SAN FRANCISCO — Anyone still wondering what makes Chance the Rapper 2016’s break-out hip hop star had those questions answered Friday night at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the first of two Bay Area dates on his “Magnificent Coloring World Tour.”
Performing for the first time in San Francisco since last summer’s Outside Lands Music Festival, Chancellor Johnathan Bennett brought spiritual uplifting and summoned the childlike creativity within himself, and hopefully those in attendance.
The spirituality, though ever-present on several gospel-tinged songs on his third mixtape, 2016’s Coloring Book, was still a surprise to behold in person, especially contrasted to several fights that broke out in the crowd shortly before he took the stage.
Chance took the stage to the one-two punch of Coloring Book tracks “Angels” and “Blessings.” The next handful of songs focused on older material; particularly his 2013 mixtape Acid Rap. But the final third of the set upped the spiritual ante, with traditional hymn “How Great Is Our God” serving as an interlude into “How Great,” as an angel appeared behind him on a giant screen, followed shortly after by a “Blessings” reprise, with Chance singing “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.”
The spirituality was one part of the 23-year-old’s high concept, imaginative set. One has to wonder whether Chance was inspired by watching the Muppets’ Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, who performed the same day as him at Outside Lands.
Three or four songs into the set, Chance introduced the crowd to Carlos the Lion, a life-sized puppet. Carlos played several roles throughout the show. He helped propel the narrative of the show, was a friend to lean on, and creative foil for Chance. In short, Carlos the Lion dictated the setlist, at first asking Chance to look back on his past and overcome his demons before moving forward.
What started as endearing eventually became annoying, however. The puppet talked too much, and finished most lines by referring the headliner as “big fella.” Luckily, there were other puppets, much more likable puppets, to soften the blow.
Chance performed “Same Drugs” seated at a white baby grand piano with a Betty Boop-style puppet wearing a ‘20s flapper dress. Another puppet—along the lines of Oscar the Grouch —sang during “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.” And the show’s conclusion featured a roughly 15-member puppet (Birds? Lions?) church choir. The Electric Mayhem is probably lining up to open for Chance as these words are being written.
The show was most definitely colorful, with a rainbow palette of stage design, confetti shower and fog cannons. There were also props! A doorframe got five seconds of stage time; just enough time for Chance to burst through before “Baby Blue.” And a bed was carted onto the stage for him to fall onto during “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.”
The Rapper was also backed by a strong three-piece band composed of a keyboard player, drummer and trumpeter.
While Chance himself shied away from any grand statements, letting his songs do the talking and taking the interludes to thank his fans, Carlos the Lion best summarized the theme of both the mixtape and the tour: “Stay encouraged, big fella.”