Photographs by Dakota Arsenault.
To call Theophilus London’s Toronto show on Friday night at Tattoo “underwhelming” would be an unfair assessment. It was a lot of things. Underwhelming wasn’t one of them – mostly because I was left with the overwhelming sense that hip hop shows have to be better than this.
This was messy, amateur, and hardly worth a repeat visit. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of positives I can bring up in the context of his performance. I don’t think it was phoned in, but I also don’t think it was ever there to begin with.
London himself didn’t seem to be having a great time and was more focused on his image (yes, there was an outfit change) than on the music he was there to perform. He complained, constantly, about the venue’s small stage; the murky sound; the too-bright lights; the weather; and the DJ playing downstairs and he made half-hearted comparisons between the Toronto crowd and the Montreal, New York, and Boston audiences. A slow start to the set didn’t help either, London coming on for a plodding bass line, complaining about the state of the microphone, disappearing until it had been replaced, and returning to restart the show. It was all rather anti-climactic.
While he was right to ask for the Toronto crowd to up the energy, the Brooklyn-based rapper struggled to maintain any sort of his own throughout the duration of a rather entertainingly painful display of hip hop tropes. Girls were quick to scramble on stage to awkwardly dance their way through songs that felt too long and his mumbled banter was only interrupted by equally mumbled, meandering tracks from 2014’s Vibes.
The more electronic pop offerings like “Heartbreaker” and the Kanye West featured “Can’t Stop” were far and away the best sounding efforts of the night, but even then and even with the instrumentation of his three-piece backing band, it felt more like hip hop karaoke than an artist with his own artistic vision. But if you ever thought Kid Cudi was too cohesive, then maybe – just maybe – you’d enjoy a Theophilus London show.
When your show is upstaged by a guy in a turtleneck dancing like he’s related to Fresh Prince’s Carlton, you’re in trouble. Whether or not Theophilus London is capable of more than the mess he put on display on Friday night remains to be seen, but the audience deserves more than the “I’m so high/sick/over this” shtick he was peddling. My advice to Theophilus London? Hit the rehearsal studio to figure this out before turning it into a public spectacle.