Bourque: Atlanta rapper Russ rules Goldstein Auditorium during Bandersnatch

There is something about rap that gets crowds going like no other genre can, and Friday night’s Bandersnatch concert in Goldstein Auditorium was no exception. A frequent refrain in Russ’s set was “Everyone’s watching, just keep looking,” which was little to ask provided the performance he gave in return.

The night began with ye., a rising producer out of Syracuse. His careful remixes of songs typical of a Friday night made for a supremely inviting atmosphere to get the steadily arriving audience ready for the night ahead. His set lasted only 30 minutes, but got the crowd dancing, singing and ready for a good night with no problem in that limited window.

MadeinTYO followed shortly after, and kept the momentum up with little effort. He frequently engaged the crowd, making his way to as close to the edge of the stage as possible and reaching down to find dozens of hands reaching right back. His frequent “When I say ‘made in,’ you say ‘Tokyo’” chant was met with enthusiastic participation, with the response getting louder with each incorporation of the phrase. The story behind his lyrics was touching, as he shared his journey from sitting on his mom’s couch wondering how to make it in the industry and in life, to touring across the country and having a kid waiting for him when he returns.

While the energy in Goldstein Auditorium was almost tantalizingly high, it only increased when Russ arrived. His silhouette on the dark stage was enough to get the crowd screaming, but when the lights came on revealing his Orange basketball jersey, the screaming got impossibly louder. The crowd was so loud that the first 30 seconds of every song was just short of inaudible, and it only took until the second song of the set, “Do It Myself,” for the crowd to reach the peak of their excitement.

Russ had a rare and admirable awareness of his audience, and carried them through a range of emotions, with each song feeling perfect for the time he chose to perform it. There were more exciting and rousing songs like “Yung God” and “T’d Up,” but he know when to tone things down and give the audience a break with slower songs like “Psycho” and “Losin Control.”

Russ’s stage presence was something worth noting, too. Most of the time, he was at the edge of the stage dancing, and his hand gestures as he rapped were almost to the point of excessive. In between verses, though, when he was allowed to take a break, he backed up and held out his arms to the side and stared at the crowd in front of him, reaching what appeared to be silent transcendence. While the crowd was mostly losing it, singing along to the chorus that was playing, Russ took it all in. Watching him made this feeling contagious, and you can’t help but admire the obvious passion he has for what he does.

Unless I am seeing an artist I have waited my whole life to see, it takes a lot for me to feel fully immersed in a concert experience. When Russ began his set, though, I was surprised to feel the inexorable urge to join the dancing and screaming audience in front of the stage. Russ’s passion was hard to ignore, as was the equal passion and excitement from the audience. It is very rare to come across such an equilibrium between an artist and his audience, but Russ achieved this while maintaining his contagiously blissful and carefree demeanor. Regardless of genre, this is what all artists strive to achieve. It was amazing to see such a successful example up close.


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