Updated: May 17, 2022
Artwork by Ryan Sunada-Wong
As someone who has idolized slam poet and rapper George Watsky for years, I immediately knew that I had to see him when he announced his Complaint tour at the start of the new year. This past Monday, I got to see him at Mr. Smalls Theater with a couple of friends. I knew that Watsky would be killer, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience that lay ahead.
Right before Watsky released his album, he tweeted a photo that showed a handwritten note. “Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is the importance of pain. Without pain, joy has no context.” The album’s theme of having “both joy and darkness” definitely shone through both Watsky’s performance and his openers’.
The concert opened with duo Feed the Biirds, consisting of Camila Recchio and Kush Mody. Mody has been a long-time collaborator with Watsky, and helped Watsky write a good number of songs like “Brave New World” and “Don’t Be Nice,” both of which were performed that night. Recchio has also collaborated with Watsky in “Tiny Glowing Screens Part 3,” which Mody also wrote with Watsky.
Before this performance, I had never heard of Feed the Biirds, but now I can say that I’m hooked. Recchio’s voice is hypnotic, and Mody’s ability to hop from instrument to instrument is unreal. Later that night when I got home, I added the tracks that the duo performed on Spotify, but something about Recchio’s vocals almost felt lacking in the studio version. The live performance had so much energy and felt freer than the studio version, which felt as if Recchio was holding herself back from being as expressive. That’s not to say that they sound bad in recordings, but if you get the chance to see Free the Biirds, I would definitely recommend seeing them.
Rapper Benjamin Laub, more popularly known as Grieves, performed after and really got the audience hyped up for Watsky. I only knew him from Watsky’s track “Exquisite Corpse,” which features six guest rappers. He performed a handful of his songs. His style definitely has a different flavor than Watsky’s, but I can’t exactly lay my finger on how. Saying that Grieves feels more effortless whereas Watsky’s is more existential feels too simplistic, but that’s the best way I can differentiate them. Regardless, Grieves was absolutely phenomenal.
Right when the audience was worked up, Watsky appeared with Free the Biirds. He kicked off the show with “Brave New World.” Although the tour was named after Watsky’s recent album release, a good portion of the songs he performed were from previous releases. Classics like “Sloppy Seconds” and “Hey Asshole” that introduced many fans to his music were played. Throughout the concert, the energy was absolutely unreal. It’s cliché and said about virtually any concert that anybody goes to, but I honestly felt connected with the audience and performers. Songs like “Welcome to the Family” and “Limo 4 Emos,” both from his most recent release, was a nod to Watsky’s message of love and acceptance.
Right after performing “Tiny Glowing Screens Part 3,” the stage appeared to clear off. However, the crowd chanted “Watsky!” repeatedly until he came back with a broom. He said he wasn’t sure why he decided to, but he was going to go with it anyways. He and
the band performed two more songs, closing off with one of my favorites, “Whoa Whoa Whoa.” This was the track that ultimately turned me into a fan back in freshman year of college; hearing it live felt like I was listening to it for the first time all over again.
After the show, Grieves was near the merchandise stand. Despite my usually rotten luck in life, I managed to snag a selfie and an autograph before a line could even form. While my friend and I were waiting for our Uber driver, we heard someone saying that Watsky was chatting with fans. We had at least a good 15 minutes until our ride arrived, so we decided to at least try to take a picture before leaving. It still feels surreal that I got to chat with someone I looked up to and personally thank for inspiring me through his art.
In the first opening act, Recchio said something along the lines of “art is where you can show your passion for life.” She said that art can take any form, and music was her form. Watsky’s ability to elegantly capture both the pain and beauty in the world is his art, and it definitely resonated with me. There were hard days where I blared his music and felt less lonely, almost as if I was having a friend who just understood me, without me having to say anything. His candidness with his struggles and experiences that he shares through his music definitely encouraged me to straighten my back and seize every day, and I’m confident that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Although I’m not sure if I have quite found my “art” in that sense, Watsky continuously inspires me to be more loving, accepting, and resilient and to share that with others.