Have you ever entered a concert, unsure if you would make it out alive by night's end? Have you ever taken in a live show with the implicit awareness that the next hotly anticipated song that drops may cause a riot so large it effectively ends your life? These were the foreboding, highly melodramatic thoughts swirling around my head last night as I entered Webster Hall. Or rather, as I prepared to enter The Rodeo.
At barely 5’8" and 130 lbs, I was pretty certain I’d be sacrificing if not my life then full functionality of a major limb, going into a standing-only show starring a dude who literally incites riots—five minutes into his set, Travi$ declared this show wasn’t for the “pussies” and pointed said weak-willed non-turner-uppers to the exit—and his peer who has an even stronger hold on both The Youths and the club. You don’t have to be a social-media-tethered Stan to have come across footage of the destruction that ensues when these two touch the stage. The highest hope I had was living to see "Mamacita."
I entered the show with unexpected reassurance, having been spotted by two hometown homies who graciously let me cut the disgustingly long line. (The scene outside looked like a Supreme drop, fam.) Not only was it good to see familiar faces, but dudes are also both over 6 feet I think. Good vibes, good shields. I might survive after all. (Spoiler alert: Lost dudes to the crowd within 20 minutes of the show.)
The vibe inside was mellow but pulsating. The calm before tropical storm Quintana. Fans I talked to around the bar and the stage were an even mix of there for Travi$ but also eager for Thug and vice versa. Then Metro Boomin appeared, the lights went low, and the crowd’s on switch went up. Current club favorites banged at an extra 200 percent, imbued with the inherent energy that surrounds Metro, Scott, and Thugger naturally. Some find “All Day” lethargic? Certainly didn’t seem so here. “Know Yourself” rang off, and I thought the balcony might collapse. The crowd became a throbbing organism of bodies moving in unrehearsed unity, with people regularly being drawn into the floor’s pulsing nucleus as others were rotated to the fringes. I probably saw at least five people I didn’t even know would be there, but we barely spoke: just ships passing in the turn-up.
Thug kicked the show off, and he arguably had the better stage presence. With regular intervals of lean-sipping, Birdman’s rich gangly protege ambled back and forth across the stage with extremely professional ease for someone who doesn’t even have an official album yet. The uninitiated write his lyrics off as indiscernible gibberish, but damn if the entire crowd around me didn’t know every single word. Throughout the night, he and Travis traded off every three or four songs, but while Thug brought the hits, the tour’s rowdy reputation was all La Flame—which is not to say Thug didn’t have his own earthshaking moments, word to “Some More” and “About the Money.”
Thug walked off and suddenly this dude Travis was just there, dressed in all black, like a fucking specter. It was during his sets wherein the crowd members moshed their hearts out for the Grams the Cool Kids in the balcony were surely snapping. The urge to jump up and down during Scott’s music isn’t isolated to a live, mass-mosh setting though. It’s there at any party when “Don’t Play” drops. But the live show enabled you to fully enter the zone his music inspires, around equal fans with no one who cares to judge you for going Tom Cruise on the couches. It is the most dangerous safe haven.
At certain points I leapt in the air both because the environment was extremely lit, but also to fade into the crowd or die from remaining stationary. Tall dudes cocooned their petrified girlfriends. As the show wore on guys who looked like they just ran the NYC Marathon ejected themselves from the middle of the crowd; I heard “I’m tapping out” declared several times. Each song brought with it a trench-warfare interaction with random dudes. “Quintina Pt. 2” would drop, we’d crash into and around each other then dap at the end because made it. New song, the turn-up survival mode reset. I’d never been to a show where I felt excitement to hear my shit but also anxious because I knew it was about to get real as fuck. (Example from my notes: 12:30 a.m., oh god, here comes “Don’t Play.”)
As for Travi$, dude was fucking electric. He was rap’s agent of chaos, aiming to make his show as hectic as possible while he prowled around inhumanly across the stage. The gothic overtones in his music and visuals created one hellishly lit atmosphere live, and the crowd response directly dispelled criticism that he’s an industry plant with reheated, photocopied styles. The organic fanbase was very real, yelping every word and going way way way up to even his mellower songs or features that bore his distinguishable mark. (The response to “Company” was as insane as it was unexpected).
I really thought I would make it. Then Thug returned for a back-to-back show-stopper of “Mamacita” and “Skyfall.” I barely even looked at the stage during "Mamacita," I was too busy jockeying for position and hurtling through my hemisphere of the crowd. And "Skyfall," man...I don’t even listen to it nearly as much as other songs on the tape, but when the chants hit and Travis leaned back and howled, “Yeah, that’s that loud shit,” like a werewolf in mid-transformation, I fucking died.
Thug did “Lifestyle,” the de facto biggest hit song of the night, and Birdman came out for an extended coda. Those were cool moments. My ghost probably enjoyed them. I even floated through Up & Down (the hottest club in the city for after-parties like these, for all you non-New Yorkers) for the after-party, where La Flame leapt on the DJ booth and ran through a few more of his crowd pleasers as if he didn’t just do two shows back-to-back. But I was zombified. Battery drained, soul at rest. Rodeo Tour wasn't just watching a show—it was going the distance. A turnt-up fight for survival. An environment where fans jettisoned the usual too cool for school aura that comes with rap and instead aimed to get downright rowdy on some punk shit. Fuck watching from the safe distance of VIP. The implications of lawlessness on the floor were clear.
Toward the end of the night, one fan leapt onstage, but Travi$ intercepted security’s attempt to throw him off...and instead hung dude off the edge of the stage like Batman does to criminals and motioned his head. Dude nodded in acknowledgement, turned around, and dove into the crowd headfirst. Rules of the motherfucking Rodeo.
Frazier Tharpe is a staff writer for Complex. He can't go a day without finessing. Follow him @The_SummerMan.