Live Review: Vince Staples at Neptune Theatre 3/2/16

Live Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra
all photos by Dave Lichterman

While he may not have enjoyed the widespread attention that Kendrick Lamar received last year for his fantastic To Pimp A Butterfly, rising Oakland rapper Vince Staples deserves just as much credit for pushing the culture in new directions with his own 2015 LP, Summertime '06. Staples' first full-length outing was a double album concept record, wrought with personal conviction and real-life experience. The man on these tracks begged to be heard for both his strengths and his weaknesses, all in the light of the complex modern culture of generational transgressions and institutional prejudice. While his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait gave us a fine introduction, Summertime '06 laid the full plot on the table, and showed us that Vince is a talented storyteller and a man with something important to say on the microphone. Thus, it only makes sense that the full Summertime '06 experience come in the form of a headlining tour. Tonight marks Vince's second solo show ever in Seattle, and it's a sold-out gig at the Neptune, packed to the gills with screaming fans. Here tonight, with enough energy in the room to blow the roof off, Vince got to make his story heard in explosive form.

In the past year, Vince has spent a lot of time in the spotlight, showing us the real man behind the concept record that so vividly captured our attention last year. He's cracked jokes, talked politics, experimented with brand identity, and repeatedly challenged the status quo. His is a voice that deserves to be heard, not only for his strong demeanor or his humor, but because he's a young man with conviction above self-interest or hyperbolic argument. He cares about the culture that he came out of and the culture he influences. He wants to give back to it with what he does.

All of these facts make it plain why Vince is best heard in the live setting. Here, his music and his persona come together into one mind-blowing experience. Vince is impressively confident on stage for such a younger rapper. He speaks with command and finesse, executing one line after another without ever feeling too caught up in the hype or the delivery. In between songs, he scans the crowd with an attentive eye, catching details that no one else can, acknowledging the mix of the crowd and the dynamic of its different parts downstairs, upstairs, and in the bar. Vince is aware of his audience and their energies, but he isn't dependent on them. Rather, he realizes that for his message to be heard, they are a key facet of the larger picture. He demands focus and attention among a crowd full of casual rap fans, all waiting for the next opportunity to go off on a beat. But it's easy to follow him, because he demands the same focus and unwavering tenacity that he himself is giving 100% of his time on stage. Vince outperforms the crowd by a mile, not due to lack of fan enthusiasm, but by his own design.

The setlist is a bulletproof mixture of material from Summertime '06 and Hell Can Wait. For long time fans, Vince even throws in "Nate" off his Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 mixtape. After blasting "Señorita" to a monumentally wild crowd ("When this drops, punch the dude next to you in the neck", he yells out beforehand, "but if there's a woman next to you, protect her. Hitting women is trash."), Vince left and returned for an encore of "Blue Suede", the hard-hitting lead single from Hell Can Wait. "All I wanted was the Jordan's with the blue suede on 'em", he screams, echoed by the whole of the Neptune on the outro. The song highlights how simple the motivation often is for life choices that can heavily impact the future. The sentiment is echoed on Summertime '06 opener "Lift Me Up" when he says "I fight between my conscience, and the skin that's on my body. I need to fight the power, but I need that new Ferrari". Seeing Vince live, it makes the narrative of his fantastic concept record all the more tangible. There's no doubt he has a ton of room to grow and dominate from here, but starting his journey with such a conscious understanding of himself and the culture he's immersed in from day one - that's a recipe for success. And furthermore, he's passing that understanding on to his crowds night after night, no matter how much they can relate with his story or not. It's this that makes Vince Staples one of the most exciting up and coming voices in hip-hop.

Summertime '06 is out now on Def Jam.

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