He also rapped, sang, and talked about Jesus.
Chance the Rapper has become America’s hip-hop sweetheart. From Kanye West to Rahm Emanuel to President Obama himself, everyone loves the guy. It’s not hard to see why. Chance is a positive (almost too positive) voice in a genre that often revels in violence and sexism. More importantly, he’s one of the only positive voices in hip-hop capable of actually connecting with an audience that's often skeptical of positivity. He’s skillful and suave with a dollop of worldly wisdom and goodwill on top, kind of like that cool young English teacher you always wished you had.
Thursday night, Chance brought his Magnificent Coloring World Tour to New Orleans and played for a very sold-out crowd in a warehouse at Mardi Gras World. The venue had some issues. The crowd was massive and the stage was low, so those who got stuck near the back and weren’t seven feet tall were often unable to see Chance and had to watch the screen above him instead. There was also a surprisingly large and active police presence. Before the show started, I saw multiple groups of kids being pulled over to the side, patted down, and escorted off the premises. From the get-go, there seemed to be a We’re gonna get those no-good-kids mentality. Needless to say, some vibes were definitely infringed upon. Once things got going, though, the show ran smoothly. The sound was good, the drinks were strong, and it seemed as though most of the crowd had managed to smuggle their contraband across enemy lines.
Chance was supported by special guest Francis and the Lights, the guy who has that one song about friends with Kanye and Bon Iver, and that other song about summer friends with Chance and Jeremih. As it turns out, it was only Francis up there, which was confusing since his act has a plural name. In all fairness, though, there were lights.
Francis’ performance was followed by an almost hour-long set break. The crowd began to grumble, anxious for the arrival of their hero. When Chance finally did take the stage just before 10 p.m., the crowd forgave him immediately. He opened with “Angels,” the lead single off his latest album Coloring Book, and then moved into “Blessings.” The show got off the ground immediately, and its heavenly aspirations were already clear.
Next, Chance introduced the crowd to Carlos the Lion, a life-sized puppet who would join the rapper onstage for the rest of the evening. Carlos had the voice of a disgruntled old-timer, urging Chance (who he referred to as “big fella”) to move on from his early body of drug-fueled material and get to the newer, more spiritual stuff.
Before obliging his furry friend, Chance let him (and the crowd) know he was going to “try something different,” and went on a fantastic run of songs from his 2013 breakout mixtape Acid Rap, even adding in “Brain Cells” from his debut project 10 Day for the day one fans. The crowd was entranced, rapping each verse word-for-word, to the extent that they could keep pace with Chance’s frenetic flow.
By himself, Carlos the Lion would have seemed quirky and affable, but as the show went on, Chance added more and more puppets to his performance. A pink creature joined Chance for a duet on “Same Drugs.” Moving into the final segment of the set, a gaggle of birdlike puppets joined him onstage to perform as a gospel choir. At the end of the show, the whole human/puppet ensemble came out together for a final bow.
The puppets all existed in that nebulous Muppet region between human and animal. The show was high-spirited enough that they never came off as creepy per se, but the whole spectacle was definitely bizarre. I was a skeptic at first, but today I have faith in my incontrovertible conclusion that Chance the Rapper is a furry (or at the very least, sympathetic), and that this tour is his coming out party.
My furry epiphany was enlightening, but by the end of the show, it became all too clear that Chance had a different revelation in mind for his fans. The final portion of the show was relentless in its Christianity. It was fun at first, with the avian choir backing a rousing rendition of “Sunday Candy” from Chance’s collab mixtape with Donnie Trumpet. I did get a little restless, though, during the final song of the set--a painfully protracted version of “Blessings (Reprise)” during which Chance openly acknowledged he was “beating a dead horse,” but continued to ask the crowd, “When’s the last time you talked to Him?” for the next five minutes. For some, it may have been uplifting, but for those of us less confident in our religious sensibilities, it wasn’t the most entertaining part of the evening.
Despite the furry and religious overtones, Chance put on a stellar performance. He rapped all his verses and sang all his choruses live (an anomaly these days) and never missed a word or note. He even used live musicians for most of his set, although as the puppet mayhem ensued, it became harder and harder to tell what was live and what was recorded. Even at his most preachy, Chance was insanely charismatic, turning the stage from an altar to an ultralight beam. If he ever decided to break with JC (or whatever furry god he secretly prays to) and start his own cult, I’d seriously consider joining.