Stormzy @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 5 Apr
Grime great Stormzy puts on a traffic-stopping, high-intensity Scottish debut at the O2 Academy
You can tell tonight’s show at the Academy is a big deal from 250 yards away. It’s not just the fact there’s a mammoth queue snaking around the venue; drivers can be seen pulling up beside random punters and asking to buy tickets. This gig is quite literally stopping traffic. Once you’ve navigated this melee and made it inside the perpetually sticky hall, you can breathe in an atmosphere that tastes of equal parts excitement and slight hysteria.
We’re all here to see Stormzy. It’s his first ever headline show in Scotland. Has a gig by a British grime artist ever caused such widespread excitement north of the border? Dizzee back in the day, perhaps. Even then, Mr Rascal’s seminal 2003 debut Boy in da Corner didn’t crack the top 20. Our man Stormzy has been riding high in the top 10 for weeks with Gang Signs & Prayer. Hip-hop heads may scoff at such mainstream credentials but there’s no denying his crossover appeal. Many in the Academy tonight will be attending their first grime gig, and it’s unlikely to be their last.
When the lights dim around 9.20pm a mosh pit breaks out before Stormzy even strides on stage. He’s straight in to album opener First Things First, followed by a booming rendition of Cold. Dressed in a hooded tracksuit, he stalks the stage like an elite boxer in training for a title fight, shadowboxing when others slouch. A roar greets the end of the second track. “Fuckin’ ‘ell! Now that’s how you start a fuckin’ show!,” he announces.
He commands the audience as much as the stage. When a predictable ‘Here we, here we...’ chant begins, Stormzy has no qualms in telling the crowd to quieten down: “I’ll tell you when to go mental. I’ll let you know when it’s time for a moshpit.” Such prompts are necessary for his quieter, more reflective numbers to be given a proper hearing. “Let me tell you a story. This is a song about smoking and relationships...” before beginning Cigarettes & Cush – perhaps the finest song about UK cannabis culture since The Streets' The Irony of It All.
Tonight’s show isn’t flawless. It would have been good to see Stormzy joined on stage by some of his album collaborators, rather than letting backing tracks do the work. And there’s no denying the slower numbers receive a far more muted reaction than bangers like Big For Your Boots. But as far as debut headlining shows go in Glasgow, you’d struggle to see a better one.