Brockhampton did as good a job as any making us get hyped for outside. Throughout their set — celebrating the release of their now out-to-the-world new project Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine — on Moment House, the eclectic group delivered the full breadth of their sonic range wavering in between a backyard live band setup and traditional rap DJ stage setup at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La studios in Malibu. From each setup, they awakened from their audience a fervent internal craving for a real in-person music experience. The boys did all they could to replicate that circumstance virtually, but they themselves even became frustrated. Amidst the performance of their 2017 hit track “Bleach,” you could hear Kevin Abstract repeat the phrase, “I can’t hear ya, it’s not fair” in palpable yearning. That connection even through a computer or TV screen allowed you to enjoy the offering entirely for what it was, simply as close as you can get.
The set kicked off with a euphoric cover of the classic track “You’ve Got a Friend” by group member Bearface atop a white horse in the backyard set up with a live band and choral singers to assist. Right off the bat, Brockhampton put their best foot forward with their version of a loneliness cure. Bearface delivered his vocals on this track and throughout with guttural smoothness. As we transitioned then to the full stage setup with Kevin Abstract rapping the album’s lead single “Buzzcut,” the dichotomy of the two songs’ energies just felt right. The group used the set to teeter back and forth between semi-composed chaos and vulnerability, never knowing exactly which you were gonna get next. As they all rushed into the stage upon the lyric “Get the fuck out my ride,” you knew you were in for something special.
The crew performed every song from their new album with some clear standouts for this setting. The track “Old News” featuring Baltimore-bred artist Baird felt like it could have some real legs and displayed a sweet hook melody to carry it. The track “I’ll Take You On,” which on the project features the legend Charlie Wilson, cut through with dynamic call-and-response-sung vocals by Bearface and Joba on the chorus. That section stayed ringing in my ear for a few tracks following. Then Dom McClennon’s opening verse on the cut “When I Ball” established that track as the one I felt I needed to go back to from the album most. His overwhelmingly human reflection on his relationship with his mother evoked sheer goosebumps.
There were also staple Brockhampton heaters that appeared, which made you reflect on all they’ve provided over the years. “Boy Bye” from their standout 2019 album Ginger offered potentially the most joyous energy of the night. The crew as a whole seemed to lean into the pocket of it as if they missed performing it most of all. Then the track that showed the most togetherness was the tender “No Halo,” which they all performed quaintly sitting at the edge of the stage. It felt like a culmination of brotherhood.
I’d be remiss though if I didn’t mention what has been lingering with me most from the set a day later. The personal and distinct moments of soulful expression from Kevin Abstract placed during performances of “The Light” and “Don’t Shoot Up the Party” have remained locked in my mental like a lasting hangover. Mid-set during “The Light” when he delivered the line, “I still struggle telling my mom who I’m in love with,” I couldn’t stop dwelling on its specificity. It made him feel spotlighted in a space full of other people for the rest of the set.
Then when they all went into a lone trailer, for the one moment of a breakaway from the two-location performance setup, that zooming in on Kevin came rushing back. His opening bars on the most potent banger of the album felt like they culminated the emotion of the evening and the body of work overall. He rapped, “All-American self-hatred runs deep / White boys all I see whenever I sleep / N***as think I think these thoughts on purpose / but I knew ’bout NSYNC ‘fore cash could rule me / Colonized minds by masters and slaves / They both hate n***as, they like n***as a shame / Homophobic, I tried to gang-bang / I tried to get laid, I had to get paid.” It felt like in that crowded space he was surrounded by communal love while simultaneously erasing your focus on anyone else. With multicolored neon hair, he stood firmly in his truth.
To close out the evening with the sequel “The Light Pt. II,” we got one more Kevin verse to lead us into the closing group shot. When he rapped the line, “To see the world move without you feel like a daydream” we all felt that with him as a sign of the times. It felt poignant and purposeful. We saw one last shot of the group together at the end then the camera faded up to see a shining cross reminding us to keep the faith. As the credits rolled, we as a virtual group reflected for a moment then anticipated what this could eventually be like in real life. We hoped.