words by Sarah Rix // photos by Rick Clifford (@rcstills)
“..The band strode on with confidence.”
Any Canadian living in Melbourne will easily tell you that weed culture isn’t really a thing over here. But it turns out that rap shows have a universal smell. You could even smell it hanging in the air as you walked up to Howler on Thursday night.
Recreational drug use aside, fans of Los Angeles hip hop duo THEY. were understandably abuzz with excitement over their sideshow. Supporting 6LACK the next night at the more sizeable Forum Theatre, Thursday’s night’s showing was one for the dedicate “wolf pack” – the name bestowed on their fans.
Starting the night was 15-year-old (yes, you read that right, 15) The Kid LAROI. The Sydney-based artist is still very much an abundance of baby-face, looking fitted for a part-time job as a retail assistant at your local sneaker store. But, again, he’s only 15. Fifteen! He could be doing anything! The youth!
“That was his first full set in front of a crowd this big,” his DJ would later tell the audience of slowly-filling in THEY. fans.
It was understandable, then, that The Kid LAROI.’s stage presence is still in the development stage. Trading in the wave of popular upbeat-sad-boy-rap meant shoutouts to the recently departed XXXTentacion and Mac Miller were inevitable. It was heartfelt in that he seemed to be expressing genuine loss and appreciation for their work.
Other stage antics such as getting out a stool for a song; bringing up a crowd member for “Blessings” (his recently released Spotify debut); and coming back for a one-song encore were all apparent takeaways from other rap shows he’s seen. They didn’t necessarily work, given the opening set slot and the unfamiliar material – but sometimes it’s just nice to see a young kid have that much enthusiasm for something. For now, though, let’s just cross our fingers that he holds off on the face tattoo.
By the time THEY. took to the stage, the audience had swelled to about 175 people in size. The band strode on with confidence – urging their fans to come to the front of the stage, commanding the spotlight, and upping the energy immediately. Musically, it’d be safe to put them in the Rae Sremmurd camp for a lot of reasons, but arguably they’ve found aspects of Frank Ocean’s R&B to pull people in, too.
The crowd was quick to join in for “Bad Habits”, while THEY. also offered an alt-rock take on hip hop with a nod to Nirvana.
The duo of Dante Jones and Drew Love shouted out to 2015’s Nü Religion EP throughout the night – asking for their day one fans to step up – but also shared new material with the crowd.
“We’ve never done these songs live yet,” the audience was told before jumping into “Wilt Chamberlain”. THEY. also asked the audience to get involved on another new track (this one about having 20,000 bitches) – running through the chorus to get everyone up-to-speed on its call-and-response, but also letting the audience know that they had full permission from THEY. to say the n-word. Kendrick Lamar might have something to say about that, but I digress.
Jones also hopped on keys for one more new song – introduced as “some slow R&B type shit” – Love telling the crowd that the song’s recorded version (which is due out next month) features Ty Dolla $ign.
THEY. also pulled out another fresh collaboration for their set – “What I Know Now”, featuring Wiz Khalifa. It’s a guitar track with a drop and elements of 90s R&B definitely inform the vocal delivery.
“Motley Crue” was a ripper – another hybrid-rock track with an absolutely pristine a cappella verse – and “Dante’s Creek”, which shouted out to the Dawson Creek theme song right off the bat, proved another favourite of the night.
The duo would end off their set telling the crowd, “Tomorrow will be the three-year anniversary of when we dropped Nü Religion. It’s been a crazy ride.” With 2017’s Nü Religion: HYENA clearly on repeat for much of the audience, THEY. apparently have a ways to go before they reach the top of the roller coaster apex. And it’s going to be a great ride if they keep putting on shows like their Melbourne offering.
As they broke out the water bottles to douse the crowd for “U-RITE” and jumped into the mass of bodies for its climax – then returning to the stage for a final party with some of the crowd up there, too – there’s a reason THEY. put on such a hyper-active show: they have a lot to be excited about. It’s contagious, too.