A group at the front claimed to have been waiting outside the gate since 8:30 a.m. that day. Stretched out as far as the eye could see, the line was heavily repping Golf Wang, Tyler’s fashion line, or some stylistic approximation. Colorful cargo pants, pastel T-shirts, utility vests and floppy hats were the uniform. Some attendees were even wearing the trademark blond wig Tyler dons in the music video for his 2019 single “EARFQUAKE.”
The second thing I noticed was the shoes. The mostly college-aged crowd was decked out in designer shoes of every shape, size and color. I have no doubt thousands of dollars in footwear were destroyed that night in what was the single most unpleasant mosh in which I have ever taken part.
The crowd scurried to the stage the moment gates opened to Express’ outdoor venue. I got within 10 feet of the front guardrail. As the space filled in with anxious spectators, the 85-degree heat turned the tight crowd into a sweltering, ungodly throng of sweat.
First on the lineup for the night was Grammy-nominated rapper GoldLink. It was moments before the start of his set that I heard a young voice behind me and turned to see a small cluster of children, none of which could have been a day over 10. Bewildering. I didn’t have long to worry about their well-being in the already oppressive crowd before the first song came on and the pit exploded into a violent, swirling rage.
Let’s get one thing straight. GoldLink is good. His music is exciting, diverse and well-delivered in a live setting. But his music in no way warrants the kind of frenzied chaos that ensued over the course of his set.
I like moshes. I have been in metal moshes, punk moshes, hip-hop moshes. Each comes with its own vibe, but all tend to be good-natured. Someone leans into you or gives you a hearty shove, and if you catch his or her eye, you’ll be met with a friendly smile. It is an exhilarating element of a high-energy show.
This was not that. This was thousands of people all trying to get to the front row at once, with no regard for the elbowed faces and crushed lungs of those surrounding them.
The mayhem was not the least bit helped by GoldLink’s repeated insistence that the mosh form gaps and holes so that people could rush each other. On one occasion, this opening allowed a particularly hyperactive man to perform a dance solo, earning him GoldLink’s shirt, tossed from the stage.
When all was said and done, I was battered, exhausted and sick of the human race. My fingers were pruned with other people’s sweat. Two people passed out. Another threw up. The children from the beginning of the set? Nowhere to be seen, but likely not having a great time.
It’s hard to say much else about the set. GoldLink sounded good, but seeing him over the raised hands and swells of bodies was an impossibility. After a blessedly short performance, I made my way to the back of the floor to breathe.
Not long after, Jaden Smith came on stage for the second opener. This was one of my most anticipated parts of the night. What sort of surreal, brooding experience laid ahead of me?
The wall of sound that washed over the pit was unlike anything I have ever heard. Even from my more relaxed post at the back of the crowd (still incredibly dense), the bass was so loud and rumbling that I could feel it rattle my bones. Every hair on my body was vibrating. My organs hurt. Not popping bass kicks, but prolonged, droning hums that would have made Skrillex blush.
Despite this overwhelming sonic intensity and Smith’s unexpected onstage aggression, the set was still undeniably real sad boy hours. Moody videos of ambulances and apathetic expressions were projected against the backdrop as cool lights washed over Smith.
My lofty expectations for angst were finally met when Smith was handed a pair of electric hair clippers by a stagehand, in order to shave a few patches out of his hair during the opening notes of his bummer-banger track “K.”
After hyping Tyler repeatedly and fervently, Smith bounded off stage as the sun sank below the horizon. It was a long, muggy 45 minutes before Tyler came on stage. I managed to snake my way up to the front again, an easy task now that the audience was largely exhausted from an overhyped start. Throughout the final set, the crowd was tight but tolerable.
When the lights came up on stage, Tyler was situated front and center in a fluorescent, highlighter-colored suit and a synthetic blond bob. Upon the first beat drop, he sprung violently into his distinctly disorienting dance moves.
Flinging himself wildly across the stage like an unhinged marionette, Tyler ripped out a few tracks from his new album before assuring the crowd he would dive into his older catalog. The rest of the show was a fair mix of the songs that put him on the map, with particularly intense highlights in “Tamale” and “Who Dat Boy.”
About halfway into the show, Tyler sat down at a shimmering grand piano on stage and played an extended intro to “EARFQUAKE” as the curtain dropped from the flyspace and revealed elaborate tiers of streamers.
Despite the effects, it was Tyler’s antics that stole the show. He hurled sarcastic insults at audience members he saw acting up and recounted his afternoon spent biking around Upper Arlington among “nervous caucasians” when he wasn’t stumbling across the stage with an elegant sort of clumsiness.
The show closed shortly thereafter with a passionate audience singalong of “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” the emotional final track on his newest album. The crowd linked arms and swayed as they belted out the hook of the same name.
For a brief moment, I forgot how awful they had been for the entire duration of the show. Then Tyler left the stage with no encore, and it all came rushing back during the walk out of the venue.