Smino / Phoelix Vogue Theatre, Vancouver BC, April 5

Smino / Phoelix Vogue Theatre, Vancouver BC, April 5
Photo: Sharon Steele
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Honorary Chicagoans Smino and Phoelix hit all energy levels when they took over the Vogue Theatre on Friday night. The duo of come-from-aways hail from St. Louis, MO and Fox Valley, IL, respectively, but they served as prime ambassadors of the Second City's emerging mix of neo-soul, jazz and R&B.
 
Smino, and Chicago's own Saba and Noname, have all name-checked Phoelix as their secret weapon. Phoelix has produced music for them, toured as part of their bands and played on their records. Sonically and thematically, the mutual influence was clear in his opening set of confessional groovers. He introduced most of his songs the same way: "This song is about real shit. This song is about a time in my life when..." Nothing was off-limits as he touched on death, sexual frustration and more.
 
Like his collaborators, Phoelix rapped over woozy, wonky beats with economy and poetic eloquence. "Sole" emulated the downtempo swagger of a Saba standard. Phoelix took the ambience down to a whole other level with the gauzy "Toll" before contrasting it all with a booming new track, "Same Old Story."
 
Smino kept the momentum going, starting hot with "Tequila Mockingbird." A trap beat rattled on "Pizano," while "Anita" was bright, expressive and funky, a far cry from the chill version on his 2017 album, blkswn. Smino himself was spunky; he waved his arms in wide arching motions over his head as he power-strutted across the stage. The bounce in his step matched the bounce in his most fun songs, "Hoopti" (the tour's namesake) and "Netflix & Dusse."
 
Smino is known for adopting a wide range of vocal styles to bend words into rhymes that don't normally work; on "Kovert," for example, he morphs "Shibuya" into "see-through-dress." But the sheer velocity of his rap skills overshadowed his voice and wordplay. Some of his hottest bars came toward the end of his set, during a segment he declared was for his earliest fans. His voice swelled to a yell on "coupe se' yern." During "Khlorine," he and his crew of hype-men and backup singers threw their arms around each other and rocked from side to side. Every fan on the floor did the same; entire rows of fans linked together and swayed in unison. From the balcony, the sight was uncanny and inspiring.
 
Smino swerved back onto smoother terrain with laidback tracks "Spinz," "Summer Salt," "Z4L" and "blkswn" before closing with two final bangers, "Krushed Ice" and the sole encore, "Klink."
 
The night was still ripe, and Smino and Phoelix were all the pre-party fans needed before spilling out of the Vogue and onto Granville St. in Vancouver's entertainment district.