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Live Review: JPEGMAFIA @ The Forum, Melbourne

26 September 2023 | 2:26 pm | Ellie Robinson

Peggy’s hourlong set was ambitious and unpredictable, driven by his idiosyncratically unhinged personality.


JPEGMAFIA (Supplied)


There’s no opening act at JPEGMAFIA’s Listen Out sideshow in Naarm/Melbourne – an impressively packed-out gig at The Forum, where some 2,000 of the city’s most diverse souls convene to exert all the chaotic energy they’ve pent up since last July (when he played the slightly humbler Northcote Theatre). There’s no need for an opener, though: as we slink through the crowd in the moments before the rapper (real name Barrington Hendricks, but known best among fans simply as Peggy) takes the stage, the hype is palpable and spirits are high.

Cheers boom as Peggy’s logo – a spin on the original PlayStation icon – is beamed onto the screen behind a notably meek setup: a single laptop sitting on a desk at the back of the stage. We join deafening singalongs of the Pokémon anime theme and Britney Spears’ 1999 classic ...Baby One More Time, before Peggy swaggers out with a look on his face that says, “Yeah, I know y’all are here for me, your esteemed hyper-rap king.”

He revels cocksure in the mandatory pre-show chant – Peg-gy! Peg-gy! Peg-gy! – but when the set itself kicks off with the colourful and rowdy Lean Beef Patty (the opening cut to Peggy’s recent joint album with Danny Brown, SCARING THE HOES), all the bravado melts away; it’s a quick façade, the rapper promptly flipping over to the manic and excitable personality he’d built his fandom on. In fact after the first track, Peggy makes it clear where he and his swarm of adoring fans stand, instructing us to chant at him, “Fuck you Peggy!”

However opulent The Forum is at face value – striking towers of marble flanking the lofty theatre stage and world-class AV rig – Peggy doesn’t ham-fist us some OTT production. There’s no “DJ” cuing the tracks up on that laptop: after every few songs, Peggy himself sprints over to pick the next ones out. There are moments where he opts to skip tracks he isn’t in the mood to play, and before he settles on a sub-in, he vibe-checks it with the crowd. There’s no real structure here – it doesn’t feel like a massive theatre show headlined by one of the world’s most in-demand rappers, more like a comically oversized house party.

Case in point: Peggy’s a capella cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 hit Call Me Maybe, which at first seems like a quick gag – surely he’ll sing through the first couple lines and then break straight into another jagged rap scorcher, right? – but winds up being completely sincere: not only does he sing through the full pop anthem – sans backing track at that – but he does so with a shockingly good impression of a pasty pop-punk frontman. It is, in a word, perfect.

Where this kind of unhinged, protean looseness would derail most other artists’ shows, it feels right here. It’s wholly authentic to Peggy’s brand of humour and personability; for him to act larger-than-life and tack on set pieces or intricate visuals – even having a proper DJ onstage with him – would feel gauche. What stops it all from falling flat is the wealth of raw talent Peggy has to work with: as erratic as his flow feels, the bars that carry it are wickedly tight, every line witty and stabbing. Every beat hits like a seismic blast – violent slaps of bass and jagged glitches making Yeezus instrumentals feel like Play School themes – and Peggy vaults around them with spellbinding aplomb.

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His performance is visceral and cathartic – he’s very clearing having fun with it all, but you can see in his eyes that when he when he spits fire about having “4chan on [his] dick ‘cause [he’s] edgy”, he’s exorcising some kind of internal demon. It’s... Honestly, kind of hot.

Below the surface-level slick of bonkers energy and meme-infused irony, Peggy is simply an incredible rapper – and arguably an even better producer. And in this live setting, bolstered by his crowd’s intensity and the intrinsic spontaneity of performance, the songs take on a new life. Their impact is amplified – Peggy’s barbed quips lash harder and sting longer, the beats wallop more fiercely – and it becomes clear that while his studio efforts are undoubtably great, it’s here onstage that Peggy truly shines.

The set’s biggest highlights are the six songs pulled from SCARING THE HOES. At first we were skeptical of their potential to translate – the album really is a 50/50 talent split between Peggy and Danny Brown – but although the latter’s presence would certainly enhance it, Peggy proves more than adroit in carrying his weight. He spits both their bars and adds his own Peggy-flavoured flair to Brown’s, making them feel like unique takes on the album cuts.

Peggy’s final power move is actually the lack thereof: the set ends on Fentanyl Tester – one of the (many) highlights on SCARING THE HOES – and Peggy casually strolls offstage, knowing he’ll be met with begging cries for one more song. He even lets us chant for a minute before the house lights come on, leaving us starving for an encore that never comes. Alas, he’ll return to the stage on Friday arvo for the Melbourne date of this year’s Listen Out program – and if we weren’t already going, we’d be scrambling to sort tickets before we made it out of the Forum.