Theophilus London: One Man Show

theophilus London. Le Belmont. 2015. Photo Soren Olaru theophilus London. Le Belmont. 2015. Photo Sorin Olaru

Thursday night was quite cold and windy. Mont-Royal metro is deceptively far from the corner of Saint-Laurent and Mont-Royal, but I managed to make it to the surprisingly crowded Le Belmont. Despite the awful weather, the varied crowd that managed to make it out to the show was justly rewarded.

The show was running late. The ticket mentioned Doja Cat as the opener. Surprise, surprise though, the opening act was none other then the soon-to-blow-up ATL rapper Father and the AWFUL crew. The ILoveMakonnen associated act came through, set up and went in to their drug culture influenced minimal hip-hop. The crowd seemed to be mostly ignorant as to who they were.

The intermission between the opener and the main show saw the live band come on stage and warm up through some very eclectic sounds, starting off with a very oriental Turkish/Persian song and then some ‘60s – ’70s light rock. A sheer brilliant moment. While the crowd was a bit confused by the transition, I thought it to be a very astute decision. To have a great show, the crowd needs to connect with the performer. This transition warmed up the audience to the music that was about to follow, soulful and playful in contrast to the raw and subtle-aggressive sound that the AWFUL guys began with.

Theophilus London. Photo Sorin Olaru.

Theophilus London. Photo Sorin Olaru.

Main act. Purple lights and Theophilus London walked on stage, Tim Hortons cup in hand (that he probably got from across the street). As the band played a very funky rendition of one of his songs, he just started vibing there with his band, slowly transforming into a performer as he sipped from his cup. Lights on, London grabbed the mic, but not to sing. He descended into a rant. This was a reoccurring theme.

Before I continue, some quick info on the performer: Theophilus London war born in Trinidad and Tobago but grew up in Brooklyn. He is 6ft4, skinny and in his early days as a rapper he grabbed the attention of European fashion centers (Paris, London, Milan) with his personal aesthetics. As such, he was invited to perform for large fashion houses such as Chanel, Vogue or his good friend Karl Lagerfeld as well as contribute to speciality blogs. In recording his newest album Vibes, he had to travel from NYC to Paris to Germany, finally secluding himself from the world in a house in Palm Springs for a year so he could create with authenticity. Somewhere along this two year process, he met Kanye who really took a liking to him and offered mentorship and production input in exchange for London’s friendship and input on creative projects.

Back to the night at hand, Kanye’s influence was clearly on display. Every song’s experience was changed on the spot as Theophilus stopped his songs numerous times to direct the stage lighting. He jumped back and forth from his computer to his midi-drum kit and songs morphed throughout their playtime from hip-hop to pop to new wave to rock and even trap — sometimes all within the same song. After every few songs, there was some form of a rant. He was very genuine, offering discussions of creativity, drugs, women, orgies, meeting Kanye, fighting his label and ultimately doing what he loves. It was a form of on-the-spot exposé of real freedom.

London is known as a rapper, but he doesn’t define himself with any specific genre. That was quite clear on Thursday night. I would say that he is, however, a rockstar. From the stage directing to having a rock roadie (with the ‘80s Victorian England-like long hair) actually go and pick girls for him to have on stage, to playing the same song five times, to ending five or six songs after he said he’d play two more, this was quite the rock show. Girls were on stage all the time, some flashed him and it all ended with some crowdsurfing and a small mosh-pit party on stage.

It was an unexpected but nonetheless delightful surprise to see Theophilus London perform and engage the crowd with such liberty. If you didn’t make it out, you missed out.