By 1 o’clock Saturday afternoon, tickets for Frank Ocean’s sold-out show at the Paradise Rock Club were reselling for $175 — six times face value. An hour after doors opened, the line still stretched to the end of the block. A group of girls sneaking in through the back were bounced from the same door they came through.
The night was billed as “An Evening With Frank Ocean,” the kind where he sat on a stool, intimately singing to the crowd as if each member were his significant other. Behind him, six tube television sets were stacked up like a Rent-A-Center display. The backdrop was a projection screen filled with TV sets playing ever-changing images.
Tickets had been all but gone long before the release of Ocean’s impeccably lush debut, “Channel Orange,” two weeks before, and he graciously thanked the buyers for that, knowing the heights to which his own hype had climbed as the album dropped.
His first song was not his own but a cover of Sade’s “By Your Side.” He invited the crowd to sing along, but the collection of the young, the cool, and the coupled just smiled and nodded, not so much politely, but like they were glamoured.
When he cracked the seal on his material, singing “Thinking Bout You,” the audience became his choir. Falsetto notes that seemed impossibly high on his album — “Do you not think so far ahead?” — were authentic in person.
Watching the reactions of the men in the room as he sang “Forrest Gump” and said with no discomfort, “You’re on my mind, boy,” was a social experiment. Some sang along, rocked slowly to the beat, or squeezed their girlfriends. At different points, people have gossiped about the sexuality of R&B legends such as Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass, a witch hunt for who’s on the down low. When a slow clap started midway through “Bad Religion,” a song about a broken relationship with a past boyfriend, it was a sign of how much Ocean has been embraced and appreciated.
He left after an hourlong set but returned for a one-song encore, “I Miss You,” which he wrote for Beyoncé’s “4” album. There was something subtly striking about a song written by a man in a woman’s voice ultimately sung by the man that wrote it. When he finished, he walked off seemingly as thankful to have performed as everyone else was for seeing him.