Billy Woods Concert Review
Written by Jeff Ramella on January 27, 2020
By Sam Carliner
On Sunday, January 19 I saw Billy Woods at Mercury Lounge. This show was presented by Mercury East. It was my first Billy Woods show and my first time at Mercury Lounge. The venue was intimate but had plenty of space for what was a pretty popular show. I was also impressed that the stage was much larger than most venues of Mercury Lounge’s size.
From the start of the night, it was clear that this was more underground than the average hip hop show. I arrived to a DJ playing a stream of songs by underrated rappers like Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA. There were also plenty of classic hits by artists like Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM.
The first of several openers was Akai Solo, a rapper from Brooklyn who’s featured on Woods’ newest album, Terror Management. The entire time he was on stage, Akai kept beaming like nothing made him happier than performing. He spun and hopped around while rapping and made funny commentary in between songs.
The next artist was FIELDED, a singer also featured on Woods’ latest album. While I enjoyed all the openers, FIELDED was the one to truly blow me away. She sang with so much emotion about love and empowerment. Later in the night, Woods told the audience, “One day you’ll be telling everyone you saw FIELDED at this tiny venue.” I truly believe he’s right. She has the makings of a pop icon.
Next up was another rapper, MIKE. This was an interesting set because as soon as he walked on stage, it was clear that a good chunk of the audience knew him personally, and he greeted them all. Getting to be part of that type of audience felt special and no doubt it gave MIKE the bright happy energy that he performed with. He started his set by encouraging everyone to dance and ended it by bringing out some of his friends to perform songs with him.
The last opener was rapper, Elucid, a frequent collaborator with Billy Woods. Together they make up the duo Armand Hammer. To the audience’s delight, Elucid played plenty of Armand Hammer songs, opening and closing his set with popular tracks from their 2018 project, Paraffin. I wasn’t as familiar with Elucid’s solo material, but he played a long and satisfying set, at times taking a break from rapping to fill the room with entrancing instrumentals that would fit well in a sci-fi movie score. Eventually, Billy Woods came onstage and together the two performed a set of Armand Hammer material. Many people in the crowd rapped along to every song as the artists moved around every section of the stage, keeping the energy up.
Finally, Elucid left, leaving Billy Woods to close off the night with his solo material. Woods released two albums last year and his set consisted of most of my favorite songs from both those albums. Woods’ music is paranoid and gritty and the live setting didn’t change that. Backed by a screen showing dark imagery like climate change reports and run-down city apartments, Woods performed every song with the intensity and desperation of someone on the verge of a mental breakdown. He didn’t talk too much between songs, but when he did, it was to add pessimistic explanations of his music and warnings to the audience about the disappointments they should anticipate in the future. This, of course, was fitting to his music, and only added to the experience. I’ve been telling people for a while now that Woods is one of the greatest contemporary rappers out there, and this show only helped to reaffirm that.