The first night of Juice WRLD’s two-night stand at The Bomb Factory took place on the 15-year anniversary of My Chemical Romance’s breakout album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, and nothing could be more fitting for such an occasion.
Speaking as someone who listened to the band during his formative years, I can say My Chemical Romance was our little secret. There was a sense of community among the fan base that made the listening experience more fulfilling, and the band managed to tap into everybody’s angst in such a way that had a profoundly resonating effect.
Juice WRLD has this very impact on his fans, and despite selling out his Saturday show and drawing about 3,000 people the following Sunday night, he was also a kept secret. Plus, who can argue that lyrics such as “Like a crawlspace, it's a dark place I roam” aren’t just filled to the brim with teen angst and melancholy?
As much as pedantic emo purists might insist otherwise, Juice WRLD is an emo artist. He’s as emo as My Chemical Romance. He’s as emo as Rites of Spring. He’s as emo as Moss Icon.
Gawk at that statement if you must, but stylistic intricacies do not define the genre nearly as much as its namesake emotional tendencies do. Emo sprouted in the mid ‘80s and defied the emotion-suppressing toxic masculinity that festered in hardcore punk circles. Hip-hop also has this same history of stigmatizing expressions of vulnerability, but Juice WRLD fearlessly wears his heart on his sleeve through his music and makes no effort to put on a façade. Therefore, he very much embodies the spirit of emo.
He also embodies the spirit of an arena rock band, at least in the context of a live setting. His stage production was so intricate that it made The Bomb Factory stage look crammed. To the left of the stage was a replica of an ice cream truck (with headlights that occasionally flickered), with an enlarged figure of a Styrofoam cup of lean on top. There were four rectangular LED screens that stood parallel to one another, and behind the entire back line was a much larger half-circle LED screen. The drummer and the DJ sat and stood atop these lofty platforms that were stage left and stage right respectively. The laser/light display was simply a marvel, and the smoke cannons on the edge of the stage made it feel like a KISS concert.
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Despite the theatrics, the show took on a somber tone during the middle of Juice WRLD’s set, as he and his tour mate Ski Mask the Slump God paid tribute to the late XXXTentacion.
“We’re here on behalf of my brother, XXX,” said Ski Mask after performing “Catch Me Outside.” This tribute continued for about a half-hour as both artists played hits from the departed rapper such as “SAD!” and “Look At Me.” Ski Mask beseeched the crowd to open mosh pits as he belted through the heavily distorted trap banger “Take A Step Back.” Juice WRLD returned to the stage, and both rappers played their moshpit-conducive collaborative cut “Nuketown.”
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Juice WRLD followed with a largely toned-down track called “Legends,” which he wrote specifically in commemoration of XXXTentacion. As he performed this cut, the half-circle LED screen displayed a montage of musicians such as Amy Winehouse, Prince, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Nipsey Hussle (they didn’t seem to get the memo that Bushwick Bill died that night.)
The show proceeded on an optimistic note, however, as Dallas rapper and “Creator of the Woah” 10K.Caash made an unexpected appearance and performed “Aloha.” Juice WRLD played more crowd-pleasers toward the end, including his breakout hit “Lucid Dreams,” closing his 90-minute set with the song “Syphilis.” He went into a conclusive inspirational speech in which he encouraged audience members to pursue their dreams and to tell detractors, “Suck my dick.”
Juice WRLD is keeping the spirit of emo alive, folks, and something tells us that he might have three choice words for naysayers who think otherwise.