88rising Concert Review (October 14, 2018: Aragon Ballroom, IL)

Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and for those that do not read this blog regularly, check my social media, or have not talked to me within the past week, then you might not know that I recently attended a concert.  This happened to only be my second concert, so I was pretty excited for it.  I also saw it as an opportunity to make my first concert review for this blog, so here I am doing just that.  However, don’t think of this as much as a “review” as it is just me talking about my experience, because I have not gone to nearly enough concerts to make a fair rating scale.

So, on October 14th (last Sunday, if you’re reading this when I post it), I saw 88rising at the Aragon Ballroom.  I have had a few run-ins with 88rising on this blog, reviewing their amazing summer album when that came out and listing a few of my favorite songs from them in preparation for this concert.  For those unaware, 88rising is a record label that specializes in Asian hip-hop/R&B.  They’ve become popular through their biggest acts Rich Brian and Joji, both of whom performed at this event.   Also performing were Higher Brothers, KOHH, NIKI, AUGUST 08, and Sen Morimoto.

So, I went to this concert with my dad, and right away, just entering the concert hall was an interesting experience.  The only other concert I have ever attended was JAY Z, which took place in the United Center.  United Center is a seated stadium holds around 20,000 people, so it’s needless to say that going to an all-standing-room hall that holds 5,000 maximum was a reach out of my comfort zone.  But, aside from my legs being painfully tired by the end of the night, the concert hall itself was very nice.  I was afraid, as well, that it would be extremely stuffy, since the Aragon Ballroom is infamous for how hot it can get, but that was not as much of a problem as I thought it would be, so that is also a plus.

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The opening act, Sen Morimoto, came out just a few minutes after six, so I have to commend them for being pretty on time.  I didn’t think there was going to be an opening act, but since one of the main acts, Keith Ape, was not at the concert, I think that Sen was supposed to act as a replacement for him.  I was a little mad at first that I had listened to Keith Ape’s discography only for him not to be there, but I cannot say I was disappointed by Sen.  Actually, I think he’s better than Keith Ape would have been.  I found that night that Sen was a very talented man.

I had not listened to his music before, so I did not know how much of a treat I was in for.  His first song alone was enough for me to forgive Keith Ape for not showing up.  His soft vocals worked great for the song’s beat, and it was a great set opener.  Like I said, I don’t know all his songs, so I don’t remember much of what he played, but he had some highlights.  First of all, he’s not only a singer and a rapper, but he’s also a saxophone player.

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Yeah, I never thought I would hear someone play the saxophone over a trap beat, but I did, and it turned out to be less awkward that you think it would.  His riffing worked great over the instrumentals!

There was also a fun song where he did a call and response that the whole crowd got in on.  Sen yelled “I’m gonna need that back!”, and the audience yelled “I’m gonna need that back!” with the same enthusiasm.  I listened to the studio version of this song when I left the concert, and sadly, I was a little disappointed, as it did not have the same energy it had in the concert, but that did not take away from how good of an opening act Sen was.

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The next act was AUGUST 08, and being one of my favorite artists on the label, I was really hyped to see him.  Fortunately, he lived up to the hype, as I was thoroughly impressed by his performance.

His first song was “Missed Calls”, which I have mentioned on this site is my favorite song from him.  His voice is just as good live as it is in his songs, especially in this opening track, so that proves he has some real vocal chops.  The crowd was all in on this song, and the same energy carried into “Seperate Ways”.  After a laidback performance of “Lately”, AUGUST decided that he wanted to perform in the crowd!

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This was definitely one of the highlights of the night.  I don’t know what he was standing on (because he would have to be 7+ feet tall to stand that high above everyone else) but I was glad I could see him with all of us dancing to his tunes.  While he was in the crowd, he played two songs I hadn’t heard before, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying them.  One of the songs was even my favorite of the night!  I didn’t catch the name of it, but the infectious “hopscotch shorty jumpin’ out the cool whip” chorus is stuck in my head to this day.  I haven’t been able to find it online yet, but I hope I do, because this would be a great songs to bump in the whip!

After this, he went back on stage for “Funeral” and an acoustic version of Rich Brian’s “Arizona”.  Throughout his set, AUGUST showed that he was a very charismatic man, and his little quips were fun to listen to throughout the show.  This charisma bled into his performance, and he was easily one of the best acts of the night.

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After AUGUST came Japanese rapper KOHH, and if there is a musical equivalent to whiplash, this had to be it, because it was very strange going from smooth R&B singing to blasting, industrial, shout-rapping within the course of a few minutes.  Not that this is a bad thing, though.  KOHH proved to be a great stage performer.

KOHH came out to his song “Die Young”, which is his most rock-influenced song.  This was the perfect track to open his act with, because its loud, raucous instrumentals proved to be a great ambience setter for what the rest of his act would be.  I happened to be close to one of the speakers, so his performance almost made me deaf, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching him jump around stage like a maniac.

He had the same amount of energy as he played his other songs, including “Living Legend”, “Dirt Boys”, and his verse from “It G Ma”.  The whole crowd was feeling his energy, as everyone was jumping and bouncing the whole time he performed.  His last song (whose name eludes me) was slower and calmer than the rest of his set, so it worked as a nice cool down.  But, from all the artists here, I would love to see KOHH again the most just to see if he can carry the same energy throughout a whole solo performance.

