To some people, sticking a comedian between the two principal acts on your tour would seem like a weird decision. When those two acts are Earthgang and Smino, “weird” comes with the territory — but weird in the most sublime, Outkastian way.
It’s actually sort of brilliant that these two acts sought to seek their collective fortunes in tandem on Smino’s Hoopti Tour, because that shared flag-flying freakiness is not just a common bond between them, it also sets them apart from their respective collaborators and crews, giving them license to do whatever the hell they want. That devil-may-care, anything-goes disposition is what has endeared them to legions of fans nationwide despite both artists flying well under the radar for the early parts of their careers. That condition is about as likely to change as Earthgang’s Johnny Venus is to wrap his locs in a colorful head scarf — almost certain.
When Chicago producer extraordinaire Phoelix opened the show with as much panache and polish as many of the veteran artists he’s worked with — Noname, Saba, Smino — it was hard to believe his claim that this was his first tour, so authentic was the Windy City soul behind his falsetto vocals. He delivered one hell of an opening act, making way for the outer space funk to follow. His traditional brand of slowed down, Fender-Rhodes-keyboard-soul provided the perfect springboard and connective tissue for the more well-known acts to follow. He’ll definitely be worth paying attention to as he edges into the spotlight alongside his famous friends.
Earthgang, the Dreamville-approved Atlanta duo comprised of Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus, lit up the room, both literally and figuratively, with their set, emanating a genuine exuberance at being able to share the stage with one another and share the electric chemistry that’s gotten them compared to another pair of ATLiens as spiritual successors — if not literal ones. Performing a string of songs pulled from their three alliteratively titled EPs, Rags, Robots, and Royalty, they zipped across the stage like pinballs, exhorting the crowd to mirror their infectious energy.
After the aforementioned comedian held court from a seat on stage for a bit, the curtain dramatically fell before reopening to reveal Smino, his backup singer, and his live band standing on a stage decked out to look like the inside of a car customization shop. There were racks of rims scattered around, the DJ booth was nestled into a stack of tires — painted bright yellow, for the extra cosmic pop that truly made them part of Smino’s Parliament-inspired set. Speaking of pop, a sign in one corner of the stage advertised a fictitious brand of soda as well as the name of the tour, completing the look.