Photos from Converse Rubber Tracks Live, Night 4: Chance the Rapper, Action Bronson, Michael Christmas
I’m not a music critic anymore; those days are dead and gone. But when Converse stages a weeklong “Rubber Tracks” homestand in Harvard Square, you come out of retirement. It’s already been the Boston musical event of 2015: If you were lucky enough to catch the Replacements, Passion Pit, and Slayer three nights in a row, the odds of anything topping it were effectively nil. Just not possible, right?
And yet, thanks to my very insistent teenager, we were back for round four on Thursday for the penultimate night: Boston underground sensation Michael Christmas, Brooklyn chef turned stoner-rap cartoon Action Bronson, and Chance the Rapper. Fine. We got there early, planted the teenager and her friend at a prime spot on the mezzanine, and staked out a sightline in the balcony.
And then, right before Michael Christmas was due to kick it, the fire alarm went off.
I’ve been going to concerts in Boston for 25 years, and this was a new one. In less than 10 minutes, Sinclair security somehow cleared the entire 500-plus capacity room without incident—although it meant that there were now 500-plus Chance the Rapper fans stuffed onto Church Street. Several fans, out in the street, joked that the alarm must have been set off by an excess of weed smoke in the dressing room. As if on cue, Action Bronson showed up to pose for selfies with the crowd.
Miraculously, the entire episode—room cleared, firemen in and out (“Is it true Slayer played here last night?” one asked), everyone back into the club—lasted less than an hour, and Christmas was onstage as the crowd filed back in for his homecoming set, his first since embarking on a nationwide tour back in January. Then came Bronson, red beard blazing, throwing cartons of Chuck Taylors into the audience—aiming for the balcony twice, and missing—and then, for good measure, chucking the shoes off his feet.
And finally, near midnight, the headliner. Backed by a four-piece band called the Social Experiment, who’ve mastered the art of improvisation without sacrificing the bass imperatives of hip-hop technique, Chance is a 21-year-old master showman—a decent singer, a pretty good dancer, and a raspy, iconoclastic, charismatic rhymer who speaks easily and at length to a runaway fanbase he knows isn’t finding him on commercial radio. The two adjectives he used to describe his music to his audience: “weird” and “yours,” gloriously right on both counts.
As he ripped through tunes from his mixtapes 10 Day and Acid Rap, as well as the bound-to-be-a-hit “Sunday Candy” from the Social Experiment’s debut, Chance showed he’s already absorbed and digested and synthesized an appreciation for Chicago musical history from jazz and blues to house and juke, which he sometimes deployed in the span of a single song. Already a master at pacing mood and tone, he and the band amplified the songs’ natural playfulness with a whomp of style, sheer physical energy, and a born frontman’s sense of melodic and rhythmic drama.
As the set hit one peak after another, on one side of me stood a young hip-hop scribe, schooling his neighbors on the nuances of the set. Noting the lion’s tail poking out of Chance’s pants: “He stole the tail from Andre 3000.” On the quick, sharp changes in rhythm: “The star of the band is the trumpet player.” When one of the keyboard players broke into a slow-motion driving motion—ghost-riding the whip, as the Bay Area kids used to say—he stood and shouted at the stage: “Whip it, Keys! Whip that shit!” On my other side: a white middle-aged political consultant and former punk-rock/metal critic, who turned and said, simply, “This kid is really fucking good.”
Below, check out photos from night 4 of Converse Rubber Tracks Live: