It takes less than five minutes for a chant of “Fuck Theresa May” to go around South London’s Brixton Academy. In fairness, it wouldn’t take much to get this going on any street in the U.K, but when Tyler, The Creator is on stage, it’s all the more pointed. During her tenure as Home Secretary prior to becoming a wildly unpopular Prime Minister, May signed off on an order banning Tyler from entering Britain to perform live. Vague reasons for the ban focused on Tyler’s admittedly crass early lyrics, never convinced, and since then Tyler’s British fans have made do with fuzzy YouTube clips and envious glances at setlists online.
But here he is, four years after the ban took place, standing on stage in a blonde wig and sunshine yellow suit — greeted with a hero’s welcome. In 2011, Tyler performed in London on the day of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, the backdrop a mock tribute to the happy couple and the performance a riotous act of counter programming. Eight years later, his mere presence is a middle finger to the British establishment.
Looking like Sia cosplaying as The Mask, Tyler darts across the stage as if controlled from above. His legs and arms flail around as “Igor’s Theme” bursts into life, switching from a Jamiroquai-esque funk workout into something more explosive. The bulk of Tyler’s hour on stage is drawn from last year’s IGOR, a collection of dreamy lo-fi love songs that unfurl into raucous singalongs for an audience given little reason to believe this day would come. “A Boy Is A Gun” and “Earfquake” both stand out, the latter’s “for real this time” refrain highlighting that this event isn’t just a fever dream for Odd Future diehards. “It’s four years since they let my dark skin into this country,” Tyler says, making his view on the motivation for his ban clear. “I take back nothing I ever said. I never apologize. They can suck my dick.”
The demonic spirit of his early career still rises up in Tyler’s music, too. Songs regularly break down into screams, while the riotous “Who Dat Boy” is lit up by stunning pyro. IGOR is Tyler’s biggest move away from his early material, but he still revisits Goblin tracks with mixed results; “Yonkers” continues to carry a cartoonish malice, however Bruno Mars and his esophagus feel about it. Tyler is arguably more convincing in his role as the charismatic demon than his pastel-coloured lover character, but both “Yonkers” and Wolf track “IFHY” are the only points where he’s clearly going through the motions.
In an age of instant access to everything, it’s interesting to see that absence clearly makes the heart grow fonder. Album tracks such as “New Magic Wand” and Flower Boy’s “Boredom” are greeted like lost classics, as the sold-out crowd appears to know every word. Tyler matches this energy and, in doing so, belies his nonchalant public persona. In interviews, he’s often keen to stress that nothing really matters and what he says is of no importance. But up on stage, whether he’s soulfully playing a white baby grand piano or throwing himself between the flames, it’s clear that this means a lot.
As the gig draws to a close, the reality of selling out three U.K. shows dawns on Tyler in comic fashion. “I gotta do this shit again tomorrow?” he asks, panting, his designer suit now soaked in sweat. “And again the next fucking day?” That dismissive tone is all front, though. He wouldn’t have it any other way, and now there’s nothing stopping him.