Lupe Fiasco Caters to His Fans on L.A. Tour Stop at Fonda Theatre: Live Review

Lupe Fiasco
Hip-Hop
3.5
Daniel Boczarski/Redferns

With his musical career supposedly finishing by year’s end, Lupe Fiasco took the stage at Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre for the fourth stop on his For The Fans tour, his latest trek since releasing his final Atlantic Records album Tetsuo & Youth in January 2015.

For an event targeting fans, it was admittedly perplexing in terms of pacing and execution. Leading with front-heavy tracks mined strictly from Tetsuo, including the nine-minute show opener “Mural,” the 33-year-old MC held court for the first half-hour clutching the middle of three microphones, barely moving in a white baggy sweater and hiding behind sunglasses. During the introductory stretch of the 75-minute set, the crowd, teeming to the back of the venue, remained relatively unmoved, unsure how to react to straight-faced, more obscure songs like “Dots and Lines,” “Prisoner 1 & 2” and “Little Death,” where guests Nikki Jean and trumpeter Crystal Torres added padding to the stationary performance.

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It was an odd choice for a night billed for his go-hards, who were assumed to be as invested in his latest as they were for gestated albums like Food & Liquor and The Cool, home to records that got the strongest reaction of the evening. It’s also why the Chicago rapper -- who stepped out from his perch for “Adoration of the Magi" -- loosened up, embracing the power of his most resonant songs for a thrilling, albeit uneven, set.

“Welcome to the tour for the fans,” said Fiasco, addressing the crowd for the first time as the night crept towards the halfway mark. It was unsure what that meant—a show for fans of his pop hits, or his deeper, less prominent cuts? That much was never made clear. Instead, he assembled a concert that seemingly attempted to do it all, divided from its beginning and end. A flag bearing his name descended from the rafters behind him as he entered the hits-bearing half. “Unfortunately, we don’t have as much time as last night,” he added, referring to a gig in Anaheim that stretched past the two-hour mark.

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It was the precise moment that Fiasco became a showman, an entertainer clutching his mic with a sudden, dazzling persona. His catalog served as his support beams. Through a vine-swinging journey of his smash singles, he emphasized the breadth of his artistic gait. The audience lapped up truncated renditions of “Kick Push,” “Superstar,” “Daydreamin’,” “Paris, Tokyo” and “Next to It,” where he attempted to part the audience for a call and response. Few reciprocated, until Ty Dolla $ign, who’s featured on the track, emerged to prop up the chorus, providing a brief glimpse of his hit “Blasé” before exiting into the wings.

“We wasn’t even supposed to come to L.A.,” he said as the clock ticked towards curfew, concluding with “Hurt Me Soul” and “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now.” The performance came at the top of a year Fiasco alleges will be his professional farewell, and because of it, the night’s conclusion felt cautiously heavier. On Christmas, he took to Twitter to state that he would release three full-length albums in 2016, later confirming they were titled Drogas, Skulls and Roy, the latter of which he claimed would be his “last album” on Jan. 8. It belies prior statements that he would put out The Cool 2 in the first quarter of 2017. (After he tweeted that Roy marked the end, he responded to a fan who asked, “But... Will that mean The Cool 2 is not an album but something else entirely??” by stating, “Maybe.”)

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It’s easy to call his bluff. Fiasco is often vague and especially contradictory: During his stretch of hits, he performed “The Show Goes On,” a pop-leaning anthem that he himself decried numerous times. He’s even threatened retirement at least two times before his latest pronouncements. Fiasco is a buyer-beware type of artist: one as staggeringly creative and mentally sharp as the peak of his peers, and one whose claims can’t be interpreted as dependable as he intends them to be. But when you swipe all of that to the side, and the music is all that’s left, it’s easy to see why he’s stuck around as long as he has. He’s diligent, smart and well-intended, even if his vision wobbles—the mark of a mind that works out ideas in real-time. At the Fonda, it was all on display, as perplexing and challenging as it was often satiating.