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Migos (The Brixton Academy) Live Review

March 22, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
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Migos (The Brixton Academy) Live Review  

The comparisons to The Beatles may have been fanciful, but there is no denying that Migos have become truly ubiquitous. They captured the zeitgeist with 2017’s Culture: a razor sharp and intensely focused release that was supposed to be the ultimate introduction to the Atlanta trap culture, but instead became the new norm, completely consuming the mainstream with hit after hit. Quavo, Offset and Takeover were living their very own hip hop happy ending, having evolved from novelty punchline pedlars to artists as respected for their technical intricacies as their wild eccentricity.

Nevertheless, in the rush to celebrate their unlikely assent, many chose to brush over the trios considerable weaknesses. This is Migos’ moment, but they are far from beyond reproach. If the original Culture album was pinpoint precise and frighteningly lean, then its successor, Culture II, was a bloated, aimless mess. Those repetitive themes (buying jewellery, selling drugs and living large) worked well enough on a charismatically delivered 13-track romp, but when rinsed and repeated over an hour and forty minutes they became tedious. Truth be told, Culture II was a record label cash in: a cynical attempt to garner more streams, no matter the artistic consequences (any track played 1.5k times is the equivalent to a record sale in Billboard’s eyes).

It’s lucky then, that Migos are so damn good at writing and recording hit singles, because hidden away inside this mammoth 24 track LP are the likes of “Stir Fry”, “Narcos” and “Motorsport”. Success was assured by hook (hitmaking) or crook (gaming the streaming system). But one big question remained for the Migos: can they conquer the live arena?

The early reports were damning. Takeoff and Offset were lifeless, the backing track was too loud, Migos showed up too late and, simply put, the whole production seemed thoughtlessly thrown together. Could it really be that bad for the biggest rap group in world right now?

Well, yes and no. Migos take to the stage at the Brixton Academy an hour behind schedule, but this is a marked improvement. They are simply fashionably late. The London crowd are jubilant when they arrive having been entertained by DJ’s Semtex and Durel, respectively. Crowds in Australia and New Zealand were left waiting three hours this time last year and were decidedly less forgiving because of it.

It doesn’t end there of course; there are signs that Migos are taking their stagecraft more seriously. DJ Durel’s bass lines and scratching are ungodly loud, rendering most of Offset’s best adlibs completely inaudible, but at least it is only the instrumental booming over the soundsystem. We no longer have to battle to hear Quavo over his own studio verse. Migos have racketed up the showmanship. Quavo has always been a natural onstage, but Offset is starting to display raspy intensity. Takeoff is the only member who struggles to come out of his shell, not aided by the fact that he is cocooned inside a giant puffa jacket with his hood up. Still, if he’s shy, at least DJ Durel is overflowing with charisma.

A good faith effort to fix a faulty live show is one thing, but the proof, as always, is in the pudding and Migos still haven’t quite managed to find their feet. “Higher We Go” is a fitting opener: a brooding slow cooked stew of a track the blends the harsh minimalism of the verse with a grandiose auto-tuned chorus. It’s baffling, but strangely exhilarating live. The chorus works a treat, but the ultra-hyped crowd are seething and the energy seems to throw the group off. The locked step triplet flow never materializes, instead Takeoff and Offset are frenetic, firing out scattered lyrical barrages like a machine gun wielded by a noodle armed child soldier.

The pace soon quickens and, having dispensed their more ambitious material, Migos quickly find their feet with a run of tracks that couldn’t possibly fail. “T-Shirt” forces every head to bob metronomically before its bulldozing chorus unites the crowd in cries of “WHITE!” and “MOMMA!”. “Fight Night” is even better. It’s minimalistic creeping baseline and incessant handclaps have a clarity and cohesion in the live arena that escapes so much of their best material. Its party starting hook is a sure fire winner and as images of famous knockouts flash on the big screens a haze of smoke ascends, glasses begin to fly and cheers erupt.

It’s almost too good to be true in the early going as hit follows hit alongside a smattering of well chosen album tracks – the stellar “Kelly Price” and mosh pit inciting “Deadz – sit alongside tried and trusted classics – “Hannah Montana” and “Bad and Boujee”. The ominous and yet somehow playful “Deadz” is bolstered by flamethrowers and steam cannons. It’s clear that Migos are pulling out all of the stops despite the fact they are playing a surprise gig in a smaller venue. “Hannah Montana” is another track that walks the tight rope between venom and sugar; bodies hurtle into one another before everyone stops in their tracks to chant the paint-by-numbers chorus (“I been trapping, trapping, trapping, trapping all damn night”).

The undoubted highlight comes in the form of “Ric Flair Drip”. The sleazy, but understated baseline is fiendish live – one of the few beats that manages to retain its eerie emptiness in live and in person. Equally, its more laid back tempo gives us a rare opportunity to actually hear an Offset verse above the beat. “Ice Tray” from the Quality Control tape is another standout. Its childish chorus unites a jam-packed crowd in hatred of Joe Buddon (poor guy, Everyday Struggle really isn’t the same without him).

However successful Migos’ hit singles prove, there’s no disguising the fact that their audience’s enthusiasm dissipates when the jumbled and badly clipped verses replace the catchy choruses. “Slippery” is practically ruined by this dichotomy. The crowd go berserk at the mere mention of the track’s name, but the feedback on Quavo’s autotune and overly forceful beat kills any joy. The “Slippery” flow is legendary, the sold out faithful is here to celebrate it, but how can they possible enjoy something that they cannot hear?

It soon becomes clear that the feverish intensity of Brixton Academy has not vanished, but has been left to simmer. After “Bad and Boujee’s” surprisingly early airing, Migos test patience by delving in Culture II with decidedly mixed results. “Walk It Talk It” is made for the big stage, it is clear, concise, catchy and danceable. The London crowd are practically willing “Narcos” to succeed – and it just about does. Quavo’s chorus unites the Academy in song, but the rest of the track is a mess as Migos miss an open goal (ironic for a track that shouts “this is real rap, no mumble). “Bad Bitches Only” is a less than an inspired track to begin with and it can only fail this deep into the set when fans are expecting a grand crescendo.

This divide between the tracks Migos can and cannot deliver live is summed up perfectly between the heavy hitters they save for last. “Motorsport”, like “Slippery”, is a disappointment. The crowd come to Migos rescue during the chorus and Cardi B’s verse. It’s disappointing that the cleanest rapping we’re treated to all night comes from an artist who didn’t even make the trip. Thankfully, if “Motorsport” crashed out on the final bend, then “Stir Fry” takes the triumphant victory lap. Pharrell’s beat bangs hard and Quavo is in his element leading a call and repeat sing along.

Migos didn’t fail tonight. They have too much momentum, too much goodwill and too many hits, but they are falling way short of expectation. The standards for live rap music have been raised by Jay-Z (with backing band), Kanye West (without) and Kendrick Lamar (on his latest tour) – the days of messy posse cuts, bad sound and non-stop scratching and screaming are over. Migos are clearly trying to address their deficiencies and they have improved their performance standards since 2017, but they have a long long way to go. For the time being, Migos are better heard, than seen

 

6
The final score: review Average
The 411
Migos survive on the strength of their hits and the enthusiasm of their audience, but despite considerable effort, this show is a throw back to the dark days of live rap music with messy sound and far too many inaudible verses.
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Migos, David Hayter