Somehow the lineup of people that wrapped around the Kool Haus felt like a small crowd inside. It didn’t matter where you stood because being at a distance from Frank Ocean doesn’t make his music any less transfixing. His first official album Channel Orange had just been released, a strong debut which cemented his position as the leader of the latest group of game-changers in R&B. With detailed scenes and painstakingly chosen words, his music wove together stories about drugs, love and self-doubt in 2012. Through his lyrics, his emotions were laid bare and so whether he was speaking to a man or a woman became irrelevant. Weeks prior to the show, Frank gave listeners one more reason to have his name on their lips when he posted an open letter (originally intended to be the liner notes for Channel Orange) online, in which he revealed that his first love was a man. Before the album came his free mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, as well as a lengthy list of incomplete tracks which have been dubbed the Lonny Breaux Collection. Regardless of how long he’d been writing music, this was Frank Ocean’s first show in Toronto. It was clear that he was on the cusp of much bigger things, and later, much larger venues.
Wearing his signature bandana on his head, Frank opened the show with a cover of Sade’s “By Your Side.” He told the crowd he wasn’t feeling well, but his voice showed no sign of strain. The set list was comprised mostly of songs from his latest release, but dedicated fans showed their appreciation for his earlier work when they sang along to “Swim Good.” He told the audience about his experiences biking around Toronto, and how much he loved the city. Maybe it’s because he’s already shared so much of himself through his music, but connecting to the crowd sure came easy. "The more I live, the more I learn,” he said, “That us, the companionship, that's the treasure in this life."
With the lights low, he sat at the piano for his encore – a quiet rendition of “Miss You”, a track he wrote that is featured on Beyonce’s album 4. Her version sounds somewhat hopeful, as though she’s moved on. But his feels different, like it comes from someone in the thick of a heartbreaking separation. The speaker is someone desperate to be heard and to get his or her message across.
“It is so simple. A feeling. But it’s everything.” When he repeated the words it felt as though he was singing directly to each individual. The stage was dark but his voice floated throughout the room. His grip on the crowd didn’t loosen until the final note had faded.