Music & Nightlife

Review: Did Travis Scott’s roller-coaster-ride of a concert nearly go off the rails?

Travis Scott fans psyched for Charlotte show

Rapper Travis Scott stops by Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, March 24, 2019 as part of his Astroworld Tour. Fans from the local area offer their thoughts as to why Scott is so popular.
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Rapper Travis Scott stops by Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, March 24, 2019 as part of his Astroworld Tour. Fans from the local area offer their thoughts as to why Scott is so popular.

Travis Scott is closing out the stretch run of a grueling tour — in support of his “Astroworld” album — that started in Baltimore 4-1/2 months ago and ends Tuesday night in Tulsa, Okla., so we’d forgive him if he appeared to be at least somewhat going through the motions at this point.

And yet that’s not how it seemed at all during the second-to-last “Astroworld: Wish You Were Here” concert, at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Sunday night.

Instead, the 27-year-old rapper shook his fists and bounced on the balls of his feet and screamed into his perpetually Auto-Tuned microphone with such relish, such vigor and such intensity that it would have been easy to mistake him for an extrovert who’d just been set free after being deprived of all human contact for several weeks.

Yes, every positive thing you’ve read about this tour — and there’s been quite a lot of good stuff written over the course of 50-plus shows — is true: It’s a mash-up of virtually all of Scott’s recognizable tracks sandwiched between several jaw-dropping flourishes, from a pair of actual working roller coasters (set, of course, to snail-paced speeds) to a 30-foot inflatable dancing astronaut decked out in Air Jordans to confetti in the form of fake $100 bills with the headliner’s likeness on them.

At every opportunity, he performs as if he’s got fireworks going off in his shorts and fireballs being shot up from under his feet, his body almost constantly in herky-jerky motion as he hops, skips and jumps across a stage that is often lit up by very real fireworks and fireballs.

Travis Scott turns up the heat during his “Astroworld” show. Jeff Siner

Yet he almost got upstaged on Sunday night.

Not by opener Sheck Wes — although the rapper best known for the 2018 viral hit “Mo Bamba” more than capably warmed up the crowd (despite having to cut his planned set one song short due to what he said was “some problems with the speakers”; I also can’t help but bob my head to his music a little less confidently in the wake of recent allegations that he assaulted his former girlfriend).

Rather, I had a hard time taking my eyes off of Scott’s fans.

It started with the dude who slipped into the seat next to me during Sheck Wes’ set, a seat that I knew definitely didn’t belong to him because I had the ticket for it. After a few minutes, he pushed me aside and hopped over into the next row up, then a couple minutes after that I watched him jump the wall while the nearest security guard and usher had their backs turned, and he quickly disappeared into the very-crowded general-admission floor section.

I never saw him again, but there were plenty of other people on and around the stage that caught my attention Sunday night.

1. The moshers: Many intense-looking mosh pits formed during both Wes’ and Scott’s sets, though the fans who shoved, body-checked and pinballed their fellow fans were remarkably well-behaved — for moshers, at least.

Mosh pits are inherently visually distracting to those who can see them, because of the ways they form:

Basically, either people just start pushing their friends around, which makes it look like a fight is starting, or several people in the group put their arms out to the sides and back away from the center of the circle to make room for people to mosh ... which also makes it look like a fight is starting.

Best I could tell, no fights actually started. But while apparently none of the participants were looking for one, I was (and I’ll bet others with a good view of the floor were, too), in the sense that I often had one eye on Scott and one eye on the mosher in the ski mask who probably shouldn’t have been allowed to wear a ski mask.

2. The crowd-surfers: There’s a right way to crowd-surf, and this particular crowd definitely didn’t have the hang of it.

Almost every time someone was hoisted up — and there were easily dozens of attempts — the person either went down fairly hard, or went down fairly gently ... on his face.

(Of course, the majority of the blame has to be leveled at those who are supposed to be keeping the surfer aloft. If you’re asleep at the wheel, or not into it, the whole thing falls apart and that person ends up ... on his face. Anyway, probably wise that Scott didn’t partake in the crowd-surfing here like he did at the Super Bowl in February; it could have ended quite badly.)

