Photos by Chris Caceres and Ronny Kerr. Words by Ronny Kerr
In promotion of his new album Negro Swan, Blood Orange performed at the Fox in Oakland on Friday, September 20. With a full band and support from fellow dream pop artist Empress Of, the artist sang kinship, openness, and love, and subtly channeled Prince. Here are photos and impressions from the show.
Opener for the night was Empress Of, the solo project of LA/NY-based dream pop artist Lorely Rodriguez, accompanied by another lady performing on the blurple-illuminated stage. With a simple setup of synths and drum machines, the two women rocked out to a quick set reminiscent of the Knife on tour for Shaking the Habitual—psychedelic house with a dose of soul and kinetic energy.
Blood Orange kicked off his set with “Family,” a 42-second track from the new album Negro Swan, in which writer, TV producer, and transgender activist Janet Mock shares her definition of the word:
You asked me what family is
And I think of family as community
I think of the spaces where you don't have to shrink yourself
Where you don't have to pretend or to perform
You can fully show up and be vulnerable
And in silence, completely empty and
That's completely enough
You show up, as you are, without judgment, without ridicule
Without fear or violence, or policing, or containment
And you can be there and you're filled all the way up
So we get to choose our families
We are not limited by biology
We get to make ourselves
And we get to make our families
A fitting intro not just because Blood Orange weaves Mock’s voice throughout the latest album, but also because that’s what a live show is all about: bringing together an artist’s community, their extended family. And the family made themselves known. From the first second of the above sample, the crowd went crazy. Devonté Hynes, the man behind Blood Orange, strutted around on stage singing “Saint” and waved his neon green handkerchief.
Backed by full band (drums, bass, keys, sax, baby grand, and backup singers), Hynes rolled through an hourlong set of electric vignettes and wavy folk. They played the hits new (“Charcoal Baby,” “Orlando”) and old (“You’re Not Good Enough,” “Champagne Coast”).
My mind may have been primed by all the Prince shirts in the crowd, but it couldn’t be denied that Blood Orange was channeling purple. He even sat down at the piano and sang a piece unaccompanied, casting a private warmth and glow throughout the vast theater, as I remember Prince doing 14 years ago the first time I experienced his live show.
On the latest release, Blood Orange offers more of what he does best, a unique blend of psychedelic soul, African-inspired rhythms, and bedroom pop; but what happens to bedroom pop in a theater that fits nearly 3,000? Something is lost. One would have expected to feel distant from Prince at an arena show—he was always divine instead of his deep humanity, omnipresent and yet untouchable. With Blood Orange the distance also cut deeply, until he sat at his piano.
It was a show full of wonder, with Hynes and the band seamlessly flowing from electric funk to stripped down folk songs and a cappella crooning back to funky feel good hip shaking. At one point, Empress Of returned to the stage to bring partytime joy to the performance. It was a night of openness and love, a good night to be part of the family.
Upcoming tour dates
10/01 - Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall
10/02 - Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall
10/6 & 10/13 - Austin, TX - Austin City Limits Festival
10/28 - Dublin, IE - Metropolis Festival
10/29 - London, UK - o2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
10/30 - Amsterdam, NL - Melkweg
11/01 - 11/04 - Torino, IT - Club to Club
11/02 - Paris, FR - Pitchfork Paris Festival
11/06 - Berlin, DE - Columbia Theatre
11/08 - Copenhagen, DK - Gray Hall
11/10 - Reykjavic, IS - Icelandic Airwaves Festival