Call it Valentine's Day magic or whatever you will, but love was in the air as Mykki Blanco brought "The Stunt Queen Tour" to Toronto's Velvet Underground last night (February 14).
"It's times like these when I look out and I'm thinking, 'Damn. All this good energy, all this love, we're in such a weird time to be alive,'" Blanco told the crowd in an opening preamble. "We started doing this about four and a half years ago, and people would find what we were doing so taboo."
What the fiery, gender-fluid stage persona of New York rapper Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. is "doing" bucks genre convention in favour of provocative, punk-channelling musings fuelled by marginal identity politics. It's less taboo and more about exploding what's labelled as such.
"Then in America we had [the 2015 country-wide legalization of] gay marriage; we had Laverne Cox; we had the whole Caitlyn Jenner moment. My point is that in this journey, so many things that people used to find so outlandish about what I do has now become so mainstream."
Now, Mykki Blanco's provocative brand of in-your-face, hardcore entertainment is worlds away from the mainstream, but that it could pack a 500-capacity club — on a greeting card holiday better at filling restaurants, no less — remains a testament to the project's resonance. And Blanco was feeling the love.
After declaring "My name is Mykki Blanco, I came out with a new album called Mykki," Blanco played a set that was heavy on the September-released LP, opening with hardcore battle track "Fendi Band" and stoking the crowd into an early frenzy. When Gay Dog Food hype setter "Fulani" followed, you half wondered if touring mate Cakes da Killa would make a later appearance in the set for title collab "A Minute With Cakes," but this was the Mykki Blanco show, free of distractions.
Venturing offstage, Blanco had the crowd clear a ring on the dance floor; "I can't be confined to that stage," she said, and truer words were never spoken.
Requesting DJ Sissy Elliot to cue up the bubbling track for early fan favourite "Haze.Boogie.Life" from the stage, there in the crowd, Blanco led a hungry love-in. The Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels track was followed by a vibed-out "Hideaway," and when that bled into a ferocious a cappella that ranged in subject from Aquafina to lipstick and contour makeup to MDMA as anal suppository, the room was all phones in the air.
Eventually, Blanco made her way back to the stage for a block of Mykki cuts that included "Loner," "My Nene" and "I'm in a Mood," proclaiming, "I'm not in the mood to listen to motherfuckin' Kellyanne Conway. I've got some alternative facts for you: the primary was stolen," in the middle of the latter. Then she stormed offstage, grabbed a steel barrier, and hauled it onstage for Gay Dog Food excerpt "For the Homey's," variably grinding against it, riding it like a bull and crouching low to sing from between its bars.
It wasn't quite the couch she destroyed onstage in Montreal the night before, she admitted ("I'm not a destructive person; I'm just a performer"), but when Blanco lifted it above her head, the sense of danger was just as palpable.
Despite any mainstream acceptance for queerness or gender fluidity, there's an immersive volatility to Blanco's concert cabaret that simply can't be found anywhere else, and whether she was in the crowd instigating a mosh pit and literally bouncing off the energy she set in motion or ripping on exes, last night Blanco made that certain.
It all came to a head when Blanco ripped the set-weathered wig from her scalp, chomped down on it like it was some limp kill and dove into the audience, pogoing wildly to the head-banging, two-fisted techno of an overhauled "Head Is a Stone," the audience bouncing in pulsing return. She hopped off into the night from there, flirting with fans and posing for selfies at the bar.
"Yo," she said, "I'm not one of those people that goes and hides backstage."