Vince Staples’ ‘Smile, You’re On Camera’ Tour At The Novo Was Almost Too Good For Los Angeles

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Catching Vince Staples twice in as many weeks in two cities hundreds of miles apart is oddly instructive of two things. One is how remarkably cool and consistent Vince is as a performer. The other is how drastically different two locations — and two different experiences — can be. The first time I caught Vince was during my recent trip to Idaho for Treefort festival, where he and opener Jpegmafia acted as unofficial openers for the whole event Wednesday night at The Knitting Factory. The other was Vince’s homecoming show this past weekend at The Novo in downtown LA, one of the final three stops on his Smile, You’re On Camera tour.

Despite the vast distances between the locales, there were some interesting similarities. Both venues are more or less the same size: A little cozier than an auditorium, but much bigger than your local hole in the wall. They’re even laid out relatively similarly, with terraced floor spaces and balconies overlooking the general admission floors and stages. Vince’s stage setup was the same at both, simple and effective. His only stage props were a quartet of standing light bars in the corners of the stage and the large screen behind him, a scaled-down version of the one he used at last year’s Coachella and other big-name festivals. As usual, it played on the security camera theme that lends his tour its cheeky name — and likely reminds him of the liquor stores back home in Long Beach.

Even the setlist and the various beats therein were all the same; Vince is nothing if not efficient. He hits many of the same marks, and perfectly controls the tempo of the set, with little improvisation. Because he’s onstage all by himself, he is the sole maestro of the proceedings, and rather than riffing with a DJ or cavorting with dancers, his dialogue is reserved for the crowd and himself, a two-way transference from which he draws strength during his contorted performances of both singles and album cuts taken from the entirety of his catalog, from “Blue Suede” all the way to his most recent offering, 2018’s surprise mixtape, FM!.

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The big difference came from the audiences, which were so vastly different that I could draw an entirely distinctive experience from both shows, even though so many parts of both were similar or the same. On the face of things, the crowds were both pretty similar as well. Even though Los Angeles is often held up as a bastion of diversity, that diversity is still more or less reflective of the overall American population. While Boise ostensibly had less reason to celebrate this outsider, who raps about things that may as well be happening on Mars for all the effect they would have on Idahoans, the Gem State somehow had more love for Vince Staples than his own hometown crowd.

It started from the opening acts onward. While Jpegmafia is not my cup of tea, the kids in both crowds clearly loved him. The LA crowd, however, had a more reserved aura, an aloofness that seemed to say, “Prove yourself.” In Boise, Jpeg’s jagged, distorted noise-rap was eagerly embraced as though it had been born there. LA seemed to hang back, waiting for him to do something to impress them. He did, jumping into the crowd with a reckless stage dive and emerging with a chipped tooth. The LA crowd seemed anxious and unnerved by the genre-hopping of warm-up act Channel Tres, as well, despite his upbeat, EDM-influenced tunes and cadre of choreographed dancers.

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Despite a clear sense of enthusiasm for Vince’s appearance in LA — his Saturday night show sold out, prompting the addition of a second show on Sunday — that crowd’s energy was overshadowed by a long shot in comparison to Boise. In Idaho, I was nearly mowed down by a roiling, rollicking mosh pit. In LA, though there was excitement, it felt restrained, like everyone was waiting for everyone else to loosen up before they could loosen up themselves. Eventually, about halfway through Vince’s hour-long set, they gave into the fervor, jumping up and down on command, but in Boise, they levitated from the very beginning of the show to the very end.

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In a quintessentially LA nod to the west coast’s approach, more of the crowd stayed after Vince’s set to watch the Mac Miller Tiny Desk Concert that he projected onto the screen at the end of every show this tour in remembrance of his friend. The room was practically still packed from wall-to-wall, and all eyes were glued to their own screens, as they recorded video of a taped performance they could find in 10 seconds on Youtube anytime. Mac even got an ovation from the crowd.

That’s Los Angeles in a nutshell, a town that is enamored with history and legacy and legend. Call it a side effect of all the celluloid that runs through the city’s veins thanks to neighboring Hollywood. But with Vince Staples, it’s just as important to actually appreciate the substance and value of the experience as it is to document or posture for. Never be too cool for the moment, Tinseltown, or for one of your own young legends in the making. Vince gives his all, every show, so the least we can do is reciprocate the energy. Go on: Dance like no one is watching — you’ll have a much better time.