A shirtless man wearing a surgical mask barks orders at the crowd around him, directing them to spread out. Without a note of Travis Scott’s set being played, the night’s first moshpit has formed. It’s not the only way the Houston-born rapper’s set channels punk, even metal energy: there is stagediving, headbanging and Scott has cultivated an ear-splitting scream.
Appearing first on a podium at the far end of the arena, he launches into an exhilarating run of tracks from hit 2018 album Astroworld. On record, psychedelic tracks such as Stargazing and Carousel loll around as if feeling the mushrooms kick in; here they’re hyper-alert and – to use a favourite Scott descriptor – raging. The O2’s speaker system is pushed instantly into the red, creating a seething, snowblind quality to the sound that is strangely gorgeous. “It ain’t a moshpit if there ain’t no injuries!” he shrieks at the foaming masses.
Astroworld is named after a Houston theme park, and Scott’s tracks are rollercoasters, cranking up and then dropping the beat in a rush of adrenaline, accompanied by plumes of theatrical smoke, almost like an EDM DJ. Violently opposing the usual torpor of a rap show, there is ferocious energy throughout – Butterfly Effect is delivered an octave higher than on record in an acute show of feeling.
While his mentor Kanye West used Auto-Tune to connote emotional instability, Scott uses it to conjure psychedelia. His warble gives these big anthems a rainbow-coloured vapour trail, and makes more intimate moments – such as an a capella on 90210 – intensely heady. It all makes guest star Sheck Wes, usually enjoyably dumb, feel leaden, while Ed Sheeran, brought on for new collaboration Antisocial, seems awkward and painfully mortal in comparison.
Three-part suite Sicko Mode closes the show on a note of glorious chaos, and typifies it. Scott crams in all the most immediately pleasurable bits of music – anthemic melody, pounding rhythm, cathartic expressiveness – into tiny spaces, with some of these live tracks around a minute long. The result is a pure body high – literally so, in the case of the moshpit fans launching themselves into the air.