November 4th, 2016 at The Middle East
By: Kyle Rossini
Across the Charles River, Cambridge’s restaurant and concert venue The Middle East offers fans a chance to get up close and personal with their favorite artists, as both venues, one located upstairs and the other downstairs, have a maximum capacity of a couple hundred people. On Friday, November 4th, Chicago rapper Saba came to The Middle East Downstairs on the first stop of his tour following his newest album release, The Bucket List Project. This concert marked a special one for Saba – as he described before he began his set began, this was the first non-Chicago located concert he had ever sold out. Although Saba’s set didn’t start until an hour later, you could feel the excitement from the start of the show, the crowd eager to see their Chicago idol.
Starting off the night was rapper Myles Draughn, who brought out a whole gang of hype men in an attempt to rally up the crowd with a setlist full of heavy bass and snare drums. Despite the hype and ear-rattling beats, however, Draughn just could not get the crowd into his 20-minute set. He ended on a high note, though, when he delivered a vicious freestyle with no music playing in the background that had the crowd hanging on each and every rhyme. Despite delivering a set that was not particularly impressive, Myles was able to propel the crowd into a state of excited anticipation before he left the stage.
After Draughn came Sicnarf, who walked on stage with a definitive, swagger-filled presence, wearing a hat and head mask. He went right into his first song, “The Real,” a track which is produced with a raw, “dirty” feel; I could have sworn this man was from Atlanta when I first heard him rap. Throughout his set, he got the crowd engaged with his ability to combine clever, catchy lyrics and hard, underground beats. Like Draughn, Sicnarf capped off his set by freestyling, his seeming a bit more improvisational and truly “off the dome” than Draughn’s, and joined the crowd to watch the rest of the concert.
The act right before Saba was rapper Matty Owens, who was very distinct from the other performers from the show in the style of his music. While Myles Draughn and Sicnarf were very trap-centered and prioritized hard lyrics and beats, Matty Owens’ music incorporated elements of pop, with the artist breaking out into song on numerous tracks and performing songs that sounded like they should be playing on a pop radio station. While some of his beats were very fun and body-moving and his lyrics were original, he failed to really get the crowd engaged, as by the end of his set people were chanting “Saba! Saba! Saba!” and had really checked out of listening to him.
After Matty Owens left the stage, the excitement in the Middle East Upstairs grew to enormous levels, and when Saba walked onto the stage with his trademark long, wild hair and maroon beanie the crowd erupted. Saba’s set was very personal and interactive with the crowd; he also pulled numerous stunts during his set such as pull fans up onstage, ask us questions, and high five people.
In terms of Saba’s performance, he had the crowd captivated from the first line he rapped until his fantastic ending performance of “TimeZone” from his classic mixtape, Comfortzone, which ended the concert. He was very animated and energetic when he performed, which in turn got the crowd more hyped. He performed a solid mix of songs from both his older projects, including fan favorites such as “Butter” and “Burnout”, as well as his newest work, The Bucket List Project. Along with these, to the crowd’s pleasure, he also performed his part in the song “Angels,” a track by Chance the Rapper that was originally released as a single and was eventually included on his acclaimed album The Coloring Book.
Overall, this concert was a very fun and entertaining one. It was great to see someone like Saba get so much recognition and respect from so many fans, as well as get a chance to discover the more localized talent that opened up for him as they tried to prove themselves. The venue was awesome, the Middle East had great sound, was not terribly crowded, and Saba was able to create a very chill, friendly environment. Overall it was a great experience which has only made me love Saba even more. Getting to meet him personally before the concert was icing on the cake, especially after conducting an interview with him over the phone just days before.