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Gig Review: Mykki Blanco at Neck of the Woods

Mykki Blanco at Neck of the Woods 
Friday, March 8 2024 

Photographs by Álvaro Fernández 

Words by Nicholas Lindstrom 

I will always remember the words of wisdom that my high school teacher uttered after handing me the worst grade of my school career. “Often it is our expectations that lead to our greatest disappointment” I had zero expectations as I descended the subterranean stairwell of Neck of the Woods on Friday night. However, the simmerings of anticipation started to build when I smelt the wafting of fake smoke and felt the vibration of amps blaring house beats. I was ushered into the venue by a beacon in the form of a light box that adorned the top of the stairwell, proudly illuminating the portrait of American multi-media artist Mykki Blanco. 

It has been just over a decade since the birth of the Mykki Blanco moniker. Having collaborated with artists like Blood Orange, Princess Nokia, Kelsey Lu, Madonna and Kanye West, Blanco has cemented their place as a voyager on the shifting frontiers of musical genres. Despite their international success, Mykki Blanco had never performed in Aotearoa and the enigma surrounding Blanco’s live performance had grown into excited suspense by the time I set foot in Neck of The Woods. 

Tāmaki Makaurau-based DJ Zeki opened the evening with high-energy mixes of club beats interwoven with snippets of R&B songs. The intersectionality of Zeki’s set foreshadowed what would become a common thread throughout the show. Grecco Romank took the stage next, possessing the crowd with music that can only be described as “WTF” but in the best way possible (seriously, if you get the chance go to a Grecco Romank gig!) The combination of Zeki’s dance music and Grecco Romank’s uncompromising strangeness was the perfect environment for a crowd that had now grown both in size and reciprocity of energy. Both opening acts laid the foundation for the genre-bending performance that followed. 

It had just gone midnight when Zeki reappeared on stage. The auspicious air of the new day was soon filled with the sound of an instrument similar to a didgeridoo. The previous hum of conversation had turned into a unison of expectancy, as the crowd eagerly watched the wings of the stage in anticipation. With eyes now adjusted to the dark, I could make out a figure snaking through the crowd. Holding a bushel of leaves and what appeared to be a boulder, Mykki Blanco entered the stage from the audience, setting the tone for the performance to come. 

During an interview on 95bFM’s Breakfast, Blanco promised that the show would be “theatrical”. Mykki Blanco is many things, but a liar is not one of them. The show opened with Mykki Blanco ushering the crowd into a U shape, leaving a performance area in the middle that resembled a runway. From the outset, it was clear that the audience was not there to watch a show but to be a part of it. Blanco made sure to prepare the energy of the room with a sage burning that culminated in a communal deep breath. Mykki started the show with gratitude, thanking both Strange News Touring and Community Garden for helping to make the show happen; they also made special mention to Grecco Romank and Zeki (who returned to DJ for the entirety of the performance) Donned in a leather vest and ripped jeans that exposed the most fashionable boxers known to humankind, Mykki was an encompassing presence without being imposing. 

It would be both unfair and incorrect to describe the show as a musical performance. This was performance art that just so happened to include music. Mykki’s unique blend of club beats and cold-hard bars was the perfect accompaniment to the multi-faceted theatrics of the show. Everything in the environment was fair game, from the boulder-like object that Mykki brought with them, to the exposed pipes on the roof that Blanco hung off of at one stage. They stayed in complete control of the energy in the room throughout the performance, at one point they even requested the lights to be changed from red to purple. There was a meticulous nature to everything, even confusion in the setlist felt like it added to the show’s theatrics. Alongside the theatrics, there was a serious tone to their performance. Blanco has described themself as not only an artist but also an activist. This was evident in a number in which Mykki issued the imperative verse; 

“We live in a world colonial system, we need systems based on rejuvenation, not extraction. This is a climate crisis” 

The beauty was that Mykki’s serious messages and themes never detracted from the mood of enjoyment and celebration. 

Mykki’s choice to perform at the audience level was rewarded by an atmosphere of collective enjoyment. Everyone at the gig was drawn into their performance. Blanco capitalised on the crowd’s energy through some top-tier crowd work. At one point a member of the audience provided Mykki with a drink of water after a particularly high-tempo number. We were all duly compensated when Blanco baptised the crowd with a shower of spring water from a bottle that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Crowd participation peaked when we were enlisted to sing the chorus of Mykki’s song “Patriarchy ain’t the end of me”.

I would love to provide a complete setlist, but it was clear from the outset that this was not the show to be obsessively taking notes at. This was a performance to be experienced! However, there were most definitely stand-out tracks. Their collaboration with Blood Orange “It’s Not My Choice” and the upbeat track “Free Ride” were particular crowd-pleasers. 

If it is true that it is own our expectations that lead to our greatest disappointment, then having no expectations and being completely floored by an artist in their element, has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Zeki, Greeco Romank and Mykki Blanco created an environment where the unorthodox was orthodox and where differences and weirdness were celebrated. Don’t be too sad that you missed out on this spectacle this time around. Blanco has already taken to Instagram to express their gratitude and assure their adoring fans that they will return to Aotearoa. In the meantime, you can stream their latest project “Postcards from Italia” wherever good music is sold!