Earl Sweatshirt @ O2 ABC, Glasgow, 8 June
“Hands up, phones away,” Earl Sweatshirt shouts as he takes the stage, late, unsoundchecked. “We in this small-ass venue, let’s have a intimate show.” Most of the phones wink out, but many are back up after a few songs. This is the 21 year-old’s relationship with his audience, five years after attaining cult status as the gnomic and immensely talented “little brother” of LA-collective Odd Future, with wit like a whip and rhymes spit like shuriken, known most for music he’s disowned, verses about mass rape and casual murder: legions adore him, but one can’t be sure they’re listening.
He starts in “Doris World,” with fan-favourite tracks from his first full-length; plenty of late-teen girls are happy to sing when he goads them into the chantable Molasses chorus, “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.”
Things get interesting when he asks “How many of y’all fuck wit I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside?” (his sophomore full-length, even darker than Doris, an ambivalent testament to loss, fame, fans, full of marijuana nights and Hennessy mornings). We scream, but Earl looks like he doesn’t believe us.
He tests his fans, a mix of greybeards and can’t-grow-a-beards in ‘preme caps and bucket hats. “Like we drunk and we friends,” he says, trying (unsuccessfully) to teach us the Grown Ups chorus. “The best part is … it ain’t real, but we can do it on the song.” Later, he coaxes the overwhelmingly white crowd into chant-mumbling the not negligible n****s of the DNA chorus (featuring one triple-bypass verse from hypeman and friend Nakel). Earl seems disappointed with our imperfect élan.
His brisk set ends in an hour, after a few new tracks featuring familiar themes, alienation with a dash of homicide – “Don’t get too close to me, my heart fucking cold like the carrots in the grocery store.” Earl cites Glasgow’s “curfew or some shit, but we gonna turn this up till they kick us out.” Actually, Earl means he’ll diddle on the decks for exactly 8 minutes of bizarre detumescence before leaving, sending fans out into a still-baby-blue night.
Some came to be shocked; some rap aesthetes came just for the red wine rhymes; some were drawn by IDLSIDGO’s hints of maturity, its self-awareness, its engrossing emotional slow-burn. Outside, two 23 year-old fans (who saw Chef Sweaty a year ago at Glasgow’s Garage) aren’t sure the 21 year-old has “grown up” as much as some say, but they leave satisfied: “I just hope he keeps coming back.”