Gig Review: Brockhampton at the O2 Academy in Brixton

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On the 7th of February 2022, the air inside the O2 Academy Brixton was abuzz with frenetic energy, amplified by excessive London pint prices and, for some, cigarettes smoked outside in the queue. This was to be Brockhampton’s penultimate concert, the culmination of a half-decade’s work establishing their own identity apart from the Kanye West forum they met on and their early self-label of ‘best boyband since One Direction’. 

The electricity of the crowd was amplified by the fact that no one expected to be there; some audience members were two years older than they had been when they bought their tickets, while some had been innocuous fans of their viral hit SUGAR, now tasked with appreciating the gravitas of the performance ahead. My own gig partner had been invited a mere week prior. Despite the melancholic occasion, surprisingly amongst die-hard fans, no one was painted blue. The eclecticism was inherently ‘Brockhampton’, the collective defined by the breadth of identities and roles within its members — “gay, black, white, DIY, ambitious, all-inclusive, and would-be popstars”. 

As the audience waited with baited breath after a quiet, indie opener by Christian Alexander, Brockhampton erupted onto the stage to BUZZCUT. Concertgoers were immediately united by the newness of hearing music live, the fuzzy bass bursting through huge speakers activating some visceral desire for the crowd to just jump

The uniform of black boilersuits was a hallmark of what was to come — an emotive and moving odyssey for long-time listeners chronologically through six albums (produced, impressively, in four short years). Whoever organised the set list did so perfectly. Energetic, abrasive, shouty, staples were followed by songs which felt like thank-you gifts for the time spent with their fans, given the wrong way round; STAR followed by FACE, which has not been heard live since 2018. While some lyrics were rusty, this did not take away from an emotive performance of the classics. And the slower-paced performances such as RENTAL provided much-needed reprieve from mosh pits (of which there were at least 3 per song).

The gig was best-encapsulated by Brockhampton’s performance of ZIPPER, the first song I ever heard and was ardently desperate to hear just once. In their most dynamic performance, pyrotechnics, stagecraft, and showmanship were combined perfectly, preventing a high-octane song from losing momentum and falling flat. Cannons emphasised their best-ever chorus, even where the O2’s audio levels de-emphasised the treble. 

The most hotly anticipated moment of the night contributed even further to the nervous energy; rumours swirled of a possible Slowthai appearance, people weighing up its likelihood as a matter of pragmatism but, quite conspicuously, maintaining a trepidatious apprehension to “getting our hopes up”. After a quick drive through album #4, irisdescence, which reinvigorated slept-on tracks like J’OUVERT, Kevin Abstract’s ‘friend Tyron’ was to join us on the stage. Bounding out with a jolting volatility, Slowthai charged ahead into HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU wearing a devil horn beanie and the face of a villain. The chaos of a furious rendition of his song Doorman was unexpectedly expected of a Brockhampton concert.

The final two albums and Brockhampton’s tendency towards such collaborations may have been a sign of the times. While the group have been elusive in providing an explanation for the split, perhaps JPEGMAFIA and So Gone So Flexy were a harbinger of fractious relationships beneath the surface. While an end to explore solo works may be expected of behemoth megagroups like Brockhampton, I suspect we will never know what led to the end. Or, in an age of cryptic marketing, if this even is the end. 

After Bearface’s emotive crooning on SUMMER — a veritable rarity in their repertoire by now and one which moved Abstract to tears, per his twitter – the crowd begged for an encore for upwards of twenty minutes. Eventually, we trickled out away from the catharsis we’d felt. But it felt uniquely different and strange moving on with our lives, that same careful anxiety preventing us from expecting too much and yet, not wanting to accept the end. 

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