Angel Haze at 02 ABC, 14/1/16
The phrase “all about the fans” can sound pretty trite and meaningless. What artist playing a gig doesn’t want to give the impression that their music is 100% for you guys, in the crowd; without whom they’d never be standing where they are today? In the heat of the moment, some manage to convince us and some don’t. But if you want to witness an artist with extraordinary talent and energy who hasn’t lost sight of what it’s really all about, then look no further than American rapper and hip-hop artist Angel Haze.
“The more energy I get from you, the more energy I give!” The 23 year-old, who is currently touring their project release Back to the Woods (which deserves just as much merit as any album), draws the excited crowd out of themselves and into the performance with these words. A significant proportion of Haze’s Glasgow fans seem to be teenagers, and this is hardly surprising given the focus in Haze’s music on reaching out to young people going through hell – an experience that the rapper confronts again and again in their deeply personal and emotionally raw material. These young fans could not have found a better icon than Angel Haze, who makes it clear to us right away that they are here for and because of us. There’s no trace of the cynicism that sometimes lingers in the air like a bad smell at gigs with a slightly older crowd, and it’s no coincidence that Haze is about as un-cynical an artist as you can get. The stage lights illuminate the front few rows of fans, and Haze, wearing a baggy black shirt and baseball cap over sleek long hair, and completely owning the look, is performing directly to our faces. It’s like they’re saying: I know what it’s like to not be seen, and I see you.
The set opens with ‘D-Day’, also the first track on Back to the Woods. It’s edgy, it’s personal and it’s powerful, immersing us right from the offset in Haze’s stark storytelling style. Their themes are dark, but what’s impressive about this gig, and about Haze as an artist, is the amount of heart that emerges out of this darkness. As soon as the opening patter has ended Haze asks for a volunteer to join them onstage. A scattering of hands shoot up, and Haze picks out a teenager who hops the barrier effortlessly and stands with the rapper, beaming like they’ve just discovered that there is such a thing as destiny after all. And this is almost how it feels, as Haze starts singing ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, one of the most poignant and melodic tracks on the record, directly to this stranger, who sways and sings along to every word, and knows exactly when the drop is coming and exactly what to do. The connection between these two is so tangible that the whole audience is spellbound. It’s a truly special moment, but somehow it feels wrong to take a picture of it, because the intimacy feels so real.
Angel Haze also deserves credit for their singing – it’s not what they’re known for, but their recent work gives them the opportunity to develop this aspect of their songwriting, to very positive effects. The soft, pleasant timbre and impressive vocal range of their singing voice sounds every bit as good live as it does on record, and there’s no sign that Haze is any less comfortable with singing than with the aggressive, high-energy rapping that we’re used to hearing.
Really unforgettable moments at gigs don’t come around very often, but just a few songs later Haze gives us another one. Perhaps noticing the awkward gangliness so many of us are demonstrating as we try to bop in time to the pounding hip-hop beats, Haze disappears from the stage, and without warning, remerges right in the middle of the crowd, inviting us to mosh with them as they launch into an explosive rendition of ‘Babe Ruthless’. Bounding back and forth, bumping against their sweaty, ecstatic fans, Haze gives a performance that has to be seen to be believed, and the transformative effect it has on the crowd is electrifying. Everyone’s inhibitions fly out the window, and from this moment on the energy of the gig knows no limits. Haze powers through the rest of the tracks on Back to the Woods, and every beat and lyric resonates in the charged atmosphere.
All too soon, the set comes to a close. But Angel Haze still has plenty left to give for the encore. Much to everyone’s delight, ‘Battle Cry’, the hugely popular single off the Dirty Gold record, is up first. Impossibly uplifting, this anthem to the fallen masses strikes a chord with the crowd, and soon everyone is belting out a refrain that couldn’t be more appropriate: money cannot buy all the love that’s here tonight. The sheer force of feeling that Haze puts into their performance is breath-taking. The momentum continues for ‘New York’, a high-tempo slammer of a track that allows Haze’s unstoppable attitude to burst through, and finally some new material offers a tantalising glimpse into the direction the artist will be heading in the imminent future.
This is a gig that has truly shaken the crowd to the core, and the atmosphere as the house lights come up is one of complete elation. Haze still isn’t done with us though – they head to the merch stand to chat to fans and pose for pictures. If there was ever any question of just how genuine their commitment to their fans is, tonight is proof that Angel Haze really does give a shit, in the most powerful way. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and a perfect remedy for anyone who needs their faith in the music industry, and in humanity more generally, restored.
[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]