Travis Scott at PPG Paints: Out of this world


Vikram Sundar | Contributing Writer

Rapper Travis Scott performed songs from his new album “Astroworld” during a concert in Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena on Sunday.

By Vikram Sundar, Staff Writer

Thousands of fans surged into the PPG Paints Arena Sunday night to escape reality and spend a night in “Astroworld” — Travis Scott’s sublime, hallucinogenic amusement-park-themed album — to listen to the rapper’s most ambitious and introspective songs to date.

Coming off the heels of his last two highly successful albums, “Rodeo” and “Birds in the Trap Sing McNight,” Scott set out to pursue his most personal musical achievement yet with “Astroworld,” a nostalgic epithet for the Houston native’s childhood dreams and desires.

It comes as no surprise that Scott frequently talks about how much the real AstroWorld theme park in Houston meant to him. Built in 1968, Six Flags AstroWorld operated for many years, providing its signature “thrills and chills,” also its slogan, for the youth of Houston until it closed in 2005.

“They tore down ‘AstroWorld’ to build more apartment space,” Scott said in an interview with Heavy. “That’s what it’s going to sound like, like taking an amusement park away from kids. We want it back. We want the building back. That’s why I’m doing it. It took the fun out of the city.”

When asked in an interview with XXL what he did for fun after AstroWorld closed down in 2005, Scott replied with, “I started making music.”

In many ways, Scott exhibits a Citizen Kane-like characteristic of sentimental attachment to an object representative of his lost childhood. He cites AstroWorld as his “rosebud,” the burgeoning fire kindling his boyish desire — and rightfully aims to fire up that flame by bringing his newest works to the masses on his world tour.

Scott did not deliver short on his promise to fans on Sunday night, bringing the full-fledged endorphin rush and euphoria of AstroWorld to Pittsburgh. The concert swiftly opened with dynamic performances from rappers Gunna, Trippie Redd and Sheck Wes prior to the main attraction.

Out of nowhere, Scott appeared on the second stage across the Arena. He was riding an actual carousel illuminated in exotic purple and blue strobe lights through a sea of fog, hovering above the crowds of screaming fans as the song “Carousel” played.

He followed up with a grounded performance of “Stargazing” — a popular song from the new album with more than 100 million plays on Spotify — displaying a flair for pyrotechnics. Like a circus ringmaster, he deceptively enticed fans as he conjured fire and smoke at will, orchestrated to the precise beat changes in the song.

All of the songs he performed utilized distinct set pieces, backdrops and effects to enhance the tone of each specific song. “Butterfly Effect” was a fast-paced, hyper-explosive performance, with real mini explosions popping up at every beat drop. The background LED screen accompanying the song displayed a hotel with neon signs cyclically changing languages.

In contrast, the next track performed — “Astrothunder” — exhibited a relatively slower-paced, melodic tune, matched with more ambient lighting and increased fog. The background displayed the image of a butterfly, slowly flapping its flame-drenched wings. These effects amalgamated to create the sense of melancholic nostalgia that Scott tries to convey in this song, the title of which references one of the popular roller coasters at AstroWorld.

Scott’s style of rapping is often defined by his frequent use of autotune. While its distorted quality aids in characterizing the transcendental moods he tries to evoke in his songs, the lack of autotune in his live performances didn’t detract from — but rather enhanced — the feeling of catharsis.

This was especially true in his performance of “Skeletons,” which was made more resonant by the sound of his natural singing voice, which has more of a lower-pitched, empathetic flow.

Scott dedicated his performance of “Skeletons” to the late Mac Miller, a native Pittsburgh rapper and friend of his. Scott introduced the song with a warm request.

“Everyone put a cell phone light up for Mac Miller … I want to light this place up from top to bottom,” he said.

Without fail, the entire stadium lit up with passion in a powerful send-off to Mac Miller.

During “Houstonfornication,” the screens projected the roving Houston city line to match Scott’s lyrics about growing up in a vice-filled city that ultimately came to define him. Directly following that was “Stop Trying to Be God,” which was accompanied by visually immaculate and titillating imagery. The screens projected a zoomed-in iris, which slowly dissolved into a galaxy and then changed to a red color before dissipating into flames.

The climax of the show came when Scott took a ride with a fan in the floating roller coaster, which hung above the hordes of frolicking fans throwing their hands up with excitement. The dual projector screens displayed “LOOK MOM I CAN FLY” as they retracted and a giant, monolithic spaceman stood center stage, watching on as Scott took a literal gravity-defying journey. The background music fell silent as Scott sang “Can’t Say,” pausing at certain points to allow the audience to sing the lyrics.

To finish off what had already been an electrifying night, Scott galvanized audiences even further, closing out the show with his two biggest hits, “Goosebumps” and “Sicko Mode,” demanding every bit of energy left from all the hard-core ragers in the crowd.

For those who never had the privilege of attending the real-life AstroWorld, Scott brought the closest thing to an exhilarating trip there to fans at PPG Paints. He brought his childhood experiences at the park to life through the effects and, of course, the music.