The lights go black, but you can still see a figure move across the stage. He picks up his axe and begins to play, and all I can think is, “Damn, that boy can shred.” As is only appropriate for an event of such epic proportions, the show begins with a Jimi Hendrix-style “Star Spangled Banner,” (one that does it more justice than Christina Aguilera can ever hope to do) and Theophilus London enters the stage while the crowd belts out the words.
No time for applause, the band breaks out into “Wine And Chocolates,” off London’s Lovers Holiday EP (it is Valentine’s Day after all). London’s guitarist shifts between that and keyboards, with all the band members feeding off the energy that he and the rapper/singer are emitting.
Constantly hop-stomping around the stage, London demands attention, and if you’re not going to give it to him, he’ll still “swag” on. He’s clearly the coolest guy in the room, dressed in fitted black jeans, black tee, leather vest, shades and custom hat that reads, “LVRS.” His charisma is evident, as no one questions any demand he makes. If London asks you to put your hands in the air, you just do it.
The Brooklyn native is not easily categorized, sliding between rapping and singing, hip-hop and pop, and mixing in a bit of a dance and new wave vibe. His sound is like those songs of the ’80s and ’90s that you thought only you knew about, but updated for today to find their calling with a new audience, with smooth verses laid over top. His audience is just as much of a mixed bag.
I immediately feel bad for any guy that brought his girlfriend to this show as a Valentine’s Day date, because they stand no chance next to London’s charm. As if it weren’t obvious enough, after polling the audience to find the singles, he pulls a girl onstage and asks what type of guys she likes. Much to his ego’s delight, she replies, “I like guys like you.”
How could she not? With the shades on, it feels as if he’s looking right at you whenever he turns your direction, and obviously he’s singing only to you, right? Participants join him onstage (mainly women), whether it be to join him during “Girls Girls $” or to learn his side-stepping dance during “TNT.” He then quickly thanks them and sends them on their way, because we can’t have them distracting the crowd by awkwardly waiting behind him, now can we?
Now to rewind to the openers: the two prepping us tonight build up the hype for the main attraction, constantly reminding us, “In case you didn’t know, Theophilus London is next.” First to the stage is PO PO, a trio including two of the Malik brothers who like to “get loud and eat pizza.” We witness the former, but unfortunately can’t decipher much due to some overzealous echo on their mics (which is a shame, considering their recordings are much cleaner). New Look, an electro pop duo featuring singer Sarah Ruba, follows the brothers Po Po, lit primarily by its bright geometric projections. The crowd digs them more, finding the sound more dance-worthy and asking Ruba to be their Valentine. They don’t move much themselves (though I can’t blame Ruba who has her keyboard slung over her shoulder like a guitar), but the projections that move, change and pulsate with the music are as captivating as the iTunes visualizer, and you can’t ask for much more.
With London onstage, the audience finds a way to let its pent-up energy loose, especially when he announces special guest Sara Quinn (of Tegan And Sara), who joins him on the stage for “Why Even Try,” and who was on board for the filming of the Late Show With David Letterman with London earlier in the day. You can tell he’s hyped up about that appearance throughout the show, given that he’s announced it numerous times and his vocals aren’t as chill as they are on the EP. However, he does perform all the tracks on Lovers Holiday with and without his backing band (I had hoped they would stay on stage the whole time), as well as “TNT,” “Want U For Myself” and “Always Love You” from This Charming Mixtape.
Without a hint of an encore (it was 11.45 p.m., and we all needed to rush home to catch Letterman, right?), London thanks the audience and exits the stage leaving only his DJ to give us some beats to expend the energy from that post-show high.