Tyler, the Creator sits at the center of multiple generations’ imaginations. That much was clear last night at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, where he kicked off his Call Me If You Get Lost Tour. Not since the cathartic early days of Odd Future has the 30-year-old rapper seemed this in command of an audience. The only difference is that now, in addition to an audience of teens enthralled by his most recent work, Tyler’s fanbase includes aging millennials nostalgic for when he first came onto the scene and the parents of today’s youth, themselves enthralled by one of today’s most musically vibrant and energetic performers. Last night made for a detente between Gen-Xers, millennials, and zoomers.
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The entire show was still decidedly youthful. Opening act Teezo Touchdown’s performance left many of the older members of the audience with confused looks on their faces, but it was clear the kids loved it. The same can be said for the perennially underrated Vince Staples, whose set was a welcomed reminder of the durability and longevity of his output over the past few years. Kali Uchis rounded out the openers, and easily gave Tyler a run for his money in terms of audience excitement. Uchis’ many years of consistency have paid off, as seemingly every teenage girl in the country is completely obsessed. The teens in Phoenix mouthed the lyrics to the 2015 cut “Ridin Round,” despite the fact that most of them don’t have any of the college-aged memories associated with the track’s blog-era release.
That felt like a theme throughout the evening. Tyler’s catalog now features more than ten years’ worth of music. He’s one of few living artists today that can say they’ve created adolescent anthems for kids in high school right now, as well as adults who were in high school a decade ago. So, when he emerged on stage — seated in that baby blue Rolls Royce slowly rising from a platform beneath the stage — you got the sense that, for a moment, everyone in the sold-out arena got to channel their inner children.
Call Me if You Get Lost is also something of a shift for Tyler, as he leans into a more sophisticated aesthetic. The loud pastels of the early OF era have made way for subtle, tastefully selected hues. The commitment to a more elevated simplicity shined through in the show’s set design. Pyrotechnics popped at the opening and closing of Tyler’s set, and he traversed the audience, from the main stage to a secondary stage styled to look like a meadow, on a giant prop yacht. Still, there was something elegant about how low-fidelity the set work looked. Like a room decorated with just enough frills, Tylers set design brought you into the universe of the performance without distracting from the performance.
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No matter how engrossing the sets were, though, it would have been hard to upstage Tyler himself last night. The set was a reminder just how long he’s been in the business, and just how much he’s touched in that time. During his performance of the Goblin throwback “She,” the crowd made easy work of Frank Ocean’s entire verse. When he performed “IFHY,” from 2013’s Wolf, the crowd erupted in a cathartic kind of ecstasy. Tyler’s credo, of making space for the misfits and outlaws, resonated more deeply than one might immediately think. You just need to be in the presence of the parents of teenagers letting out their frustrations to a song whose music video features Tyler in a make-believe dollhouse.
Tyler’s set featured a handful of emotional peaks that provide a sense of what he’s been able to offer young people these past few years. During “Boredom,” the crowd huddled as close to the stage as they could. This, it seemed, was the song that most moved them. And, why not? This generation had a chunk of its teenage years robbed by a pandemic. So when Tyler raps about being bored in his room eating cereal, it simply hits different.
You could say that the entire show hit differently, in fact. It certainly never feels safe to say we’re out of the woods with Covid, but Tyler managed to pack the stadium full of joy in a way that has felt impossible these past few years. He closed the show with “Runitup,” a confident and confessional cut from Call Me if You Get Lost. It gave the show a feeling of triumph. No one thought we’d make it this far, and Tyler can relate.
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