The apex of Travis Scott’s second night at Madison Square Garden for his Astroworld — Wish You Were Here tour wasn’t when Kendrick Lamar, leading candidate for best rapper alive, made a guest appearance to perform his verse on “Goosebumps.” It wasn’t “Stargazing,” the rattling, pyrotechnic-inflected opener that set the tone for the night. It wasn’t even “Sicko Mode,” the second most popular song in the country that Scott extended to close the night out. Instead, it was one of his earliest hits: “Antidote.” As the opening synths swelled, a young woman with platinum blonde hair walked onstage and the audience screamed. Kylie Jenner was then buckled into a makeshift rollercoaster car. As her baby father performed one of his biggest songs next to her, she documented the entire moment on her phone and kicked her feet to the beat. They kept riding, back and forth over the roiling crowd, for three more songs.
Inside the stadium, the crowd milling around seems more likely to watch KUWTK than listen to “Mo Bamba.” A man in a suit walks by with his elementary school-aged daughter, smiling gleefully. A suburban mom ushers her daughter and friends to premium seats. A child stops, picks up his phone and debates his parental figures about the fiscal responsibility of buying food at Madison Square Garden concession stand prices. He swipes his debit card. Travis Scott has officially gone mainstream.
Welcome to AstroWorld.
Scott’s other guests are his stylistically-indebted peers: Sheck Wes, Gunna and Trippie Redd are all here to entertain the young, likely affluent masses throwing garments of clothing high above their heads during the show’s high points. And it’s not just the openers that are following Travis’ lead: The crowd wears his highly coveted baby blue and crimson red Air Jordan IVs, and the lines for his colorful merch are wraparound long before, not after, the show. Most people who buy a t-shirt put it on immediately.
For past tours, Scott has built a world of raucous rodeos and animatronic eagles. Now, rideable rollercoasters are in the center of stadiums. He’s revived the spirit of the shuttered Six Flags AstroWorld of his youth and taken it national. On Tuesday and Wednesday night, the traveling hypebeast circus came to MSG and, for two nights, it was the greatest show in the world. Scott has always been able to put on a show. Though not a particularly loquacious rapper (and he’s even more reticent in person), he sheds any shyness or nervous energy and turns into pure id on stage, urging his audience to do the same. What moonwalking is to Michael Jackson, unhinged leaping is to Travis Scott.
He riles up his fans, calling a few onstage at the beginning of the show. The lucky ones would be plucked out of the crowd strapped into an inverted Ferris Wheel, riding upside down while Travis performs underneath them. The difference between this tour and the shows of Scott’s past is that he now has an air of control over the proceedings. Instead of just playing the part of whipping the crowd into a frenzy, he stopped several times to crowd direct, to make sure everyone could “rage” safely. That’s not to say the show was safe for everyone; when one young attendee made it onstage, Scott let him through security and took him by the shoulder. “Only trill niggas I know, only only only trill niggas I know,” Scott repeated, the hook to “3005.” He kept repeating it, over and over, as the kid next to him bobbed more and more intensely. When the song hit its first climax, Scott stood up straight and gave him a quick pat on the back, and the kid sprinted the length of the stage and launched himself headlong into the crowd with the reckless abandon of someone still on their parent’s health insurance. It pays to be young in AstroWorld.
The Astroworld — Wish You Were Here Tour is chaotically precise. Scott’s music is, above all else, functional; it’s always designed with a (large) audience in mind. The stage show reflects that. There is plenty to look at: Two stages, one roller coaster hoisted in the air running the length of the standing crowd first floor, a ferris wheel contraption, an inflatable astronaut wearing Scott’s blue Air Jordan IVs, a golden inflatable Travis head, fireworks and pyrotechnics. When Scott comes out to “Stargazing,” the mayhem is so intense it threatens to demolish all of MSG. Numerous times he says he wants to cause an earthquake in New York City. The delayed 1, 2, and 3 trains after the show seem to have received the memo.
At no point does Travis seem lost in the extravagant display. He knows when to hit a spin and when to run at a moment’s notice behind a bellow of fire. At one point he catches a t-shirt thrown onstage and no look passes it back to the crowd, like a skinnier LeBron with a healthier hairline.
The Houston rapper doesn’t have hits so much as he has anthems, and it’s a testament to the braided rapper’s influence that 40% of the Billboard Hot 100 is either his song (“Sicko Mode”), features him (“ZEZE”), belongs to an artists he’s signed (“Mo Bamba”) or one that’s opening for him on tour (“Drip Too Hard”) the same week he takes over MSG. After the release of this year’s Astroworld, he now has the deep catalog of songs necessary to inject some surprises into his setlist. Decked in an “I Heart NY” short, cargo pants and his new Jordan 1s (there were a lot of Jordans), he ran through a dizzying array of new favorites like “No Bystanders” mixed with older fare like “Quintana,” “Skyfall” and “Way Back.“ His flock devoured it.
By the time he transitioned to the second stage and ripped through his hits, a cloth curtain descended. No one could see what was going onstage clearly except for those on the floor — the most fervent adherents to Scott’s philosophy of rage. The curtain sported impressive projections, but was mostly there to separate the haughty upper levels afraid to give in from the brave and unhinged ground floor. Actual sheep flashed across the divider.
“These two nights have been some of the craziest nights I’ve ever had,” Scott informs the crowd as the show nears its conclusion, and the curtains have gone back up. He likely says some semblance of this phrase at every tour stop, but it doesn’t come off as a touring cliché. Instead, it felt like Scott momentarily letting his guard down for the first — though likely not last — time.