Rap music has a long, proud history of super-sized groups that shouldn’t work but do. Obviously, there’s Wu-Tang, who’ve long been the benchmark for such collectives, but there have also been such groups as Native Tongues, Odd Future, Raider Klan, Beast Coast, the earliest incarnation of NWA, and hyper-local groups like LA Symphony and Justus League. Brockhampton holds an unusual position even among this rare group of acts, both for their unique configuration and their group dynamic, which is chaotic even by the standards set by their peers and predecessors.
And now, like so very many of those supergroups before them, Brockhampton has reached the end of the road, giving us cause to take stock of their legacy and impact in the wake of their last two albums and a rowdy but strangely muted farewell show at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles Saturday night (November 19).
I don’t mean “muted” in the sense that the vibe was low or that the band’s energy was down, although anyone who’s ever seen Brockhampton perform a set at a festival knows there are moments where the emo takes over. But anyone who has seen those performances has come to expect certain standards of presentation – think the orange jumpsuits they wore along with blue face paint at Camp Flog Gnaw in 2018.
While the crowd was certainly peppered with attendees wearing this getup and others from the band’s lengthy stage history of rocking outlandish costumes, this night saw them dressing down. They looked less like the funhouse mirror version of the boy bands they half-parodied-half-homaged throughout their career and more like a group of guys hanging out with their friends for one last night before going off to college.
Even in this was quintessentially Brockhampton, though. They’ve made a career of teasing and trolling fans, hinting at grand plans while seemingly making it up as they went along. This tendency was even seen in the release of what they’d promoted as their final album, The Family, which turned out to be more of a solo album from the band’s de facto frontman Kevin Abstract. Hours after dropping the project, they announced one more: the odds-and-ends compilation TM, which felt like more of a proper Brockhampton album despite the unfinished nature of the songs on it.
From the start, the final Brockhampton show captured that mischievous proclivity, as Kevin Abstract came out on stage himself to perform songs from The Family. Just when I’d convinced myself that this was one last troll from the boys, he was joined on stage by Bearface, Dom, Jabari, Joba, Matt, and Merlyn, ripping through uproarious takes on fan favorites from their three Saturation projects, Iridescence, and Ginger as the crowd broke into mosh pit mayhem.
Weirdly enough, though, it never really felt like “the last” Brockhampton show. Just “a” Brockhampton show – a hangout with friends. The closest it felt to a farewell was when they pulled a fan named Brendan, who was wearing the orange jumpsuit (of course), onto the stage and asked him what he loved about Brockhampton. His answer, “because they feel like acceptance,” seemed to explain the phenomenon behind the group’s popularity as much as anything. Then they performed some more, with Brendan on the stage like he was part of the group.
That’s the thing that seemed to define them more than anything. It explained the intense loyalty and fervor of their fanbase, which delivered them to the top of the Billboard charts in 2018 with Iridescence and offered some of the most raucous performances at the festivals they took over in the years since. It was that feeling that, with all those members on stage, there might be room for just one more. And one more after that, and maybe one or two more after that. Brockhampton called themselves a boy band, but they were more like family – and when you were a Brockhampton fan, so were you.