FRONT ROW | STORMZY @ THE FORUM
It was his first show as a 24 year old, and his first of two sold out shows at Melbourne’s iconic The Forum Theatre, fresh from a heaving tent at Splendour in the Grass and a string of national sideshows. We expected big things from Stormzy, but nowhere near as big as we got.
Walking up to the venue, fans were hit with a thirty five minute wait to get into the venue, as lines snaked up Hosier Lane, there felt a real doubt that those present would make it in for support act Manu Crooks (and while I did, our photographer was stuck in the rain. These lines were intense). The set was, as per hip hop standards, opened on a DJ set to hype the crowd up, and within thirty seconds of the time slot there was a mass of bodies jumping up and down to each cut dropped. Stormzy was the attraction of the night, but this was a crowd who knew the heavy hitters in and out. But as Crooks took to the stage, there was a slight change of pace on the floor. Sure, bodies still moved and enthusiasm was shown, but the relatively not-well-known lyrics prevented the same level of hype being maintained. It was clear that Manu Crooks has strong material, and a stage presence to match, but until there’s a dedicated fan base, he will likely keep facing this response.
In theory, Stormzy’s stage presence really wasn’t that great. A powerful figure walking the stage, shooting off 80 percent of his lyrics as backing vocals or cuts from DJ TiiNY delivered the rest, yet there was something amazing about the way he worked the crowd. The Forum, sold out, felt empty the bodies were so eagerly cramped up on the floor, and Stormzy worked it with ease. With callouts of “#merky2017” and looking for his “energy crew” there was a bonding experience between those who were present and the artist on stage. Coupled with the brilliant, yet simple lighting system in play, Stormzy looked more human on stage than most do off.
He aimed to work through the album in full, and that is exactly what he did. Revealing that the sonic diversity shown on the release isn’t just something he enjoys making, but is capably of delivering live. That Velvet easily the softest piece on the release still earned a sing along was a feat that many artists would avoid the risk around, for while it Blinded By Your Grace and Cigarettes and Cush all miss the power of his regular work they really are key parts of his sound and style. He pulled it off well, but it was of course the introduction to 100 Bags where he dedicated the track to not only his own mother, but the mothers of everyone at the show that you had to smile at his humbleness on stage. This of course was contrasted when he told the audience that he “doesn’t care if you hate the song,….it’s a banger” when jumping into the remix of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The song was still a little daggy, and it earned one of the weaker responses there, but it was clear why it was in the set and respect for including it must be given.
For as well as these softer moments were delivered, they were far from the best moments of the set to enjoy as an audience. When cuts like Mr Skeng and Big For Your Boots came through, it was here that the venue was thriving. Everyone in the room knew every word, and Stormzy worked those present into a frenzy. It was a stunning experience to witness, but had nothing on the encore of Shut Up. It’s clear that Stormzy is on track to be one of the best grime acts out there, but with this show, he moves into the realm of being one of the best performers to hit our shores this year.
Photography by James Johnston
Tallest kid at every gig // Questionable dancer at best // twitter/instagram: ayds_on_toast