Vince Staples and Kilo Kish bring The Life Aquatic Tour to New York. Using gorgeous visuals and a whole lot of heart, they claim Terminal 5 as their own.
With a line looping around the block, the excitement for the concert could be seen two streets away. Walking into Terminal 5, we see the stage decked out with three large LCD screens. Prior to the show, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic was playing in reverse on those very screens. We didn’t make it all the way through the film as Kilo Kish hit the stage promptly at 9PM — a rare sight in the concert world.
Kilo Kish is a singer, songstress, performance artist, and living manifestation of the avant-garde. She is also a frequent collaborator with Vince Staples. He can be found all over her breakout mixtape K+, either on a feature or on a production credit. Kilo came out in her signature pantsuit to the opening tune of her latest album Reflections in Real Time, which can be described as nothing less than pastel and airy exploration of self.
The topics of her songs are similar to the topics of classic blues songs: struggles with love, with money, with the prospect of success. Though her music is driven by modern electronic production, allusions to her blues roots are everywhere: somber melodies and syncopated rhythms. Her act was advertised as Reflections in Real Time Live, and she achieved just that. Over the course of her thirty minutes, Kilo Kish employed visual performance and stage performance to create a new space: modern art meets hip-hop meets rhythm and blues. Early on in her set, she broke into a brief waltz with the suggestion of her lover filling the space of her arms.
Kilo Kish used the screen to project a myriad of videos, some recorded on her phone, some more artistic explorations of her personhood. Often the visuals on the screen would mirror her movements on stage. Some shots featured the use of a longer lens, creating a picture box effect. This narrow view made us feel as if we were looking in on Kilo Kish and her art, and that feeling of voyeurism made her performance feel all the more complex and seductive in how heady it was.
The most remarkable feature of Kilo Kish’s performance was the way she used her body to subvert the way we are expected to consume her art and the body of a black woman. The unconscious desire to consume the black body as sexual, to treat it as currency through white gaze is tested and complicated as Kilo Kish seizes on stage. Without much thought, her erratic movement may appear random, but when paired with the visuals and the lyrical content, her performance is working to assert and prove her humanity.
She is possessed by her music, frequently dropping to the floor and spasming wildly about the stage. She does not simply imagine an existential struggle within her music, she lives it down to the last twitch on the floor. During one of the album standouts “Fears of Dilettante,” Kilo Kish drops to the floor with a suitcase prop, smashing it to bits before rising once again and ripping off her suit jacket. She begins to spiral and use her body to evoke the unspoken themes of her album. Shortly after, she leaves the stage to a storm of applause.
Vince Staples takes the stage under the guise of black and red lights.The moment he steps onto the stage, he owns it. His movements are confident and emotive; there is no doubt that Vince Staples was born to rap and perform. Opening with “Prima Donna” and utilizing all three screens, it becomes clear that the visuals and the colors will be dictating the form of the show.
A blanket of white light covers the audience as the introduction to “Lift Me Up” begins to play, putting us right in the center of the cerebral track. Vince throws his arms in the air, chanting “so lift me up, lift me up” and the crowd moves so furiously it is as if all of Terminal 5 levitates just as Vince does in the music video for this track. The energy in the room is high octane. A few abrupt song transitions and remixed backing tracks keep the crowd on their toes.
The use of lights continues with a jarring, blinding laser flourish, which leads to bathing the crowd in gold for banger “Senorita.” An idol of a woman cast in gold is projected on the screen and golden spotlights finish the scene. Vince has no trouble getting the whole venue to scream the words and move to the bass grooves. He doesn’t use any stage gimmicks, doesn’t have to talk the crowd into getting hyped for each track. All he has to do is be present and live in his art, and the crowd reacts the only way they can: rowdy and spirited.
For a handful of tracks there were some goldfish swimming around on the LCD screen, in the spirit of Vince’s upcoming album Big Fish Theory. To take the oceanic imagery further, whenever fog hits the swaths of light, it is as if we are looking down on ripples in a body of water. We are getting rowdy underwater. The use of lights reaches new levels of meticulous as Vince performs “Surf,” rolling the strobe lights each time the snare hit on the beat. During “War Ready” a pack of hammerhead sharks are projected on the three screens in tandem with a wash of forest green light and fog over the stage.
Vince walks off stage following his 2014 standout “Blue Suede.” Immediately, everyone begins to chant “one more song,” but luckily Vince doesn’t keep us waiting for too long. He storms the stage on the first note of his hit single — one of the driving singles for his album Summertime ‘06 — “Norf Norf.” With a picturesque “Welcome to Long Beach” billboard projected on all three screens, all of Terminal 5 raps along to the ricocheting cut. Without question, “Norf Norf” is the quintessential encore song.
He closes the show with the slow and pensive title track “Summertime.” An emotionally vexed track, which skillfully manages to avoid being steeped in sentiment, the stage is stripped of all color as we focus on Vince and the microphone. As he sings “this could be forever, baby” with a hurt crooning voice, the crowd sways back and forth to the murky beat. There’s a quick blackout and Vince leaves the stage to a thrash of applause. Leaving the venue, you’re walking through a swarm of people praising the performance mixed with the stick and squeak of shoes on spilled beer.
While Vince did not premiere any new songs, he re-energized all of his hits and even some of his older classics. It was a pleasure watching him work the stage and the effort both he and Kilo Kish put into the visual aspect of their sets is unimaginable. Vince’s closing the show with “Summertime” is an unexpected bonus, being that it’s difficult to build such a slow and emotive track into an otherwise high octane concert. Between the way Kilo Kish fused music, performance, and modern art and the way Vince commanded the stage, their tour is not one to be missed.