Concert Review

Future Was a Bona Fide Superstar at Ak-Chin Pavilion

Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017.
Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017. Melissa Fossum
"Hit that bitch in the face!"

The people in the two cars behind me are on the verge of fighting. We're all waiting to leave Ak-Chin Pavilion after Future's set ended. The huge parking lot is bumper-to-bumper with cars. We're all slowly advancing to the exit and cutting each other off to get out faster.It reminds me of an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball, in which the Watterson family is trying to find a parking spot and they have to fend off other cars lurking in nearby bushes like predatory cats. Every driver in the Ak-Chin lot is in that Jungle Cat mode – the blonde behind me pounced too soon and clipped a car to get her spot. Hence the screaming about bitches getting punched in the face.

The two drivers angrily shout at each other. The woman in the clipped car wants Blondie's insurance information. Blondie doesn't cough it up. Instead, she asks a bystander to send her a file of the video she's taking of their encounter. Somebody in the clipped car hurls a can at Blondie's car. Nobody ends up getting knocked out. They both return to their cars, simmering with anger. I watched the whole thing play out in my rear view; I'm amazed at how quickly the post-show bliss has worn out for all of us idling in our cars.

It's fitting the show ended in a mammoth clusterfuck outside the venue because that's exactly how it began.

Arriving at 7 p.m., I was stunned by how many people were already there. The Pavilion's lot was almost full, and huge lines of people were waiting to get in the venue. The lines filtered inside slowly due to bag checks and pat-downs. One concertgoer wryly noted that he hadn't seen half as much security at a D-backs game.

People seemed on the verge of having rage strokes in the Will Call lines. I saw six different people angrily argue with the employees about the status of their tickets. One man repeatedly called his ticket lady a liar until he was red in the face. A woman looked like she was about to cry when she found out her ticket was MIA. At first, I was on their side. But then the girl behind me asked what the hell Will Call meant and that made me wonder if I was stuck in the User Error line.

Eventually, I got inside the venue, passing by throngs of rap dudes trying to hand out CDs and after-party fliers. The crowd (which skewed heavily female) was turnt up. Migos already were onstage and blowing through their set. The crowd was on their feet and dancing to the music, shouting out hooks and choruses and throwing their hands in the air. It was a great set for people-watching because there wasn't much to see onstage.

click to enlarge Migos opened for Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017. - MELISSA FOSSUM
Migos opened for Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017.
Melissa Fossum
Migos had killer tunes, but not much in the way of stage pizzazz. They just casually ambled around the place and gleefully spat out their rhymes. They left the heavy lifting of putting on a show to the crowd, who jiggled and twerked and popped and locked and leaned back with abandon. The roar that ripped through the crowd when "T-Shirt" came on was almost as deafening as the stage's speakers, which must have been cranked all the way up past 10 to tinnitus.

Migos heralded the coming of "Bad and Boujee," the song everyone was waiting for, by shouting, "When we say raindrop, you say drop top!" The shouts of drop top echoed across the pavilion while video footage of twerking butt cheeks with "Bad and Boujee" written on them played on video screens flanking the stage. Hundreds of iPhones went up in the air to record the performance. I could see a sea of lit red circles in front of me; they looked like an army of tiny HAL 9000s.

After Migos finished their set, the stage hands quickly constructed Future's backdrop: two large black signs that read FUTURE and HNDRXX. DJ Esco, Future's right-hand man and producer extraordinaire, took his place behind the FUTURE sign. The man of the hour stepped onstage to the sinister video game beeps and beats of "Draco," snarling "You ain't never ever get you bitch back" into the mic.

Or, at least it looked like he did.

To be honest, I spent most of the set trying to figure out if Future was lip-syncing. It seemed like it. Live, his vocals sounded almost identical to his records. The video screens on the sides of the stage were showing a live feed of his performance, and I could see that his lips didn't seem to be moving as fast as what was coming out of the speakers. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it seemed like my suspicions were confirmed later in the night when he started barking out lines to "Fuck Up Some Commas" and "March Madness" with real heat to them. He also got so into vibing to his songs that sometimes he just dropped all pretense of rapping and just bobbed along to the beat.

But here's the thing, if Future was lip-syncing, nobody seemed to care. We're not living in the Milli Vanilli era anymore. People were too busy losing their shit to such songs as "Stick Talk" and "Thought It Was a Drought" to pay it any mind. And it's possible that the Auto-Tuning and vocal effects that are a hallmark of his sound may be difficult to execute live.

It helps that Future is a bona fide superstar.

click to enlarge Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017. - MELISSA FOSSUM
Future at Ak-Chin Pavilion on June 28, 2017.
Melissa Fossum
From the way he smiles to his leisurely stride onstage, he seems born to do this. Dressed in a white shirt, shades, and Sami Zayn pants, he looked as cool as an ice sculpture of Prince. And whereas the boys from Migos weren't too energetic live, Future bobbed and weaved and danced onstage.

Halfway through the show, Future headed backstage. In what can only be described as a Hypeman Intermission, DJ Esco took to the stage with a pair of backup dancers wearing huge DJ Esco heads. He got the crowd moving, bounding back and forth across the stage like he was Future's kid brother on a huge sugar rush. He played tunes like "Too Much Sauce" and Kendrick's monster jam "Humble" to keep the crowd warmed up for the second coming of Future.

Returning to the stage in a gray shirt and white jeans, Future played a set that was heavy on the hits. The dancers came back onstage wearing ski masks as he did "Mask Off." He chuckled as he said, "They're on that good dope in Arizona," as clouds of smoke perfumed the air before he launched into "Low Life." Since neither Drizzy nor The Weeknd were in attendance, Future enlisted the crowd to sing their parts. The audience did it with gusto. Maybe it was that interplay with the crowd that loosened him up: Future got more intense in his delivery and rapped some hooks.

Before he tore into "March Madness," he asked the crowd to light him up with cellphones. The cellphone lights swarmed in the dark like fireflies; it looked exactly like the kind of entrance that the WWE orchestrates for Bray Wyatt when he enters an arena.

Future wrapped up his set shortly after 10 p.m. We all surged out of the gates, greeted by a horde of guys hawking bootleg Future shirts. Maybe the CD-R dudes were the day shift and the T-shirt bros were the night shift? The crowd buzzed with that sweet energy that amasses during any good concert or live event. That feeling of connection, where even though you're surrounded by strangers, you feel like they could be your friends cause they shared that magic moment with you.

After all, concerts are places where we lose ourselves for a bit. We drink, we dance, we flirt, we sing, we rage the fuck out. We shed our inhibitions and feel a bit more naked and closer to everyone as a result of that. Doesn't matter if it's a Trunk Space show for 10 people or thousands of rap fans in an arena — that feeling of unity is there.

That is, until you're stuck in the parking lot.

click to enlarge Fans at Ak-Chin Pavilion during Future and Migos' show on June 28. - MELISSA FOSSUM
Fans at Ak-Chin Pavilion during Future and Migos' show on June 28.
Melissa Fossum
Critic's Notebook
Last Night: Future and Migos at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix.

The Crowd: Thirty percent of the crowd is rappers hustling their CD-Rs, rhythmically slapping the white paper sleeves on the palms of their hands just like the gauntlet of dudes handing out stripper cards between every casino in Las Vegas. Sixty percent of the crowd is staggeringly beautiful women dressed in the kind of skimpy dresses that would inspire parents across the nation to shout, "You're not leaving the house wearing that, young lady!" The remaining 10 percent is their boyfriends, older people, and random schmucks like yours truly.

Overheard: "We got that OG Kush on the right, that Chronic on the left, and that Blue Dream in the middle," said Future, who apparently can accurately deduce which strain of weed each section of the audience is smoking by his finely calibrated nose. If rapping doesn't work out in the long run, dude could make a killing as a weed sommelier.

Random Notebook Dump: Between acts, the jumbo screens flanking the stage are showing pistachio ads. One of the ads says "The Mindful Nut." Now, I can't get the image of a sleazy yet serene Buddha saying, "I'm going to show her my Om face," out of my head.
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Ashley Naftule