O2 Academy Brixton – 3rd May
“London… My fucking hometown.” 23 year old Stormzy stands triumphant in the centre of the Brixton Academy stage, surveying his kingdom. In the second of three sold out Brixton shows, grime’s golden boy shows South London what he’s made of. The air in the packed out academy is heavy with anticipation and there’s a real buzz in the crowd as people wrestle their way towards the front. He bristles with boundless energy from the second he appears on stage, only momentarily allowing his unforgiving gaze and presence to slip as he soaks in the atmosphere in scarce moments of sincere disbelief.
It’s the Gang Signs and Prayer tour, and the set list reflects as much. Stormzy makes his way through much of his number one debut album, as well as earlier tracks ‘Scary’, ‘One Take Freestyle’, ‘Standard’ and ‘Know Me From’. He performs primarily alone at the front of the stage. Behind him his DJ, DJ TiiNY, is flanked by a series of huge LED screens projecting 3D visuals; they rise and fall and manoeuvre around with each performance. Powerful opener ‘First Things First’ is accompanied by choice lyrics flashing in bright white on a dark stage. He moves into ‘Cold’, and menacing infrared faces stare out at the crowd amidst a cacophony of laser beams. The production is effective and slick, no doubt, however later in the show the pyrotechnics and confetti are a bit much, so far removed is this from the underground birthplace of grime.
Fireworks aside, Stormzy’s stage presence is captivating. Each lyric is delivered with as much power as if he’d never said it before, and he flits from high energy renditions of ‘Mr Skeng’ and ‘Shut Up’ to downtempo slow jams ‘Velvet’ and ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ with a seamless competence. There are moments of cheek and humour too as he interacts with his audience: ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ is dedicated to “your special someone, or your friend with benefits or whatever we’re calling it nowadays” and before ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1′ he’s all, “I’m shit at singing, you need to help me.” The intricacies in the production and the memorable female vocal loop of ‘Big For Your Boots’ are lost in the Brixton Academy acoustics, but aside from that the sound system serves GSAP well. A group of kids wearing Adidas backpacks pace across the stage with him for ‘Return of the Rucksack’ and Ghetts appears for a powerful if slightly distorted performance of ‘Bad Boys’. “I’m not into the special guest thing. All we need is Ghetts… The only man on stage who has the right energy” says Stormzy before launching into ‘Shape of You’, bathed in neon lights. It’s a meaningful message until the following day when I see Ed Sheeran joined him on stage for the final date. In hindsight that moment now feels slightly disingenuous.
It’s one moment amongst many of absolute sincerity however. A massive shout out to “my mum, your mum, all the mums” gets a huge cheer before ‘100 Bags’, and following ‘Big For Your Boots’ Stormzy stands illuminated by a single white spotlight and raises one hand to the sky in wonder. “This is what dreams are made of, it would be easy for an artist to come out here and take this all for granted, but from the bottom of my heart… Thank you.”
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