The Freed Earl

October 8th, 2013

Earl Sweatshirt – The Bowery Ballroom – October 7, 2013

Earl Sweatshirt wasn’t around when his rap collective, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, first broke big. By now most are familiar with their story (hell, there was even a New Yorker article on it). While OFWGKTA were causing near riots at record signings and at their television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Earl was at an academy for at-risk boys in Samoa. All this more or less created a legend out of the 19-year-old rapper before anyone had seen him in person. There’d be plenty of “Free Earl” chants at the group’s shows, but he was still thousands of miles away. But now Earl is free, and while it’d be easy to say he’s making up for the lost time, it doesn’t really feel that way. He’s too casual for that, and probably has some sense that people fell in love with his raps before he even knew about it.  To paraphrase, Earl didn’t need to be present at early OFWGKTA shows to be known by fans, but damn are they happy he’s here now.

Whatever subconscious world Earl’s tapping into to retrieve his best lines, his fans seem to live in it. Last night The Bowery Ballroom was going absolutely nuts for the guy. Shit, before any rappers even came out and it was just Taco onstage spinning beats there was already a kid in a panda ski mask and just one shoe crowd surfing. When Earl and Vince Staples finally did come to the stage, the mosh pits and crowd surfing began and never really ended, creating some slight logistical problems for those trying to be held up by the crowd. Earl opened things with some songs off his stellar solo debut studio album, Doris, including a crowd favorite “Centurion,” before letting Staples have the stage for a few songs of his own, including some new ones from his upcoming mixtape.

Earl came running back onstage wearing a long-haired Afro wig to perform “Orange Juice,” with everyone in the sold-out room shouting back every word. The best song of the night came with an awkward intro from Earl, telling the crowd that he was going to get personal in a tongue-in-cheek way and making the venue turn the stage lights blue. But by the time he hit the first lines of “Chum” they couldn’t have come out more smoothly—with the Zenlike nonchalance of his delivery at its best, his words practically falling out of his mouth faster than he could process them, landing snugly up against the piano beat. Objectively, it may well be the best song he’s put out to date, and translates flawlessly into a live setting. Such is Earl. Set expectations sky-high for the kid and he’ll pass them without looking like he’s even trying. Not only Earl is free, but he’s just getting started. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross |