It’s been a long wait, but Earl Sweatshirt is finally headlining his own show in Toronto. The Odd Future member was initially set to perform at The Opera House back in April, around when he released his sophomore studio album: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Tickets quickly sold out, and were even selling on secondary markets like Stubhub and Kijiji for more than quadruple the price. Earl unfortunately became sick on tour, and had to postpone the show until now. Due to the high demand to see Earl perform, the venue was switched to the larger Phoenix Concert Theatre, with original Opera House tickets being honoured and a new batch of tickets selling out.
This would be my first time seeing Earl Sweatshirt perform, as his only other time performing in Toronto was in 2013, when he opened for Kendrick Lamar at The Sound Academy, and I was unable to attend. Earl now has a solid body of work to pull off a headlining set, with two studio albums worth of music to go along with the heralded Earl mixtape that had Odd Future fans chanting “free Earl!” many years ago. The 21-year-old has a young fanbase (he was 16 when he released his first mixtape), and so this would be an all-ages show. Similar to when I saw Logic perform here earlier this year, the main dance floor was open to everyone, while a 19+ section for alcohol was made in the back of the club and on the balcony level.
I got to The Phoenix about an hour after doors had opened, and the line to get inside stretched a block away. There were teenage fans being denied at the door because they couldn’t handle whatever drugs they took, and others being kicked out because they tried to sneak in some alcohol or other substances. Once inside, the place was already packed with fans as I made my way to the 19+ section. I’m not sure if Remy Banks is a DJ or MC, but they were supposed to be the opening act before Earl got on stage. I didn’t even notice if or when they performed, but the DJs on stage were spinning Trap songs that all sounded the same (like this, haha). The crowd had several strong chants to get Earl on stage, as everyone yelled “we want Earl!”, “Sweat-shirt!” and even “free Earl!” at one point.
Earl came out on stage to thunderous applause as he began his set with the start of his 2013 album, Doris. He started with “PRE,” rapping SK La’ Flare’s verse, and the crowd got extremely hyped as he dove right into his own verse, with Na’kel there to be his hypeman. The momentum kept up as he continued with “Burgundy,” nailing the fast flow in the second verse, before he got the crowd to shout the chorus to “Molasses” as he performed the track. After doing his verse from “Guild,” Earl asked the crowd if they were okay with him performing his entire I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside album next, and of course they approved.
The new album is Earl’s gloomiest, most laid-back work to date, but that didn’t stop the crowd from turning up. Earl literally performed almost the entire album, in order from beginning to end, starting with “Huey.” The crowd generally knew all the songs, rapping some of the lyrics with Earl. Na’kel and Earl would have mini dance-offs during the short instrumental parts of the album. “Mantra” and “Faucet” were certified head-nodders, while “Off Top” had a hard-hitting beat that got the fans jumping. Halfway through the album, Earl taught the crowd the chorus to “Grown Ups,” and he then performed the song with the crowd chanting the chorus with him.
Things got laid-back again as Earl did his verse from “AM // Radio,” and during the instrumental part at the end, Earl and Na’kel spent time pointing at the balcony level to make sure the fans up there were still enjoying themselves. They then did the slow jam “Inside,” and before moving on to the high-energy track “DNA,” they made sure the crowd knew what was coming and were ready to chant the chorus with them. Everyone turned up for this track, as Na’kel finally got to spit his guest verse on the album. Rather than finish the album with the final song though, Earl asked the crowd if he could perform some new songs, and proceeded with at least three that I’d never heard before.
The new joints had much more energy in them than anything on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, as the entire crowd got jumping to them. Na’kel had another guest verse on one of the songs, and he stage-dived into the crowd after spitting it. A fan also rushed the stage while Earl was rapping, only to perform his own stage-dive before Earl or security could kick him off stage. I think a girl’s bra was even thrown on stage at Earl, the crowd was really turned up at this point.
After doing several new, unknown songs, Earl went back to a familiar joint with the Doris hit “Hive,” rapping all of his verses as well as Vince Staples’ verse. He then wrapped up his set with what he called his “favourite song,” another slow beat that I didn’t recognize. Everyone then left the stage and the crowd chanted for an encore.
Shortly afterwards, Earl and his crew came back on stage, and he told the crowd “good news/bad news: we won’t be doing anymore Earl Sweatshirt songs… but it’s lit!” They then started a DJ set by playing some more of those repetitive Trap songs, dancing behind the turntables. Some fans left at this point, while much of the younger fans got turned up and started a bit of a mosh pit near the front of the stage. I decided to leave after three songs, while the party was still going.
Overall, this was a fun show, but there was more to be desired. While I loved seeing the new album get performed in almost its entirety, I would’ve liked to see at least a couple tracks performed off the Earl mixtape, and a few of my favourites off Doris like “Centurion,” “Whoa,” and “Hoarse.” It’s also surprising that Earl skipped out on one of his biggest hits, “Chum” (although the quiet, emotional track may not be well-suited for a party setting like this). Any of these tracks would have been much more welcomed for the encore as opposed to the Trap DJ set. Regardless, Earl definitely rocked the house, as the crowd was hyped for most of his set, and most fans loved the new, unreleased material he performed. The Phoenix Concert Theatre was a fun spot as usual, although I do prefer this venue when it’s restricted to 19+ and alcohol can be drank near the front of the stage.
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