St. Paul quartet thestand4rd’s debut performance at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall on Saturday night—which also marked the live debut of one of its members, the 16-year-old internet sensation Spooky Black—was nothing short of a spectacle.
After about an hour of expert-level DJing by DJ TIIIIIIIIIIP and fumbling, entry-level DJing by Spooky Black himself (who referred to himself as “DJ Crazy Frog”), the stage lights went dark and the room exploded in the first of many swells of high-pitched screams. As Spooky Black re-emerged to stand next to a video screen showing woodsy imagery and opened his mouth to sing, the screams—nay, shrill, glass shattering shrieks—got even louder, and for the entire first song it was as if Spooky Black’s gigantic, booming voice, the wall-rattling bass beat laid down by producer Psymun, and the adoring shrieks from the crowd were all facing off in a competition to see who could most effectively overwhelm the room.
Before the audience could catch its breath, Spooky Black finished his first ballad and launched immediately into his recent collaboration with Allan Kingdom, “Wavey.” After another swell of screams, the crowd started swaying and singing along to every word of the song. The group’s fourth member, Bobby Raps, joined in for the next song, showcasing his own ability to vacillate between falsetto crooning and jittery raps, and from there on out they worked as a collective to ratchet the energy higher through a series of ballads and progressively faster-paced club bangers.
“Make some noise if he can actually sing live,” Bobby Raps said, gesturing over to Spooky Black between songs and putting a finer point on what many in the room were thinking: Yes, after all that hype and build-up, the young singer really is just as capable and talented as we’ve been led to believe. And thanks to the fact that his three bandmates are already fairly comfortable being on stage, Spooky Black’s own self-conscious, awkward presence became more of a selling point than something that could derail the show.
For the most part, it was hard to tell that this was thestand4rd’s first live appearance. A screen hanging at the center of the stage alternated between videos and patterns, helping to set the mood, and the set list was expertly crafted to build momentum and keep pushing the energy higher. But there were signs that things were a little rough around the edges—namely during Spooky Black’s breakout song, “Without You,” which found him pushing too hard through the notes and sounding raggedy and strained. Few in the audience seemed to mind, however, and his added passion on that track only seemed to stoke the crowd’s adoration and get everyone’s cell phone cameras pointing toward the stage.
Looking around the room on Saturday night, the most fascinating aspect to me was that thestand4rd and Spooky Black in particular had managed to subvert everything we’ve been told about how to build buzz and gain a following in this town. While it’s true that three of the members have already established themselves locally—Kingdom as a solo artist, Psymun with K.Raydio, and Bobby Raps with Audio Perm—they have not taken any of the conventional routes with this group. Rather, they’ve relied solely on YouTube, SoundCloud, and social media to bypass all the traditional methods of publicity and connect directly with their fans—and that resulting connection is passionate, loyal, and fierce.
Over the past decade people have talked a lot about the accessibility of recording equipment and how it’s allowed artists to set up studios in their bedrooms and attics. But what the internet has also done is given fans the ability to commune with artists in new and far more intimate ways. Watching the crowd on Saturday, it was clear that these are young fans who have spent hours and hours alone in their rooms with Spooky Black and thestand4rd’s music, watching the videos on repeat and poring over their Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts. And finally getting to see these artists in person seemed like it was almost too much to bear—hence the ear-piercing screams, pretend fainting, and unbridled flailing and dancing throughout the show.
Although the four St. Paul natives clearly appreciate their hometown team (Bobby Raps ended the show saying, “From here on out, it’s all for you St. Paul”), the bond between the performers and their adoring audience felt far stronger than the average hometown pride-fueled celebration. In a way, it didn’t seem like the group had come from St. Paul at all, but had actually beamed down from outer space. How else to explain a group that’s so detached from the rest of the scene, so forward-thinking in their approach to smashing together R&B, hip-hop, and soul music, and so polished despite being brand new?
I can’t say what’s next for thestand4rd. Their debut album is due out today, and they have a few more dates booked in other cities that are reportedly selling just as well as their first show did here in St. Paul. Whether they will be able to keep up the momentum and turn their buzz into something with staying power has yet to be seen. But I do know that they are onto something unique—and at a time when a lot of music is dipping back into the past and recycling old elements, thestand4rd have a shot at creating something that is legitimately new.