Being vulnerable is the easiest thing and the hardest thing to do in the world. Rod Wave fans know that, and love him for it.
As soon as the chart-topping 22-year-old crooner is announced, every fucking phone goes up in a multicolored wave that the previous rapper had asked for, but failed to elicit. Granted, the fans were braving Stage 5 Austin for Mr. Teddy-Bear-Heart-on-My-Sleeve, not NoCap (who also stunts lyrically), but rat-a-tat rhyming isn’t what the Rod Wave crowd came for. They came for the feels.
Wave’s show is as no-frills as you get and the most manufactured drama came from rising up to the stage slowly on a moving platform amidst smoke, drums, and soft choral chanting. The crowd was a mix of ages, from the boxer-braid crop-top crew trying to scrub X’s off their hands to adults their mama’s age. Opening with “Street Runner” off March’s album Soulfly, for which the tour is eponymously named, Wave and his whole squad, mostly hometown friends, rocked a uniform of white tees and distressed blue jeans. If the heartbroken lyrics in the opener (“Loving you is my greatest sin”) didn’t tell us this was the kind of smart softie everybody wants to give a hug, immediately, the St. Petersburg born Z-lennial, né Rodarius Marcell Green, announced “I was kinda nervous.” His last two albums may have hit the top of the charts, but he’s just a shy big kid.
The ecstatic audience hyped up with higher energy “Poison,” off 2019’s breakout debut Ghetto Gospel, bouncing to fast snares and autotuned despair as Wave aggressively reminded himself he “Don’t want no more love, I feel it’s poison.” He took us through his depression and isolation with “Dark Clouds,” off second album Pray 4 Love. That 2020 collection is Wave at his darkest, with stark production and soulful piano tinkling. Perhaps that’s why Wave is so prolific – three albums in three years, successively climbing to ever-higher spots critically and commercially. Like all anguished talents, the only thing he can do is tell us about it through his art.
Wave gives a nod to his come-up with “Cuban Links” (featuring Kevin Gates), and bares his heart with “Dark Conversations,” and each song has the audience swaying and crying like a Sarah McLachlan concert over rhythmic trap beats. By the time we’re halfway through and Wave puts his hair down, wipes his sweat off, and begins the opening bars of “Abandoned,” where he talks about growing up feeling abandoned by his parents after his father went to prison, his mama remarried, and his uncle Derek took him in, he’s told us why he looks for love in all the wrong places. Wave chokes up through the opening bars, and even perched far out in the crowd, my usually staunch friend, who also lacked parental affection at a young age, had a tear in his eye.
The second half kicked off with the TikTok hit that started it all: 2019’s viral “Heart on Ice,” an addictive jam that first introduced the then-19-year-old to fans around the world, and ended with a bit of a jam sesh from his band.
Wave isn’t a showman and prefers to interact with fans through his microphone. Even when he came down the stage halfway to take photos with adoring teens during “Rags2Riches,” it was obligatory, and then let us know “I never really wanted no fame, but I really love doing this shit.” That was a spoken interlude that, for once, you believed.
As the first concert I’ve covered since Miss Rona crushed live entertainment, Wave’s enraptured crowd and soul-baring lyrics reminded me why music gives me hope for humanity. That an album that can hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 is popular because it’s what everybody feels, sometimes.
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