The perfect blend of funk, RnB and hip-hop. Fresh off releasing 2016’s Grammy nominated album Malibu, Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals took to O2 Kentish Town Forum to resurrect us from our bank holiday hangovers this Easter Sunday.
I must begin this review with a huge acclamation for Anderson .Paak and his cohort of producers/musicians known as The Free Nationals – for showcasing one of the greatest evenings of live music I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. The one-off show (that received very little publicity) came as a precursor to .Paak’s support slot on the European leg of Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic World Tour – beginning on the 18th April and ending on June 15th.
At 31 years of age, .Paak has achieved relative success fractionally later than most recording artists in his genre – but, as explained in numerous interviews, he wasn’t ready for fame – despite the impressive honours received from hip-hop legend, Dr. Dre, prior to signing to his record label. This has, however, awarded him a vessel to express his obstacles in life through a tidy blend of mellow soul and energetic funk. The first studio album Venice arrived in late 2014, a metaphorical platform taking him from preceding EP’s and covers to the unbeknown, second studio album – Malibu, later released in January 2016.
“We recorded this album on a shitty computer and made it all the way to the motherfucking Grammys” – .Paak discussing Malibu mid-show.
As the show began and the lights dropped, The Free Nationals resident DJ set up on his decks and played three pre-recorded songs, one being Kendrick – we knew we were in for a live night from the reaction of the crowd. Personally, I couldn’t see the point. Other than an attempt to hype the already anticipating crowd – is there really any skill in hitting the play button on three vigorous songs to build up a scene? Anyway, that’s another matter. The remaining Free Nationals entered, briefly followed by .Paak – with no exaggeration, it must have been a good minute/minute and a half of chanting and cheering from the crowd before the Californian could get a word in, and even once he did, the cheers erupted once more. And with a brief introduction, the room burst alongside the intro of his primary song, Come Down – a surreal and, most importantly, relevant opening to the show “if I get too high now, sugar come on, I might never come down” – we most certainly didn’t come down for the following 1 hour 35 minutes.
The venue was bouncing, continuously – there have been very few live performances I have experienced where the entire crowd operate equally on the same level. The appreciation shown by both fans and artist alike was special. To abuse an idiom, one may perceive it as if they had the audience in the palm of their hands – but they didn’t, it was more than that – it didn’t feel staged or rehearsed, it was a collective of people who were out to have an extremely memorable night. There was a sense of escapism.
Part way through the performance, .Paak mumbled, “we gon’ keep playing till we run out of songs”. Unfortunately, the lady in front of me seemed to be having too much of a good time – there is a definitive difference between enjoying yourself and overtly prancing around like an idiot, bounding against those who were unlucky enough to surround her.
50 minutes into the act, .Paak and The Free Nationals exited the stage, the lights dimmed and chants for their return grew. Of course, an encore was to follow – but as they all re-entered the stage (.Paak restoring his position on the drums), another act joined them. Enter: the highly-acclaimed RnB/Soul band The Internet who subsequently performed a rendition of their hit single from 2015’s Ego Death, Girl. It could have been mistaken for a gig of their own, the band seemingly as thrilled as the crowd, as Syd’s (the lead vocalist of The Internet) husky melodies filtered through the room, the lyrics bounced back from the adjoining crowd.
It was most definitely the strangest of encores I have experienced, as they just kept going – leaving the stage and returning on numerous occasions. It appeared that the set was to end after The Dreamer, the fifth song of the already lengthy encore. As he seemingly exited the stage for the final time, the crowd were left clapping and chanting the lyrics “keep dreaming, don’t stop now” until he returned once more – going around the band informing them what song to play next. That is what was so special about this performance – they all wanted to be there and as a listener, it felt amazing to express such gratitude and have it respected entirely. There is a fine line between being overtly humbled and arrogant, some artists struggle to find the balance, searching for the acclaim they desire – Anderson .Paak walks that line seamlessly.
A truly immaculate night, there is something so enchanting about small venues like o2’s Kentish Town – and when an artist can genuinely ensnare the attention of the room in its entirety, it is an achievement to marvel at. This night is well worth remembering, for artist and crowd alike – I shall certainly reminisce of this night for years to come.