Like many millennials, Bryson Tiller once faced a quarter-life crisis. The singer recalls the moment — which incidentally coincided with his 24th birthday — of reconciling with himself on the track “High Stakes” from his sophomore album, True to Self. “Y’all gave me the best f—ing birthday gift,” he told the crowd at Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night (June 3) in New York City.
The Kentucky native is on a high. True to Self debuted this week in the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart (over 107,000 sales-plus-streaming) after being released nearly a month early.
“New York, what’s good? I gotta be honest with you. I didn’t know it would be so lit when I came out here,” Tiller admitted when he came onstage around 9:40 p.m. The ambiance felt especially intimate; something like a teenage house party. The crowd erred on young — most of the over-30 crowd was relegated into the cordoned-off V.I.P. section upstairs. Girls giggled about how “cute” Tiller is while others nuzzled their faces into their boyfriend’s shoulders. “No one has a lighter!” a boy nearby lamented, holding a small, unlit joint.
Tiller was a man among the people, wearing a varsity jacket with the letter “T” embroidered on the side, white T-shirt and baseball cap. The stage was similarly stripped-down, save for Plexiglass encasing parts of the band. A reflective backdrop intermittently caught faces in the audience, creating an effect that fans were a part of the stage. Like the music, it was accessible.
The singer performed a combination of material from True to Self and his debut, 2015’s Trapsoul. While new tracks like “Blowing Smoke” and “Self-Made” garnered strong response, it’s his earlier repertoire that resonated the most. Trapsoul standouts like “Don’t,” “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Exchange” were clear favorites. Funny, since the vast majority of the audience was ostensibly too young to remember K.P & Envyi’s 1998 “Swing My Way,” which is sampled in the latter.
Historically, Tiller has kept a low profile and rarely collaborates (True to Self is free of features), but he’s racked up a sizeable following among his famous peers. In 2015, he passed on the opportunity to sign with Drake’s OVO Records, and in 2016, he hung with First Daughter Malia Obama at Lollapalooza. It’s not surprising that Tiller brought out two special guests for the show: Travi$ Scott, who performed “Goosebumps,” and Bronx native A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, who performed “Bag Now” and “Drowning (Water).” Tiller and $cott shared a collegial moment, exchanging kind words for each other. $cott even gushed about Tiller having “the best motherf—ing album of our time.”
Despite praise from Caesar, Tiller showed no bravado. “You know what’s it’s like to wake up and not feel good enough?” he said at one point during the set. “I’ll be honest, man, I feel that every f—ing day sometimes…” Tiller said that it’s the people in this room — the fans — that help propel him forward. Tiller was upfront about their symbiotic relationship. “Thank you for buying this album right here,” he said, visibly grateful. “All of y’all the love of my life.”