NEW YORK — Moments before Frank Ocean took to a stool at Manhattan’s Terminal 5, a surprise tornado threatened the city, blowing stacks of free newspapers around like autumn leaves and mussing the carefully coiffed ’dos of the fashionable girls that had queued up along 56th Street.
But if storm clouds on a summer Thursday had dampened his spirit, Ocean definitely wasn’t showing it.
“I wanna get into something a little more familiar,” he said after kicking off with a Sade cover. Dressed in a color-blocked button-down and rocking his signature bandana like a crown, Frank crooned the oh-so-fitting opening lines of “Thinkin Bout You,” singing, “A tornado flew around my room/ Before you came / Excuse the mess it made.”
As the ladies went wild for that toe-curling falsetto, Ocean’s Odd Future cohorts, including Tyler, the Creator and verbal spray-gun Earl Sweatshirt cheered their boy on from the balcony, a show of support that should have come as no surprise given their reaction to Frank’s recent confession about his love of … umm, bagels. (Never mind that the rowdy group had their own show to perform right afterward, a few blocks down at the Best Buy Theater.)
But that was the curious thing, nothing had changed since a timid Ocean staged a show at N.Y.’s Bowery, and yet everything had changed. Frank Ocean makes songs for women, but also men now. Still, the girls were there screaming (one fan even told her squealing friend to “take a deep breath”); the boys were there, too, some on date nights and a few who maybe discovered a new role model.
The 24-year-old’s faithful fans hadn’t abandoned him in light of his admission that his first love was a man he met at 19. In fact, on Thursday night, they seemed intent on making it clear to him (and each other?) that it hadn’t shaken their devotion. This was a moment, not simply for the Def Jam artist but for music too.
“Some people made a big deal. It was my life you know?” Ocean told the crowd midway through the hour-long set, alluding to his headline-making Tumblr post. That served as his segue into the gender-defying “Bad Religion,” on which the honey-voiced singer laments an unrequited love with same-sex pronouns in place. It wasn’t a coincidence that the most extended round of applause followed.
Concertgoers voiced their approval again and again, gleefully singing along with Ocean on the “you’re on my mind, boy” lyrics from Channel Orange’s “Forrest Gump.” But the “Novacane” singer knows his crowd, crouching down at times to the ladies in the front row or flashing a flirty smile.
Frank went on to cuts from his critically acclaimed Nostalgia, Ultra, including a swagged-out “Swim Good” and a lilting new arrangement of his Eagles-sampling “American Wedding” that had listeners rapt. The hands went up, though, at the sold-out show for the brand-new “Super Rich Kids” (though Earl didn’t come down for his verse) and the expansive “Pyramids.”
As Ocean sang his hook from the Throne’s “Made in America,” it was impossible not to feel like he had made good on the dream.
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