Vince Staples taps into primal energy in Vancouver

Vince Staples, JPEGMAFIA and Channel Tres at Harbour Events Centre, 3/22/19

Timbre Concerts

Despite the tonal contrast of the venue, California rapper Vince Staples delivered an electrifying set that never stopped for a breather.

Staples brought along two pretty impressive openers that let the crowd know they were in for a night of quirky, experimental hip-hop tracks.

The first, Channel Tres, came accompanied by two dancers busting out some off-kilter and jerky moves, while the deep-voiced rapper bounded around and issued hypnotic chants over what can only be described as deep house music with African drums.

Critical darling JPEGMAFIA arrived next and immediately dropped into “VENGEANCE,” his rap-metal collaboration with Denzel Curry. It seemed as if the crowd was just as excited for him as Staples, chanting his nickname “Peg-gy, Peg-gy” after every song.

“Is this a mall? I’m performing in a mall, yo!” JPEGMAFIA mistakenly identified the former casino before delivering a searing string of aggressive, distorted tracks, opening every one by simply screaming “RUN.”

Staples’ tour is titled ‘Smile, You’re on Camera’ and his visuals certainly delivered on the name.

A video of the crowd appeared first as Staples stepped out and began “Feels Like Summer,” the screens then switching to actual surveillance footage from around the building, complete with workers walking around.

Staples’ excitable, childish voice and natural slur makes just about everything he says an absolute blast to yell along with, as his higher tone cut through and fired the crowd up.

Summertime ’06 track “Lift Me Up” was an early highlight, as people complied with the title and raised friends on their shoulders. Staples raised his voice before each drop to ratchet up the energy level, then stood back and marveled at his handiwork with a smile and nod.

Staples’ songs are clearly built for a live setting – it’s the kind of material that’s designed to get people going in a big, raucous group, Staples’ repetitive choruses perhaps less effective alone in the headphones. Hearing a full crowd chant the hook to “War Ready” was absolutely chilling.

Most of these tracks could start a riot, and as Staples dove into even more belligerent material – “Big Fish”, “Run the Bands”, “Outside!” – the place devolved into chaos.

The mosh pits began and security had to pull out a couple of violent troublemakers during “No Bleedin.” Staples’ music unlocks some sort of primal, animalistic urges in people.

Responding to the constant stream of beer cans flying through the air, one of the only things Staples said all night was “If you throw something and it hit me, I will hit you, and I’m not trying to go to jail tonight.”

All of Staples’ instrumentals are pretty off the wall. It’s a wonder how he turns them into such straightforward, effective bangers, but his voice and energy are powerful glue to hold it all together.

The show came with a political tinge as well. His slower, introspective tracks “Rain Come Down” and “Tweakin’” were performed back to back, Staples mourning lost friends and criticizing police.

Staples saved all his biggest tracks for the end. After such a high-octane show it was amazing to see the energy was still there. Every phone in the place went up for the first notes of “Norf Norf,” and he closed with “Yeah Right,” imploring the crowd to scream their loudest.

As he left the stage, a black-and-white video of Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk concert appeared on the screen. In a beautiful moment, half the crowd stayed to watch his entire three-song set, dancing and swaying their arms like Miller was right in front of them.

The touching tribute capped off a pretty incredible night.