“Did you catch the blood red moon the other night?” To answer this ubiquitous question: no I did not. However, I did catch Blood Orange on a break between Coachella appearances at Great American Music Hall. If a red tinted moon could be a signal of impending doom, then last night was a dead man’s party for sure.
Up until late last year the Britain-bred Texan mastermind behind Blood Orange, Devonte Hynes, has been quite an enigma. Before the 2013 release of Blood Orange’s soulful sensation Cupid Deluxe, Hynes had flown under the radar by hopping through varied music projects—Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion, respectively—and working as a producer behind the scenes for some of indie pop’s most relevant vixens: Solange, Sky, Florence and the Machine, et all. With his latest endeavour, Hynes has successfully refined a new flavor of eccentric R&B that combines elements of funk, disco, new wave, and synth pop to create an atmosphere that is vulnerable, sentimental, and brimming with melancholic nostalgia.
To warm up for the show I pulled up a video of Hynes dancing to a stripped down rendition of a track on Cupid Deluxe titled ‘Time Will Tell.’ I began to analyze. What is this? His look is Rick James, his sound is Boy George, his choreography seems to be a collaborative effort between Napoleon Dynamite and Willi Ninja. Despite my intense longing for beauty sleep, I was halfway convinced that if I missed an opportunity to see this prodigy do his sweatpants-dance I would severely regret it. I’m glad I went as my instincts proved correct.
I filed in with the restless masses into the ornately embellished Great American Music Hall, and after the fitting introductions from an unseen DJ from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Toni Braxton, the show kicked off to a packed house. I gave a nod of approval after confirming Hyne’s sporting his signature white loungewear look and a matching baseball cap engraved with the words ‘REAL’ across the front. Hynes backing consisted of a man on keys (who beared a striking resemblance to Jody Highroller, I might add), a soul sister crooning on backup, and a saxophone player who never failed to deliver a sensual solo at the pivotal moment.
The night picked up to a house tempo with “Uncle ACE” and things got a bit real-er when Hyne’s sprightly songstress and special ladyfriend, Samantha Urbani, joined in with the crowd for prolonged periods of dance party action among the ecstatic fans. At several points in the night I unwittingly lost myself in hysterical laughter. “This is ridiculous!” a glowy-eyed girl next to me shouted in my ear, whilst the gyrating crowd let out occasional shouts and moans like a room full of cats in heat. It did appear miraculous that somehow Hynes and the gang had managed to musically euthanize a space full of San Francisco’s heavy-hearted and long suffering youth.
Reflecting back to the lyrical content of Blood Orange tunes like “On the Line,” they clearly beg the poignant questions that have had humanity reeling since the dawn of time—What is love? Yeah, but it is real love? If not then, really, what is it?
For the chronic doubters, nay-sayers, and analyzers like myself it seems like no mistake that Hynes repeats his zen master mantra several times during the set until we can get it perfectly clear: it is what it is.[Photo by Justin Yee]