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Next was NIKI, and while her DJ was a tad annoying, her voice is another that proves to be as good live as it is in the studio.  She started her set with “Newsflash!”, which is one of the better songs off her tape “Zephyr”.  She played most of her other singles, too, including “See U Never” and “I Like U”.  Then, she ended it on what might be her biggest single, “Warpaint”, and it was a very good track to go off on.

Much like her studio work, I found her performance to be very good, but when I’m looking back and thinking about specific details to address, not much is coming to my mind.  She had a sweet little persona she used on stage that seemed pretty genuine, and like most of the other acts, she had nice stage presence, but other than that, I don’t have much to say.  Still, it would be right of me to say that she did pretty good overall.

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Next on the lineup was Higher Brothers, and this was another performance that I was anticipating.  Their opening song was “Flo Rida”, and while Ski Mask the Slump God wasn’t there to perform it with them, the Higher Brothers did a good job making it their own.  The four had really good chemistry with one another, and it was cool seeing the others dance around and provide ad-libs to whoever was rapping at the time.  They also performed “Isabellae” and “711”, which were tracks I didn’t think they would perform, but I’m glad they did.

After this, they played four tracks from them I hadn’t heard (or a forgot) but I enjoyed them all.  A couple even had a little boom bap influence, and I specifically remember being impressed by a fast flow MaSiWei gave towards the tail end of one of these songs.  It was no surprise, though, that they would end their set with “Made In China”, and saying that this is my favorite song from them, I obviously enjoyed the performance.

The Higher Brothers were great at this concert.  At one point, they were throwing their hoodies in the crowd, and it was a great way to increase the audience interaction.  I was very pleased with their set overall.

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At this point in the concert, I had to go get a drink of water, so I had to sacrifice my spot close to the stage, meaning I had to watch the last two acts from further away.  But, I guess staying hydrated is more important than seeing your favorite musicians perform…only by a small margin.

Coming towards the end of the show, it was Joji’s turn to perform, and the incessant “Joji!  Joji!” chanting that was going on before his set proved that the audience was ready to hear him perform.  My first impression of him was being surprised by his voice.  Like AUGUST and NIKI, his singing is similar to the studio versions of the songs, but his talking voice was in a much higher register than I expected.  I guess that shows he had a lot of enthusiasm.

Considering his actual performance, however, I was a little underwhelmed.  BUT, this wasn’t his fault.  It’s just the type of music he makes.  His music is great to setting an atmosphere, and his lyrics make his tracks perfect mood music.  But, when it comes to a concert setting, his music doesn’t hold up as well.  It’s just the kind of music it is; it doesn’t transfer well to that kind of setting.

Still, that doesn’t mean his act was without any highlights.  “Head In The Clouds” sounded as angelic as ever, and “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” closed his set superbly.  Plus, he had a great stage persona, as his t-shirt launching and funny juggling relieved some of the moodiness his music relayed to the audience.  So, while his music didn’t work well at the concert, he was still toe-to-toe with the other acts.

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Finally, the headlining act: Rich Brian.  While the length of his set was about the same as the rest, he performed the most songs, counting in at 10, while the others stayed around 8-7.  Right within the first few seconds of his performance you could tell he was going to have a great set.  He came out to “Gospel”, dancing on stage like he had just snorted a pound of cocaine.  He was just going crazy to XXXTentacion’s part on that song!  When his rap came, though, you could tell he meant business, as he rapped with very precisely, and he made sure to get every word out on beat.  Like Joji, his voice in concert was different than I expected, but it made sense with the amount of energy he was exhibiting.

One of the best parts of Rich Brian’s set was the diversity of it.  He had songs that showed the soft side of him, like “Cold”, “History”, and “Glow Like Dat”, each one giving us a preview of his turbulent life, specifically in the love department.  But, these were juxtaposed by his hard-hitting, braggadocious trap bangers such as “Attention”, “Amen”, “Who Dat Be”, and the integral “Dat $tick”.  He did seem to be going fast, as there was not much space between songs (with a few exceptions), but he was still very good.  He kept the same level of energy the whole time, and ending it on “Dat $tick” was a great way to end is set with a bang, especially since the song has such an easy to follow chorus.  He was the right man to have as the last act!

But, that wasn’t really the end.  Right after he left the stage, almost everybody came back out for a gratifying performance of “Midsummer Madness”.  This is where the chemistry between everyone on the label was truly seen.  Almost everybody was jumping and dancing around, bouncing off one another’s happiness to make the song a fabulous encore.  There could not have been a better way to end this concert.

Overall, this was a great concert.  I do have some complaints with it, as I wish they would have brought some of the other artists out for certain performances.  For instance, it would have been cool to see Higher Brothers bring Joji out for a performance of “Nomadic”, or to see NIKI and AUGUST 08 collaborate for “Poolside Manor” or “I Want In”.  There were so many artists there that not doing this felt like wasted potential.  But, the songs that were played were good, and everybody had a great stage presence/persona.  The crowd was really into it the whole time and it was just a fun experience.  I definitely do not regret attending this concert, and I will be sure to show my 88rising merch to everybody.

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Thank you for reading my 88rising concert review. If you liked this review, make sure to follow my website, Twitter, and Instagram, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future content. Also, if you have something you want to see me review, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep on listening to good music! I know I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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