Chicago’s Chief Keef performed his debut show in New York last night, at SOBs. According to the New York Times, he has been granted a break from house arrest to do shows. In the hours before, rumors spread through the crowd that Kanye West would be in attendance, then went unsurprisingly unfulfilled, despite what seemed like teasing from the DJs playing “Higher” and “Jesus Walks.” (In an interview with VIBE, yesterday, Keef said he never even spoke to West about his remix of “I Don’t Like.”) The bill was crowded with hours of unannounced artists, meaning a lot of “Are y’all ready!?” false starts, whittling away any unfounded hopes that Keef’s probation would mean he had an early curfew. The opening acts seemed to come and go with no mention of their names. After someone in the crowd incessantly booed an R&B singer, the hosts cut his performance early and launched a long monologue denouncing negativity and reminding everyone that artists pour their hearts out onstage.
When Chief Keef finally arrived, someone onstage flicked CD-Rs into the crowd like painful frisbees. He wore a blue vest and comically large white-framed glasses that made his nose look tiny and his teeth shine brightly. (In solidarity with a great photo of Keef, someone in the crowd wore ski goggles.) Like his breakthrough mixtape Back from the Dead, Chief Keef’s performance was a menacing flatline, which in a live setting worked mostly to his detriment. There were no ups and downs, no extended intros to build anticipation. He played just five songs. The apparent climax, “I Don’t Like,” began as any other song, with a few seconds of off-mic conference between Keef and DJ Victoriouz then a sudden start. But it’s hard to be caught off guard when you’re being pummeled, and hard to appreciate the nuance of that pummeling over such an abbreviated set. Girls sat on boys shoulders and there was at least one crowd surfer, but never the total mayhem you might expect. Tightly surrounded onstage, Keef kept his feet planted in one place; he was imposing enough that he wasn’t jostled around, but without the charisma for others to clear a path to let him work. In a bit of odd sequencing, after “I Don’t Like” he performed one new song, then ended the show abruptly, offering no closing words. The lights flicked on and one of the hosts re-took the stage, saying “Kanye didn’t have a crowd like this at his first show,” presumably as a compliment.