Yung Lean Théâtre Berri, Montreal QC, March 22

Yung Lean Théâtre Berri, Montreal QC, March 22
Photo: Luke Orlando
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It's tempting to dismiss Sweden's Yung Lean as merely the product of internet hype. Rising to success in 2013 on the back of videos for tracks like "Ginseng City 2002" and "Yoshi City," Lean seemed like just another viral fad that would come and go. The primary appeal of his Sadboys crew seemed to be their unique aesthetic of neon, bucket hats, Japanese characters and Arizona Iced Tea. It seemed impossible to tell if appreciation for this had to be ironic or not.
 
But last night (March 22), Yung Lean's packed, sold-out show at Montreal's Théâtre Berri made it clear that he has built a strong, passionate following. After openers Dead Horse Beats and Adamn Killa, a wide-eyed and tense audience comprising a diverse array of people in a rainbow of neon, waited for Lean to take the stage. When he did, entering with "Hoover," the crowd responded wildly, a mosh pit erupting to relieve the sudden pressure. That energy — impressive for a Tuesday night — set the stage for the remainder of the performance.
 
Yung Lean sported a green buzz-cut rather than his signature bucket hat, and an oversized button-down that his fans clung to when he got close enough to the stage. Early on, his performance went through tracks from his recent album Warlord, including "Afghanistan," "Highway Patrol" and "Motorola." These tracks showed Lean's evolution into a more trap-influenced style: heavy bass, snare patterns and a focus on hooks like "Keep that kush up on me." There was a visual issue during these early tracks — the screen projections were disconnected — but Yung Lean made it seem intentional, the "searching HDMI" message projected over his chest making the technical error feel almost profound.
 
Going into older tracks such as "Volt," Lean showed that he can easily switch back into his vaporwave, faster-flowing roots, while "Diamonds," another newer track, brought the two styles together, and found Lean giving one of the most the emotionally charged performances of the night as he hovered over the crowd to sing and used less lighting. Shortly after, he moved into one of his biggest hits, "Kyoto," which brought the energy in the crowd up again. Throughout the performance, Yung Lean managed to balance his soft and hard material well, making room for genuine emotion while keeping things exciting, and the crowd loved him for it. He kept his banter short and sweet, building chants of "SADBOYS" before moving into songs.
 
Throughout the performance, despite the silliness of parts of his persona, Yung Lean showed that he takes his music and his fans seriously, perhaps best illustrated by these lyrics from closer "Monster": "Used to be a hobby now it's all I think about / That's what rap does." Lean is no longer just a kid fooling around; both physically and emotionally, he's grown up, and he showed great respect for the audience, which he claimed — like any good showman — was the best of the tour so far.
 
Yung Lean came out for an encore with the songs that made him famous: "Yoshi City," "Hurt" and "Ginseng Strip 2002." The lyrics on "Ginseng," "Got my balls licked by a Zooey Deschanel look-alike," seemed like a throwback to a younger version of himself. Perhaps Yung Lean will have to drop the Yung moniker in a few years as he matures further, but for now, he's striking the balance just right.