Earl Sweatshirt’s show at Max Watt’s represented a classic case of an artist and an audience struggling to find a middle ground. Though neither Sweatshirt nor his audience were necessarily at fault, the result was an odd hour or so that saw a rhythm found, then lost, then found again. Though Sweatshirt tried his very hardest to keep things under control, he ultimately failed to contend with a room in a constant state of flux.
Perhaps the problem stemmed from his decision to start things quite as heavily as he did. Providing the audience with the most minimal of greetings, Sweatshirt barely missed a beat before launching into a number of his deepest cuts, beginning the show with an aggressive version of Pre. Staggering and shuffling around the stage, his hoodie pulled low over his face, he finished up the song only to almost immediately slam his way through an equally confrontational performance of Burgundy, chiding a member of the audience who took the opportunity to crowdsurf. “This isn’t a festival,” Sweatshirt joked, but the first cracks in the relationship between performer and consumer were starting to show.
A stage invasion did little to help the proceedings; Sweatshirt dealt with an obnoxious fan who had decided that a grinding version of Guild was cue to climb up under the burning lights by clocking the young man in the face. Things were threatening to break out into chaos, particularly when Sweatshirt’s imposing bouncer began skirting the edges of the stage, looking for the offending patron who had already been thrown back into the crowd by Sweatshirt.
But soon, perhaps overly bravely, Sweatshirt attempted to flip the attitude of the room entirely on its head. He suddenly swapped to the more fluid, chill strains of his second album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, trudging his way through a version of AM//Radio that, though passionate, received a subdued response from the crowd. Inside similarly felt like the wrong thing at the wrong time, and suddenly proceedings slowed almost to a halt.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that the show was a disaster, or even close to one. It was just odd: a collection of mistimed opportunities through which occasional snatches of brilliance showed. Huey impressed as much live as it did on record, and an untitled new song had the entire room rising and falling in approval, with Sweatshirt himself up the front grinning away madly.
Not a disappointment, but not a revelation either, Sweatshirt’s show was proof that reading the room is more difficult than one might expect. A show is, after all, the consummation of a relationship; a moment when bodies come together, and speak in a language that exists beyond words. It’s just a shame that Sweatshirt and his audience suffered so badly from a breakdown in communication.