The hottest soul star in years played his first major London show in suitably sweltering conditions last night. SinceFrank Ocean last appeared in a small East End club in 2011, he has released what was widely acclaimed as the best album of 2012, Channel Orange, and won two Grammys.
Yet there’s been no hit single, so it was a slight surprise to hear every word, even those from his early mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, sung back at him by a rabid crowd.
Ocean, real name Lonny Breaux, has both written a song for Justin Bieber and been a member of nasty hip hop crew Odd Future. His own music is far from both those extremes, intricate, sophisticated R&B about Los Angeles rich kids and ancient Egypt.
He appeared in T-shirt and loud trousers alongside a sparse band in black suits and ties. An ongoing big screen visual of a gold BMW rumbling through an empty desert landscape didn’t add much to a static show, where Ocean’s warm, emotional voice had to do most of the work.
On top of the church organ of Bad Religion he allowed himself a rare burst of power. Otherwise the feel was relaxed until the rough-edged synths of the 10-minute Pyramids, an extraordinary epic accompanied by a suitable stepping up of the light show.
The live interpretation of a five-star album never quite matched recorded heights, despite an audience that was clearly willing Ocean to be extraordinary. This perfectionist may still have some work to do.