We went there: Young Thug and Lil Yachty’s show at New York City’s Playstation Theater.
Situated on the corner of 44th Street and Broadway in Times Square, Playstation Theater hosted the second stop of the “Hitunes” Tour on Monday night. I am 25 and I was probably the oldest person who journeyed to the theater (capacity: 2,100) to see Young Thug perform the Thugger songbook front-to-back.
Also performing: Thug’s trusty opening act Lil Yachty, the upstart rapper best known best known for his red dreadlocks and rapping over the ice cream truck song and the Rugrats theme song.
ALSO performing: Rich the Kid, who warmed up the crowd with harrowing trap tales. I arrived at the tail end of Rich’s set as he performed “WDYW,” the most ferocious banger in his catalogue. The lower bowl was packed and concert-goers were getting loose in the nosebleeds as Rich took a bow and handed over the stage to Yachty.
The stage: pitch black. The only sound: Ellen Degeneres-as Dory’s soothing motivational refrain from “Finding Nemo”: “Just keeping swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”
Suddenly, Lil Yachty leapt on stage, his trademark dreadlocks swirling in every direction at once. His mic had been equipped with heavy autotune, and he ascended the major scale in his salutation to the crowd: “What the fuck is going on, New York City!!”
He launched into “Wanna Be Us” and paced the stage, prowling and hopping up and down like a manic lion. His right-hand man Burberry Perry made his entrance, hopping up and down with a similar exuberance. He would remain on-stage for the remainder of the performance as Yachty’s de-facto hype man.
The cover art of Yachty’s Lil Boat mixtape appeared projected on the back screen: Yachty wearing red fisherman’s overalls and standing in a red rowboat in the middle of the ocean next to a red lifesaver. It looked like a Winslow Homer painting.
Yachty, purveyor of “flex music,” performed his quintessential flex anthem “Water on My Face” with gusto. "On me like I'm Diddy. One hand on her titty, the other gripping money," he rapped. At one point during the song, Burberry Perry, Yachty, and the DJ came together for a raucous chorus of “Lil Boat!” shouts reminiscent of the “Finding Nemo” seagulls' echo chamber of “Mine!”
The best parts of Yachty’s 30-minute set had nothing to do with the music. Yachty was most engaging when headbanging, letting his dreads thrash like a giant blood-colored maelstrom. Neon red and draped down past his ears, his dreads are the optimal hue and length for headbanging. His set honestly would have been perfect if he just thrashed his dreads for the entire time.
In general though, Yachty was completely loose and natural on stage. He outshined his own hype man Burberry Perry, who wore a plain white tee and grey sweatpants and looked like he had just rolled out of bed. I found myself wishing he was swaddled in gold medallions to give him a bit more pizzazz. I ran into a bright-eyed Perry in the cavernous lobby of the Omni Hotel in Austin during SXSW in March. We discussed raincoats and he told me how he had hiked the Appalachian Trail for six weeks. Perry is just a chill bro who likes hiking; Yachty is another beast altogether, and he would have had the crowd’s rapt attention throughout if he didn’t freelance on the fringes of the stage so much. OG Maco showed him how it was done during his two-song cameo: front and center.
Yachty re-activated the autotune towards the end of his set. He ripped off a few ambitious melodic riffs and invited people from side stage to mosh with him to the happiest beat of all time: “Minnesota.” His parting words: “Meet me at the merchandise stand!”
Intermission: 6’8” 808 Mafia producer TM88 plays a brief DJ set. He is utterly feeling himself the whole time.
Young Thug took the stage at 10 PM sharp. (16+ show. Kids got school tomorrow!) He sauntered out wearing a white blouse, white lace fingerless gloves, and jeans. He had appended a hefty metallic recreation of the Prince “Love” symbol to his microphone. Cardboard cutouts of Prince, hands in the air, flanked him on either side of the stage. An image of Prince frozen in the midst of a shredding guitar solo, rain falling around him in a purple mist, provided the initial backdrop for Thug’s set.
By my count, Thugger performed 21 songs over the course of his hour-long set. “With That,” “Power,” “Memo, “Digits,” “Check,” “About the Money” -- it was basically a continuous stream of hits and quasi-hits. His thin frame made placid, unhurried motions across the stage. His understated style contrasted sharply with Yachty’s neurotic stage antics.
Before every song, Thug would ask the crowd: “You on that Slime Season 3 shit?” “You copped I’m Up?” And then he would launch into a song from said mixtape. His artistic understudy Duke, fresh off the release of his own mixtape Uber, served as his hype man. But as with Yachty and Perry, the main performer’s charisma rendered his hype man somewhat useless.
The energy in the theater reached a fever pitch at two points in Thug’s set: -- “F Cancer” and “With Them,” the lead tracks off his two most recent mixtapes. But overall, Thug seemed unconcerned with the energy level in the room. He unceremoniously and unexpectedly left the stage on three separate occasions -- once for a wardrobe change (he shed his lace gloves and exchanged his blouse for a simple black “HiTunes” merch shirt), and twice to re-up on water and/or lean. He was short of breath half the time. He seemed comfortable standing on stage in silence. while the crowd stood uneasily waiting for something. Which happened more than once.
But Thugger wasn’t completely aloof. After “Memo” he told the crowd, “Oh my god, y’all turnt the fuck up right now.” Later, after “Halftime,” he addressed the front right corner of the crowd. “You motherfuckers not turnt up.” He pointed at another section of the audience. “They turnt!”
Young Thug is not a transcendent performer, like his hero Prince. But his show makes one realize the incredible depth of his catalogue. By the end of his hour on stage, he had hardly exhausted his reserve of material and performed his biggest hits ever: “Stoner,” “Danny Glover,” “Lifestyle,” & “Best Friend.”
Half the time he wasn’t even trying to impress the crowd, but rather letting his art speak for itself. He displayed the same uncompromising, unpredictable cool that exists in his music. Which made his few acknowledgements of the crowd’s existence that much more thrilling. During “Danny Glover,” he executed a flawless swan dive into the audience and milled around in the crowd for a solid two minutes before security fished him out. Then before “Best Friend,” he let the people know how he really felt: “I had a good night.”