Personally—and maybe this is just me—if I’d gone through the trouble of installing a functioning rollercoaster in the Target Center, I’d have ridden that sucker the whole damn night. At top speed.
Then again, if I’d been born Jacques Webster and hoped to dominate the world of rap and R&B, I wouldn’t have thought to adopt a stage name that looks like it belongs in four-point font at the tail end of a WE Fest lineup announcement.
In other (and way too many) words, I am not Travis Scott. And the man who is Travis Scott? He’s doing fine without my input.
Though no model of restraint, the 26-year-old artist/fashionista/Jenner-in-law (yes, Kylie and Stormi were there) waited till the climax of Saturday night’s sold-out Minneapolis show to board his set-piece thrill ride, standing unharnessed in a car that progressed slowly along the hilly stretch of rail that spanned the arena. Fans bounded all the while like misfiring pistons underneath, their rapt intensity a testament to Scott’s keyed-in pop instinct.
Calling a performer a “rapper/singer/producer” typically emphasizes an impressive versatility. In Scott’s case it’s more like guessing at his identity: What exactly is this guy? He’s not world class as either a rapper or singer. “I’m the glue,” he boasts with quotably backhanded humility on his hit, “Sicko Mode.” But he’s not exactly an ace conceptualist like his early champion, Kanye West, so even that dreaded 21st-century euphemism “curator” overstates the control he appears to exert—he’s an excuse for certain tracks to exist, a magnetic field that gathers elements in its orbit.
And on Astroworld, those are some damn substantial elements, whether commercially like Drake or artistically like Stevie Wonder, whose harmonica drifts hypnotically through “Stop Trying to Be God” as though he’s communing with King Tubby himself. If I remember high school physics right, a center of gravity can’t be more lightweight than the objects it attracts, but apparently Travis Scott was absent that day.
Live, though, these concerns drop away. Not because Scott’s an especially charismatic superstar—he’s an engaging rather than commanding stage presence. But he’s also a fiery conduit for the music that gathers in his presence. Scott crammed 31 songs, assembled from the common components of modern chart-rap—trap cymbal skitters and bass boom, free-range Auto-Tune melodies, blurted rhymes that ferret their way into blunt hooks—into about 80 minutes, often mashing just a verse of one track into the chorus of the next, and it felt as though he’d forged an all-access pass to the central nervous system of the American teen, anticipating its needs and hotwiring its impulses.
The show began with Scott shooting up through the smallish square b-stage in the rear of the arena, where he opened with a rambunctious “Stargazing,” a celebration of cough syrup’s mood-altering qualities. That same cut leads off Scott’s third and latest hit album, Astroworld, and there, like many of its fellow tracks, it’s not particularly rambunctious. Astroworld is an immersive headphone experience, a trippy VR fun house; a Travis Scott concert, though, is a sensory assault, with bass marrow-ripplingly loud and nearly every rhyme barked with maximum force.
The circular loop of rail that stood behind Scott on stage turned out to a second rollercoaster, which he duly rode, strapped into a car that transported him along the inside of the track. The twin coasters were a nod to the album title, named for the defunct Houston Six Flags. (“The kids can do whatever, whatever, whatever here at Astroworld,” Scott said at one point, not long after encouraging a chant of “mosh pit” from a limb-knotted mass of humanity that hadn’t waited for the go-ahead.) The DJ was situated between a pair of future-kitsch consoles that looked like relics from a ’70s Doctor Who serial, and when opener Gunna came out to join Scott on “Yosemite,” an enormous astronaut slowly inflated and loomed behind the rappers—yet another of the winningly goofy design decisions that could not have been made while sober.
Most of the onscreen visuals played off the distinctive David LaChappelle album art for Astroworld. A ’70s-era commercial for the park itself was spliced with dystopian-tinged clips of gunplay, conveying no apparent political message other than fuck it dog, life’s a risk. And at the close of the show, the bust of Scott that dominates the Astroworld cover emerged from the b-stage, glaring blankly at the crowd like a work of pagan idol statuary rendered in milk chocolate—Easter Island meets Easter candy.
Mid-concert, a scrim dropped around the edges of the arena floor, enclosing all the general admission fans and turning the center of the room itself into a video screen. Images and phrases—a skull, the outline of Texas, the song title “No Bystanders”—floated by, soon replaced by the Houston skyline, and a few kids assayed inept shadow animal attempts. The thrashy punk energy of Scott’s earlier bangers ebbed into the atmospheric vibe of a Pink Floyd laser light-show, and the psychedelically Auto-Tuned quiet storm of new, chill tracks like “RIP Screw” and “Houstonfornication” pulsed with genuine sensuality.
For all his cavalier rail-riding, Scott’s performance honestly looked more death-defiant when he was on the ground, especially when he was hotfooting on the smaller amid explosions and steam jets. A different kind of peril awaited the young white fan Scott brought onstage for “3500”; enlisted as the star’s on-mic hype man, the kid was one accidentally echoed n-word away from a fate of horrific viral shame.
After disembarking from his ride, Scott closed with an aggro “Sicko Mode.” Bill-shaped confetti fluttered into the crowd; rivers of fluorescent puke streamed from kiddie mouths onscreen. As number-one hits go, it’s weird as hell: Two seemingly discrete Drake songs (one containing a supremely Drakey boast about napping successfully for an entire international flight—he will crow about how skillfully he packs a suitcase before he turns 40, mark my words) bookend a middle section where Travis cheerfully insults the intelligence of women who want to fuck him. It’s a graceless, disorienting, remarkable collision of sounds, and the “Sicko Mode” finale made me realize that a rollercoaster is hardly an apt symbol for the thrills Travis Scott provides. His music doesn’t climb and plunge and turn loops; it lurches and jostles and careens. Like bumper cars.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Travis Scott bumping around Target Center
Through the Late Night
Drugs You Should Try It
Stop Trying to Be God
Beibs in the Trap
Yosemite (with Gunna)
Piss on Your Grave (instrumental)
Can't Say (with Don Toliver)