year, 2015’s “Surf” and 2016’s “Coloring Book.” Just like that night in Manchester, I couldn’t help but view Chance’s performance as a counterpoint to Kanye’s.
The rapper (please say the rapper) delivered the good vibes. Coloring Book has its share of hype; I assure you I was jumping around like a rabid kangaroo when Chance opened with “Angels.” But I left Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater more relaxed than after any show I’ve ever attended. And I’ve seen Beach House!
Chance, just 23, who first rose to prominence in the Chicago open mic circuit, has never forgotten that a concert is a performance. As his delightfully weird opener, Francis and the Lights—despite the name, just one dude performing power ballad techno with the confidence of Freddie Mercury and the voice of Taylor Hicks #SoulPatrol—finished his set, Chance bounded onto the stage to perform a choreographed dance routine to astounded, delighted cheers.
Throughout his set, Chance whimsically conversed with puppets, including one recurring rascal, Carlos, who I think was a lion or something.
“You gotta take it waaaaay back, big fella!” Carlos urged Chance at one point, in a deep voice that opens several of the songs on “Coloring Book.” (Chance obliged by playing “Brain Cells” from his first mixtape, “10 Day.”)
Chance masterfully muddled set pieces and styles and eras, thrilling the crowd with Acid Rap standards like “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Favorite Song” and “Pusha Man.” He brought a full grand piano to the stage to serenade a puppet version of Wendy, the heroine from “Same Drugs,” my favorite song from “Coloring Book.” He even broke out a full puppet gospel choir for the more overtly religious tracks from “Coloring Book,” “How Great” and “Finish Line/Drown.”
Chance sows trust in an audience like no performer I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the prolonged skits between Chance and Carlos, but I knew no matter what they discussed, great music was coming. I’m not religious, but Chance had me screaming the gospel like an overeager Liberty University freshman.
Just like that night in Manchester, Chance was in it for us. He implored that we “shake this b----” by jumping up and down because he knew we’d have more fun the more into the show we got. He had us belt the refrain to “Sunday Candy” and the second verse of “Summer Friends,” his encore song. He told us that our blessings are coming and to be ready for them.
As he bookended his performance with that zany tandem dance with Francis and the lights, my spirit, so often restless, felt peaceful. After Kanye’s show, I walked out of the theater awe-inspired by a figure larger than life. After Chance’s, I stumbled into the streets of Raleigh marveling at life itself.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.