To many, it seems as though R&B/hip-hop sensation Bryson Tiller blew up out of nowhere, catapulted by smash single “Don’t” and his TRAPSOUL project. But the 23-year-old singer and sometime rapper has actually been grinding for years before Drake cosigned him. They say there’s no such thing as a true ‘overnight success’, and Tiller is a testament to that. He’s embarked on his first headlining tour recently, and I was able to catch him on the Philly stop at the TLA.
The last time he came to town, he opened for Travis Scott, and just like that show, this one was sold out, which is proof of Tiller’s rapidly spiking popularity. The crowd was a young one, with many concertgoers under 21; a female presence was heavy as well; about 75% of the crowd were women.
First, touring openers THEY. hit the stage, a pint-sized duo of singers from LA. They were full of energy, seemingly just happy to be there on the East Coast. They performed tracks from their only release to date, the Nu Religion EP, such as the bouncy, catchy “Motley Crue“. While their material didn’t have the most original sound, their endearing energy kept the crowd on their side through their roughly 25-minute set. However, their between-song banter needed work, as the phrase “make some fuckin’ noise!” was shouted between almost every song; also, mic control was somewhat of an issue, which is a sign of their inexperience on stage.
Overall though, THEY. did a good job of warming up the audience for who they came to see. After his DJ hyped the crowd up for a bit, Bryson Tiller appeared on stage, greeted by a chorus of screaming females. Backed by a live drummer, the singer started off with TRAPSOUL opener “Let ‘Em Know“, appearing very comfortable on stage for such a young performer.
Tiller rolled into more tracks from his album, the only outlier being the stand-alone single “Set You Free“. Considering he only has one LP out, it’s impressive that he managed to pack his set with as much material as possible, keeping the crowd engaged. The color of the lighting changed with each song, moving from red to blue to yellow to green to match the mood; it was refreshing to see a young artist who understands the importance of visual aesthetic during a concert.
After performing fan favorite “Sorry Not Sorry“, Tiller went into an anecdote about quitting his job after being contacted by Timbaland to work together, sounding reminiscent to a young College Dropout-era Kanye West. It is this endearing, confident yet realistic attitude that makes him so likable, explaining his appeal. Tiller knew to keep the banter brief though, running through the majority of his debut album, from “Ten Nine Fourteen“, to “Exchange“, to “502 Come Up” in rapid-fire succession.
After aggressive banger “Rambo“, Tiller’s drummer launched into a raucous solo, which the singer followed up by slowing down the vibe of the set with the smooth cut “The Sequence“. The crowd was full of dedicated followers, reciting all of Tiller’s lyrics in unison. It was during the Louisville, Kentucky native’s biggest hit, Top 40 smash “Don’t“, that he allowed his fans to sing half of the song for him, which made for a chillingly cool moment. It sounded as if the 70 million plus people who’ve viewed the music video were all in the building at once.
Tiller then finished the set with TRAPSOUL finale “Right My Wrongs“, as grey lighting beamed onto the smokey stage to match the sincerely somber vibe. Seeing a good deal of these tracks live was the first time I’d heard them, and honestly, it was an impressive display. Bryson Tiller is still carving out his own niche in the modern R&B landscape, searching for his own identity; some of his work seems to run together, albeit into a solid, likable sound. Regardless, it’s clear that he’s amassed a sizable fanbase that stretches beyond ‘cult following’ status, and that the kid can put on a damn good show. Looking forward to what’s next for this rising star.
all photos by Michael White