Though the schedule for the first day of the 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival did not have Chance the Rapper set to appear onstage until 9:20 p.m., fans standing in the crowd for one-man band Francis and the Lights got to see him five hours early.
At about 5:30, Francis hit the drop in his song “May I Have This Dance.” Chance jumped seemingly out of nowhere, falling straight into the eccentric choreography of Francis. The audience took a half of a second to realize and process what they were witnessing before screams made the music inaudible.
Fans of Francis and the Lights were aware of his connection to Chance the Rapper. While Chance is virtually invisible on the “May I Have This Dance” track—he has no verse, no lyric whatsoever, and no apparent production credit—he treats it as one of his own, sliding into the syncopated dancing that gives the song most of its performance value.
Despite Chance’s role in the track, fans would know better to expect him to appear so early on in the day, and for such a small artist nonetheless. Historically, these appearances don’t happen for any number of reasons that management people won’t disclose. Chance beat these odds, giving life to his fans’ hopes.
After his surprise visit—which many festival-goers who didn’t see it with their own eyes will continue to deny happened—Chance opened his own set hours later with “Mixtape.” His set designers follow the “Coloring Book” album theme to a tee, with pink, blue, and purple light illuminating the smoke filling the stage.
This track doesn’t last long, however, because after about a minute and forty seconds in there is a complete switch to “Blessings” and suddenly Chance is leading the audience in a praise of God.
These two tracks are arguably the most different on the album, “Mixtape” taking a more traditional rap structure and even featuring rappers Young Thug and Lil Yachty. “Blessings” begins with a solo gospel singer and features a choir.
This diversity in music is apparent in all of Chance’s projects. His first mixtape “Acid Rap” is far different from his and The Social Experiment’s “Surf.” The differences between Chance’s albums, and even his individual songs, are easy to hear when just listening. But his live performance highlights the contrast by picking songs across all of his projects to create a monster mash-up of a set list.
Yet Chance has been able to attract fans across these various styles of music who do not simply like one independent of the other, but rather know all the words to “Chain Smoker” and “Sunday Candy” alike, which is necessary, since Chance relies on audience participation for just about every part of his concert.
This started at the very opening of the concert, when, even before any music played, a bird-like call came over the speakers. Audience members didn’t know what to make of it at first—it isn’t a sound included on any of Chance’s tracks. But after about the fifth time, that call filled any silent holes in the act, the audience knew to respond back in what can only be best described as a Hunger Games-whistle style.
The little noise was Chance’s way of keeping the audience engaged and a part of everything he was doing. When Chance wasn’t asking the crowd to sing the words or send their hands up in praise, he was calling out to his fans to let him know they were still with him as he transitioned between songs.
During these transitions, Chance likes to talk to the audience. Most artists walk a fine line between dialogue and performance: too much talking gets boring and none makes the artist seem like they’re just on stage to do their job. Chance’s dialogue pays tribute to his long-time fans or briefly describes the journey he’s taken to get here. Yet, just as he is about to cross the line of too much talking, his script flows seamlessly into a song: Chance’s asking of the audience to “get lost” with him led straight into the chorus of “Lost” without a single pause or hitch.
When Chance isn’t talking himself into a song transition, his dialogue is casual. He doesn’t preach, doesn’t deliver any scripted addresses. He just riffs in a way that dissolves the barrier between himself and his crowd, making himself seem less performer and more human.
Chance the Rapper likes to get real with his audience in this way, acting as a human first and an artist second. He introduces himself as “I’m Chance the Rapper. I’m from Chicago.” He fights his way through the mud to perch on the video stand and serenade his fans all the way in the back with “Same Drugs.” “I didn’t know there were so many of you back here,” he says.
Chance does not ignore his life offstage when he’s onstage. He sports a sweatshirt with the letters “CPS” embroidered under a string of roses for what can only be interpreted to mean “Chicago Public Schools.” He might not say a word about his philanthropic mission to better education in his home city, but it is on full display for the audience to know what’s important to him in his life.
A lot of that importance is people-driven: he introduces each member of The Social Experiment by name, with excitement building in his voice as he raves about each of their talents individually. He sings about his mom, his daughter, his girlfriend, and God.
And at 10:33., Francis and the Lights joined Chance onstage to perform “May I Have this Dance” for a second time that day in front of a crowd at least three times the size. When they finish, Chance says, “This is my friend Francis and the Lights. I’m very lucky to know him.”
Chance did not sing, he didn’t touch any of the instruments. He let his friend have a full four minutes of his set time for a song that had already been done. Francis had the spotlight and Chance was happy to be dancing in the background, turning and spinning like he had already done before, smiling under the brim of his “3” cap all the same.
Featured Image by Josh Mentzer / Heights Staff