Dev Hynes, better known as his moniker Blood Orange, took over The Ace Hotel for two sold out nights playing through the entirety of his latest release, Freetown Sound. In the historic elegance of the theater we listened to funky jazz as we waited for the show to begin. The stage simply set with a vast open space in the middle, with tall panels at the back flanked with drums and mics to one side and keys and mics to the other. The house lights went down and the spoken word poetry that opens the album blared through the speakers and the crowd ignited. Though he may still be an unknown to the pop listening suburbanites, Blood Orange is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to pushing the innovation of music. Working as a producer with the likes of Florence and the Machine, Sky Ferreria, FKA Twigs and Solange Knowles. When it comes to his solo work as Blood Orange he digs in and uses every influence in his arsenal to construct a multi-layered and memorable sound. The critics have raved and waxed on about the social significance of this latest release, but when it came to performing onstage the pretense of commentary is gone giving way to pure artistic expression.
Beginning on keys with a single spotlight on him, Blood Orange began playing as singers sang over a driving beat that casted a groovy vibe full of 80’s pop influence, funky soul and ethereal voices. Rolling through each song with hardly a gap, the live show played much like the album does; a mixtape of genre bending music, story telling and hip trance. As he moved into each song he traveled across the stage playing multiple instruments, at times switching between several in one song. Other times Blood Orange ditched the instruments altogether for the center stage to sing and dance. Never standing stoic, he came alive embodying the energy and emotion of the music. A pop and lock dance mixed with a criss-crossing 80’s step, his entire body contorted to the music. The Michael Jackson comparison was unmistakable especially with the ankle biting black pants, white socks and black shoes. As he let the sonic waves move him, the white panels at the back of the stage transformed into screens hosting black and white images of the city; other times moving street scenes lending a gritty honesty to the catchy hooks coming from the speakers. Often dancing with his back to the audience Hynes was completely lost in the music and we in the audience went along with him as we entered his alternate reality.
Modern dancers joined Blood Orange onstage for many of the songs, which was an unexpected part of the show. These were not merely backup dancers, they were literally becoming the physical expression of the music. Choreographed yes, and yet it felt like free expression. Very modern and exactly the freedom that the “try-hards” in the crowd needed to move beyond their heads. Over and over the audience gave up their love to Blood Orange, cheering and dancing along to the beat. Their love was at it’s height when he worked in one of his most recognizable hits “Champagne Coast” halfway through his set. He brought out a male dancer and had a complete choreographed dance that lit the crowd on fire. Blood Orange continued to surprise us bringing several guest singers onstage, including Carly Rae Jepsen, Nelly Furtado, Zuri Marley, and Empress Of.
Blood Orange is utterly honest and committed to his artistic vision, peeling back layers and revealing more with each note. Freetown Sound became a theater onstage that sonically hit the walls and bounced back giving an uncensored, unpretentious artistic purity.
As the last sound rang out on “Better Numb,” the house lights came up suddenly and with that it was the ending to the beautiful sonic universe formed by the vision of one called Dev Hynes.
Words: Anne-Marie Schiefer
Photography: Andrew Gomez
More Photo of Blood Orange at The Theatre at Ace!