There was about a 10-foot pit between Post Malone and the sold-out crowd Thursday at Amalie Arena, a yawning moat separating pop’s ruling goof from his people.
Even fans in the front rows had to squint to see the face tattoos, the fraying threads of his frizzy-top ‘fro. And that’s if they got half a good look amid all the smoke, lasers and trippy lights enveloping the stage.
But you know what? No one was squinting. None of the fans in Tampa were there to scrutinize Austin Post, the 24-year-old Texan born on the Fourth of July who has, out of nowhere, become one of America’s unlikeliest pop heroes.
He may look like a Brillo pad granted the powers of Pinocchio, but Posty’s the manimal of the moment in pop music, and his performance in Tampa showed why. The stands were filled with nearly 17,000 fans from every quadrant of every demo, from B-grrls to F-bois to aunts and kids and grannies. What’s that line from Ferris Bueller? Geeks, sportos, motorheads, wasteoids, dweebies — they all think he’s a righteous dude.
Maybe it’s because however you squint at Post Malone, you’re bound to see something you dig.
Posty was hit early on with the white-rapper tag, and he’s believable enough bragging about his timepiece on Psycho, or his swaggin’, ballin’ moves on White Iverson. And he’s got some real rocker in him, too. It absolutely tracked that Ozzy Osbourne’s flickering face would flash up on screen behind him to sing the hook on Take What You Want. At the very least, Ozzy would approve of the pyro carnival that punctuated that and many other songs.
But Posty’s always been a crooner at his core, with a pained, textured voice befitting a songwriter’s beaten-up soul. He scrunched up around a mic stand to howl out the aching Hollywood’s Bleeding and Enemies, the latter a genuinely wounded lament about losing old friends due to fame. He moaned about having his heart broken on the aching Goodbyes and I Fall Apart — the crowd, of course, moaning right along with him. He even busted out the ol’ acoustic six-string for the campfire-earnest Stay.
There are songs where Posty’s blend of the high and the low, the shallow and the deep, crash head-on. On Candy Paint, a song about rides and riches, his narrow, runway-like stage was a thing of beauty, lit with a vertical purple haze and lasers that flickered throughout. So, somehow, was the rest of the song, a melodic embrace of the good life that permeated the smoky air all the way to the cheap seats
And then there was the beautiful Sunflower, an already timeless pop gem for which Post brought out his opener, Rae Sremmurd’s resident hit whisperer Swae Lee. Lee had quite a night of his own, tossing roses and cash into the crowd on smashes like Black Beatles, No Type and Spoil My Night; and eventually swinging down into the crowd to finish his set in Section 116. He even shouted out his attorney.
“My lawyer came to the show tonight!” Swae shouted. “Where’s my lawyer at? Shout out to Dan Morgan, Morgan and Morgan! For the people, baby!”
As for Post Malone, he’s so lousy with hit singles that he somehow managed to go the whole night without playing Circles, which is only the No. 4 song in the country. If any other artist tried to pull a stunt like that, they might be chased out of town. Not Posty.
Near the end, he played his raging hit Rockstar, and boy, did he act like one. He kneeled to scream into a camera, his giant face projected behind him with almost sickening clarity. He smashed a guitar, spewed his drink in the air and flung his cup into the crowd, displaying a bit of real rage he’s got inside. He was intense, gasping, shaking, and, at the end, beaming and waving like a maniac.
“I went from sleeping in a closet to being able to do tours and play concerts and meet fans and travel the f—ing world,” he said. “You can be whoever you want to be, because nobody can f—ing stop you, and nobody can tell you s—.”
He grinned, he sang Congratulations, he grinned and said thank you some more. He wanted to make sure everyone heard him. And he wanted to make sure they all saw him smiling at the end.