Chance The Rapper @ Bell Centre – 25th May 2017

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It’s not often you’ll find an act with no major-label backing headlining the Bell Centre, but Chance The Rapper is no ordinary hip hop star. Backed by the warm organic sounds of his longtime instrumental trio, the Social Experiment, the name of this multi-Grammy Award-winning young music phenomenon’s current jaunt is the “Be Encouraged Tour.” And tonight he offered plenty of encouragement — and thanks — to his listeners during a show that mixed gospel fervor, hip-hop swagger and arena spectacle in almost equal measure.

Despite him arriving on stage over 35 minutes late, following a rousing warm up from DJ Oreo, the crowd were in fine spirits as the 24 year old Chicago native eventually showed up, dressed in white t-shirt, jeans and sneakers together with his trademark baseball cap. Setting the tone with an energetic Mixtape which segued into Blessings complete with pyros and an impressive lighting set up, it was the beginning of 80 minutes of that included many songs. But some were so truncated and fleeting, even his biggest hits, they seemed to end almost in the blink of an eye.

Angels and Smoke Break follow and the whole arena is a sea of cell phone lights. Chance addresses the front row personally, obviously appreciating the fact that those against the barrier arrived early to claim their spot. It’s a moment that somewhat alienates the rest of the arena but it’s fleeting enough to never lose the atmosphere too much. What does alienate a large chunk of the audience is Chance’s repeated religious references which quickly grow tiresome, although perhaps not with any believers in the audience. “Make some noise if you wanna go to heaven” he shouts at one point, turning the party into more of an evangelical gathering. When one song references Jesus, there are sections of the crowd who cheer enthusiastically, but just as many who look around in bemusement.

Highlights of the set include the superb No Problem and a rousing All Night, but both are cut way too brief. His roadie, Kenny, brings a stool on stage for Same Drugs as it starts to “snow” throughout the venue. At this point an illuminated walkway lowers over the entire length of the floor and Chance casually wanders to the back of the room as he completes the song. It’s a great moment that adds intimacy to the arena but again it’s all too brief, lasting only a couple of minutes.

There’s no denying Chance is an excellent rapper. At no point does he stumble over his words, and his energy is infectious throughout. Despite being the sole person moving around on stage he manages to use the entire space well and interacts with his audience like a veteran.

The majority of tonight’s mostly young crowd do seem to enjoy the performance but it has a different effect on myself. I was on the fence with Chance’s music and was interested to see how it worked in a live setting. Often witnessing music live can lead to you appreciating it much more. Tonight, however, I’m left thinking this is not for me. The religious aspect and the hurried flow of the set left me unable to truly get involved in the performance. Sorry Chance, but tonight I left without being converted.

Review & photos – Steve Gerrard

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