Even if you’re not familiar with the stylings of Chance the Rapper and your musical tastes run more along the lines of “Take a Chance On Me” by Abba or “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis or “While You See a Chance” by Steve Winwood, I urge you to watch Chance’s performance of “Blessings” in the theatrical release of “Magnificent Coloring World” and I think you’ll thank me, for it is a transcendent and beautiful thing to behold. With Chance backed by a jazzy band and a full choir of young people singing to the skies, the song goes, in part:
I gon’ praise Him, praise Him til I’m gone…
When the praises go up,
The blessings come down
Are you ready for your blessings?
When the praises go up, the blessings come down
Are you ready for your miracle, are you ready?
We are at a concert, but it feels like church.
Already this summer we’ve had a couple of great documentaries capturing the concert experience. The brilliant “Summer of Soul” took us back to 1969 and the Harlem Cultural Festival, where the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, the Staples Singers and Stevie Wonder electrified the crowds. Meanwhile, HBO’s “Woodstock 99” showcased performers such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and Alanis Morrisette — but the real story was the nightmare unfolding beyond the stage, where things got ugly.
Now comes Chance the Rapper’s “Magnificent Coloring World,” which offers a very different experience — a unique, ultra-cool, visually striking and musically uplifting journey, every inch of it with a pure Chicago vibe. Conceived and written by Chance and directed with cinematic style and a smooth, flowing rhythm by Jake Schreier, “Magnificent Coloring World” is not a filmed concert but a mapped-out, intricately planned concert film, and the difference is striking.
This is not a recorded documentation of a typical concert stop, with cameras capturing a live performance in real time; it was a singular event, filmed on five specially constructed stages at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios back on April 8, 2017, with an audience of 1,500 specially selected Chance fans who knew they were attending some sort of Chance-related event but didn’t know it was a live performance until they entered the concert space. (The initial plan was to stream the film, but Chance decided to hold on to the project because he wasn’t happy with the edit. Some four years later, he made a direct deal with the AMC Theaters chain.)
Clocking in at a little more than an hour, “Magnificent Coloring World” kicks off with interviews with Chance and a number of behind-the-scenes contributors, from the tour manager to the choreographer to the production designer. That’s all interesting enough — but the real fun kicks off when the live performance begins, with Chance at the piano with his life-size puppet friend “Wendy,” doing a duet of “Same Drugs.” Microphones were placed above the audience, and before we even see the crowd, we hear them singing along — something that happens throughout the performance, with Chance’s encouragement.
As the show continues with one song morphing directly into the next, director Schreier’s cameras swirl about and pull back to reveal various sets and scenarios, e.g., a storefront for “Sunday Candy,” a group of clubgoers being told to go home in “All Night.” Chance has a veritable army of backup, from the tight band featuring the pace-setting rhythms of drummer Gregory “Stix” Landfair and the outstanding and piercing trumpet work by Nico Segal; to a small orchestra with woodwinds and strings; to the smiling, energetic and gloriously lush-sounding young singers of the Chicago Children’s Choir, to a set of wonderfully kinetic Broadway style dancers in denim overalls who add to the theatricality of the experience.
All manner of musical genres influences Chance’s work, but gospel is dominant, and he wears his faith on his sleeve, at one point exclaiming to the crowd, “Y’all know it’s Palm Sunday tomorrow, right?” There are times when his vocals show the strain of his all-out style as he swirls about while working through some intricate and tricky and funny and insightful lyrics, but the choir and the audience are always there to flesh out the sound. On a number of occasions, the cameras pull back to reveal the entirety of the performance area, including the band, the choir, the dancers and the mini-orchestra — as well as the adoring, tightly packed crowd that seems to almost float against a stark black backdrop.
In “All We Got,” Chance raps: I get my word from the sermon, I do not talk to the serpent, that’s the holistic discernment, Daddy said I’m so determined … You gotta fight for your way, and that don’t take nothing away, cause at the end of the day, music is all we got …
Great music, plus some memorable visuals. That’s more than enough.