It’s always interesting to observe The Majestic Theater before a concert from within the confines of Colectivo on the Square — my favorite pre-review spot.
But I have to admit that this time, the view was quite frightful as I ordered my medium Cold Brew Horchata. This was, of course, because of the line stretching the entire length of King Street to see Watsky perform.
Rapping and reciting since he was 15 years old, Watsky partially credits an HBO Def Jam poetry show for inspiring his passion.
“I fell in love with wordplay and writing and storytelling around the same time,” Watsky said. “I got really involved in the youth poetry scene … I never looked back.”
Though there were many complaints from concertgoers waiting in the approximately 0 degree temperatures for 40 minutes to enter the venue, there were no complaints about Watsky’s performance.
This happened to be the first stop on Watsky’s “Complaint” Album Tour, promoting his January release of the same name. But while Madison was the first stop of this tour, the performance was not Watsky’s first in Wisconsin.
“I used to play college campuses as my main gig for years from 2008-12,” Watsky said prior to the start of the show. “ I love the college scene. There’s always a lot of curiosity in college students because they’re going to class every day and grappling with interesting concepts and then applying it to their lives … I’ve played most of the UW campuses. I’ve got love for Wisconsin.”
The night started off on a great note with Feed the Biirds, which consists of Camila Recchio and Kush Mody. Both musicians also accompanied Watsky during his act, though they made it very clear their non-rap filled music deserved to be heard by itself. The pair displayed thorough musicianship during their set, particularly on songs where multi-instrumentalist Mody killed it on the keyboard. Recchio’s voice was entrancing, particularly during the song “She Came.” It was a breath of fresh air to hear this piece describing a lesbian relationship, bringing further representation into lyrical language that is still severely underrepresented. From someone who sadly had Benedictine Monks as the number one artist on their year-end Spotify playlist (my Survey of Western Music History course kicked my butt), Feed the Biirds will definitely be getting streams from me this semester.
Grieves, a Seattle-based rapper, came to the stage next. His Whiskey-fueled set was fun and self-worth affirming. Particularly jovial moments came as he clinked beverages with audience members, remarking at the size of one patron’s beverage being “illegal in 17 states.”
Watsky’s infectious energy captured the audience when he took the stage late into the night, meeting his pre-show expectations.
“I think a good concert to me is like a good album. It takes you on a journey,” Watsky said. “I try to build a real climatic energy into my shows and end with a bang and end with people feeling affirmed that we shared a genuine experience as human beings.”
Watsky fully utilized the Majestic space throughout his performance, including jumping on the stage left speaker and launching himself and his mic stand vertically into the crowd.
Old favorites such as “Don’t Be Nice” riled up the crowd, but new songs from Complaint were welcome additions to Watsky’s set, including “No Complaints, No Conversation” and “Limos 4 Emos.” “Whitecaps” was a great addition to his encore set, utilizing iceberg-related lyricism to compel a more cynical view of the world.
Even with the blazing energy at the show, Watsky managed to create truly touching moments throughout. These came off as genuine and not at all schmaltzy, which in my book is quite the feat. The first of these moments came in a duet with Recchio, “Sloppy Seconds.” The slow song was a great change of pace from the lightning fast raps featured in the rest of this section of the performance. Watsky’s self-proclaimed straight-toned vocals blended marvelously with Recchio’s in this low-key ballad.
The second moving moment came towards the end of the show as Watsky performed “Tiny Glowing Screens.” Prior to the start of the piece, Watsky noted his complicated relationship with religion, ultimately settling on music as his religion and the importance of throwing oneself into a concert.
“When you live in the moment and feel, you leave with a little bit of god in you,” Watsky said.
“Tiny Glowing Screens” is a three-part tour de force, encapsulating a grand scope in its references to the universe.
Though the vast swathes of words hitting the crowd sometimes got buried in the pure speed of it all, one phrase in this piece stuck with me and, as I celebrate the anniversary of my foray into journalism and at times feel stuck in my sometimes overwhelming work of constantly writing articles, I am unable to get it out of my head: “Every time I write, I get to choose the angle that you view me and select the nicest light.”
It’s rare to have that personal resonance in a concert like this, and Watsky’s plea for self-reflection was able to touch that nerve for me.
All I know is, I’m choosing the angle to view Watsky in the nicest light, and I have no complaints.