Security, by the way, had an attitude toward these antics that was more lax than the crew who worked the Metallica concert at the arena back in October. At that show, they immediately ejected anyone who was swept off their feet. At Travis Scott, there was one staffer close to the stage who aggressively put the kibosh on it anytime it happened near him, but otherwise security didn’t seem to mind much.

I paid a lot of attention to the surfing because it was going so poorly, and because I just had this feeling someone was going to end up on a spineboard before the show was over. (Thankfully, no one did.)

Bottom line: If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all.

Travis Scott performs as the crowd goes wild. Jeff Siner

3. The stage-divers: Moshing and crowd-surfing are staples of Travis Scott shows, but stage-diving has made them infamous. Or maybe it’s Scott’s shows that have made stage-diving infamous?

In any event, the best advice for him — given that the rapper was sued in 2017 by a man who claimed he was pushed off a second-floor balcony after Scott encouraged fans to jump into the crowd from it — would probably be to keep a low profile when it comes to stage-diving.

Yet on Sunday night, he was up to his old tricks: Scott broke from his performance of “Through the Late Night” to negotiate getting a young man onto the stage with him; once up there, the man nervously bobbed around but then, at Scott’s behest, went diving headfirst into the crowd.

Now, while I don’t know this for sure, I feel confident security told Scott not to do that again, because ... he didn’t do it again.

However, three other men later would rush their way onto the stage without Scott’s help. One made it up during “Houstonfornication,” two-thirds of the way through Scott’s 75-minute set, and narrowly missed being collared by a security guard before diving back into the pit.

Another guy, who got caught before he could do the same during “Goosebumps,” actually could be seen being forcibly escorted from the arena shortly after being pulled down. He only missed one song — the raucous closer, “Sicko Mode,” during which a final fan scrambled onstage only to be detained before any type of death-defying leap could occur.

Anyway, to sum the show up, it was chaos. Epic and euphoric, but still chaos. And we know that, to some extent, chaos is what Scott is trying to create. In fact, I think he actually might be more concerned with creating chaos than he is with creating an homage to the old AstroWorld theme park in his hometown of Houston.

That’s not to say that the modified coasters he has on the road with him aren’t visually impactful — they looked like fun for the five fans who got to ride them — but they’re practically for show; the trains go so slow that they don’t generate any energy that the crowd can feed off of.

Instead, honestly, I think a big part of what ratchets up the electricity in the entire room is the sight of the boldest Scott fans moshing and crowd-surfing and stage-diving.

He’s said it himself: In an interview with GQ done in 2015, three years before he was ready to headline cavernous arenas on his own, Scott said he viewed his live shows as an opportunity to fulfill his fantasy of being a professional wrestler.

“With performances, I always want to make it feel like it’s the WWF,” he told the reporter. “We don’t like people who just stand around.”

Travis Scott skips across the stage early in his Charlotte show. Jeff Siner

His fans definitely didn’t do much standing around on Sunday night. How could they? It was one of the most wickedly entertaining shows I’ve seen in many months, perhaps even in the past year, and it was close to impossible to keep still while taking in the sights and sounds.

But I also hope Scott keeps in mind that most of his fans are young and sometimes — as Khalid has lamented — dumb and broke, that it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, and that while he may want his shows to feel like professional wrestling, this isn’t professional wrestling.

Travis Scott’s setlist

1. “Stargazing”

2. “Lose”

3. “Carousel”

4. “4 AM” (2 Chainz cover)

5. “First Off” (Future cover)

6. “Way Back”

7. “Mamacita”

8. “Butterfly Effect”

9. “No Bystanders”

10. “Don’t Play”

11. “Skyfall”

12. “Through the Late Night”

13. “Upper Echelon”

14. “Drugs You Should Try It”

15. “90210”

16. “Love Galore” (SZA cover)

17. “Skeletons”

18. “Astrothunder”

19. “R.I.P. Screw”

20. “Houstonfornication”

21. “Stop Trying to Be God”

22. “NC-17”

23. “ZEZE” (Kodak Black cover)

24. “Beibs in the Trap”

25. “Yosemite”

26. “Piss on Your Grave” (instrumental)

27. “Can’t Say”

28. “Antidote”

29. “Goosebumps”

30. “Sicko Mode”

Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.