Bryson Tiller review – heavy-lidded R&B builds in confidence

Koko, London
Timbaland’s advice to this Louisville purveyor of Weekndish ambience to quit his day job looks like a promising bet

Bryson Tiller was working at a Papa John’s pizza outlet in Louisville, Kentucky, when he got a call from Timbaland, who had heard Tiller’s hazy track Don’t and advised him to quit his day job. Tiller tells the story at every gig, including this, the first of three sold-out Koko dates. Near-invisible in the depths of his hoodie, he’s sweet, and humbled by events: “Last year was a crazy year.”

It was. In the autumn, he released an album called Trapsoul – the title encapsulating his heavy-lidded, Weekndish R&B and low-frequency production – that tipped him into the mainstream, and he’s still so new to it that the spotlight unsettles him. Ten Nine Fourteen goes into the Timbaland story in more depth – the subsequent phone call from Drake, the house he can now afford to buy – and he sing-raps it as if still half-afraid that he’s about to wake from a dream.

On stage, he’s lit from behind, so his viscous flow emanates from the shadows; when he sings (there’s more singing than rapping, but it should be substantially more), his plaintive tenor drifts out from behind the barrier created by the back-lighting. Never mind not feeling his face – here, you can’t see it. Yet it works pretty well; a drummer and a keyboardist provide moral support as well as drifting atmospherica, and Tiller’s confidence grows as he goes along.

Alongside generic chest-beaters such as Rambo, which is made starker by a drum solo, he mines a fertile vein of Miguel-ish libidinousness. Emboldened by the female yelps that greet Exchange and Don’t, he approaches the front row, who sing each song in its entirety. It’s hard to judge whether Drake-sized superstardom awaits – for now, he’ll have to be happy with hearing 2,000 women a night sing, at maximum volume: “Pull up, skrr, get in the ride / Left hand is steering, other is gripping your thigh.”

• At Wireless festival, London, 8 July.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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