A couple of Saturdays ago, overpriced well whiskey in hand, I found myself inching closer to the railing of the third floor balcony of Terminal 5, and happened to overhear a snippet of conversation shouted between the two ordinary girls standing nearby. I was sure they were gossiping, but I was off base. “I would definitely kill someone for you,” one girl said to the other, matter of fact. I offer this anecdote by way of introduction to Blood Orange’s (adopted) hometown show not simply to illustrate the hazards of finding a proper concert viewing location for those in need of a reminder, but because though it’s possible those girls imbibed a touch too much, I’d argue that in the context of that particular show, the remark doesn’t seem all that bizarre. Dev Hynes, who currently performs as Blood Orange, evokes an intense, impassioned response from his listeners, whipping his audience into a frenzy through his exquisite showmanship and deeply embodied sense of artistic purpose.
Hynes, who has undergone his fair share of radical artistic transformations since he first began performing in Test Icicles as a teen in England, cultivates a tremendous mystique about himself, and offers audiences the fleeting notion that perhaps the off-the-wall artistic collectivism of Andy Warhol’s Factory is alive and well somewhere, even if you aren’t invited to the party. Because that night, at the boxy, middle-West Side venue, we got to peek behind the curtain, and see the way he orchestrates, curates and encourages a mighty swell of talent around him while remaining the hyper-cool eye of the storm.
After a DJ set by English artist Kindness, Hynes’ set began at ten on the dot with a full performance of the same ferocious spoken word piece he samples at the open of his latest album, Freetown Sound. The poem’s author, Ashlee Haze, was on hand to kick off the show with a powerful rendition of “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem),” and introduction to the themes that run through Hynes’ work of activism, feminism and inclusion for all races and genders. “Feminism wears a throwback jersey, bamboo earrings and a face beat for the gods,” she breathlessly intoned to the wowed and revved up crowd.
From there, Hynes took the stage and launched into “Augustine,” working straight though much of the jazzy, smoky, synth washed music of Freetown Sound, making exceptions to fit in “You’re Not Good Enough” and “Uncle ACE,” hits from his 2013 album, Cupid Deluxe.
Hynes wore a variation on his typical uniform– cream, long-sleeve turtle neck with dark, highwaisted pants, leather cap over long braids. He channeled Michael Jackson with loafers and white socks, further recalling the king of pop with dance moves throughout the set that, though less sharp than Jackson’s, were surprisingly natural, with the fluidity of modern dance. Eerie, abstract projections of architectural exteriors and a perpetual purple neon haze heightened the Cool World aesthetic of the performance, and though there was plenty to watch on stage, I found it impossible to stray from Hynes for long; he exudes the alluring androgyny of Prince, and backs it up with his virtuosity.
Throughout the night, he played cello, guitar and even classical piano, which reached a stunning crescendo in duet with the saxophone, Dev’s solo devolving into chaos, slamming on the keys until the electronic chords became piercing and discordant. Mining order from chaos- and vice versa- was a theme of the evening as well, as his steps would occasionally mesh with those of a backup dancer, his solos keep pace with his fellow players, his lyrics join forces in harmony with his guest, Zuri Marley, offering brilliant moments of synchronicity.
From afar, Hynes may seem ironic, anachronistic, from his own clothes to his merch booth, which recalled the wares of your average Times Square tourist shop circa 2000, but watching him perform, it’s impossible to be struck by any notion other than he is exactly, meticulously who he is. Talented, poignant and utterly sincere.