I previously wrote about the return of touring for Uproxx’s fall preview of the most anticipated tours in hip-hop. But talking ain’t doing, and I had to get back out there myself after a year away. What I discovered in doing so? We are all a little rusty — artists and fans, both.
But, if you’re going to be a little rusty, Blxst has the blueprint for blowing past those first awkward speed bumps and putting on one hell of a show. Wednesday night at The Observatory in Santa Ana, the local rising star provided a pitch-perfect example for how to return from hiatus, even if you never really got a chance to tour in the first place.
That informed part of my reasoning for choosing Blxst as my own return show. Uproxx was high on the guy since even before the release of his fan-favorite EP, No Love Lost (which is also the title of his current tour — check out his UPROXX Sessions performance). Then, he was chosen as one of XXL‘s 2021 Freshman Class, causing his hype to skyrocket. Yet, even after all that, none of us has ever gotten to see him in tour context because his entire breakthrough happened during a global pandemic that basically shut down the industry.
So, of course, I had to make sure he’s the real deal. But also, going to shows can be overwhelming from the other side too. The Observatory has been pretty trusty for me over the years thanks to its out-of-the-way location (no Hollywood hustle and bustle), relatively cozy floor arrangement (I know my spots to get a good view without getting stepped on), and cheap drinks. I thought it’d be relatively easier to slip back into a groove somewhere I’ve been catching shows since even before it was my job.
That rust, though. For the first time, I actually had anxiety about getting to the venue late (I hate standing in line, so my tendency is to arrive right before the show starts in earnest), what I was going to wear (resolved by my old man tendency to just wear sweats to everything but weddings), and the whole entry rigamarole. I forgot my earplugs. I remembered to bring cash for parking. I give myself a cautious 7/10.
Blxst, meanwhile, saw some room for improvement right at the start of his set, as fans were treated to the sight of a roadie’s desktop while they struggled to switch backdrops from the opener’s simple static graphic to Blxst’s animated reel. However, the mishap may have illustrated Blxst’s greatest strength. While all this was going on behind him, he was actually performing his first song. I don’t think a whole bunch of people noticed the backdrop because the performer himself is so magnetic.
One thing that helped his stellar performance was the fact that No Love Lost is chock full of absolute slappers. “Overrated” got a huge pop, as did “Be Alone,” “Gang Slide,” and “Just Say’n.” He also peppered in joints from his and Bino Rideaux’s joint project Sixtape 2, and some of his more popular features with local acts like 1TakeJay and Kalan.FrFr, both of whom popped out to perform along with him. However, the crowd absolutely roared when Sacramento spitter Mozzy and LA summertime sovereign Dom Kennedy showed up to perform their songs with Blxst (Bino is on his own tour, and more than once I overheard a fellow attendee wish aloud for him to make an appearance).
Another tip for artists preparing to pop out: it helps to launch your tour with a rowdy local show. The young crowd — think early-20s, college-age kids, although The Observatory is an all-ages crowd (always get the mid-week show if you can) — was in his pocket from the jump. We’ve all spent months hearing his music at house parties, on our work/study playlists, and at local mainstays like the Drew League. On some songs, it almost seemed the crowd was doing all the singing for Blxst, although he and his talented backup singer were very impressive.
It’s clear that Blxst has spent time honing his live show, even if he couldn’t actually perform it for anyone yet. And that might be the biggest takeaway from his blueprint: use the time you have to perfect the craft of performing. While it seems a lot of artists throw together a setlist and head out, the long hiatus has, I believe, left fans hungry for more. Honestly, they deserve more. Before the pandemic, my last concert was an absolute yawner simply because it didn’t seem like the artists themselves felt like performing for fans was special. They’d taken it for granted. Blxst, who never got the chance to sing for an appreciative crowd, never did. He made it feel special for all of us — the artist and fans, both.