Aftermath's Renaissance man is, justifiably, one of today's most talked-about live performers
Energy is the order of the day as Anderson .Paak and his Free Nationals descend upon Birmingham’s O2 Academy ahead of their appearance at Reading and Leeds this weekend. He’s chosen to bypass London in exchange for a date with the second city, and the incandescent smile on the Aftermath all-rounder’s face says he made the right decision to bring Oxnard to the West Midlands.
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Before his high-energy hijinks begin, .Paak sends out his trumpeter to serenade the crowd. The soothing tones of Maurice Brown’s trumpet lures fans into a false sense of relaxation, but it’s quickly dashed as .Paak and company light the crowd up, bouncing from ‘The Bird’ to ‘Heart Don’t Stand a Chance’ quicker than you can say, “Yes lawd!”
Denying fans a real opportunity to take a breather, .Paak steps out from behind his drum kit to keep the party speeding forward. Decked out in a matching Hawaiian shirt and short set and red bucket hat, he looks out from behind his white Gucci sunglasses and asks the Birmingham crowd, “Are you ready to get crazy?” Over the instrumental for ‘Come Down’, he walks to the left side of the stage and demands that the crowd jump, before playfully questioning their commitment. Doing the same on the right and then again down the middle, he then retreats back behind his kit and leads the band in an amped up rendition of ‘Tints’.
Success has afforded .Paak the opportunity to recruit a few new members to his band. An extra percussionist compliments his own stick-wielding skills, while a pair of female backing vocalists add a refined texture to a usually boisterous outing. But it’s the original Free Nationals lineup that are the centrepiece of everything their animated leader does. Given their own moment to shine, they share new single ‘Time’, which features Kali Uchis and includes the first posthumous Mac Miller vocals to be released officially.
The band’s keyboardist, Ron Tnava Avant gets on the talkbox and teases the crowd with renditions of 2Pac and Dr. Dre‘s ‘California Love’, Kanye West‘s ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and Ginuwine‘s ‘Pony’, before making way for an onslaught of Anderson .Paak fan favourites, including an extended version of ‘Lite Weight’. Playing like it was designed for a Soul Train line, it’s a sentiment shared by guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzales as they repeatedly switch spots on stage in unison as the beat rides on.
Any questions relating to whether or not the California native’s post-‘Malibu’ material – which was met with mixed reviews upon its release – would translate well in a live setting were quashed as soon as ‘Bubblin” launched itself from the Academy’s speakers. The Grammy-winning banger inspires a mass moshpit, even without ‘Paak’s son Kenzo on hand to conduct proceedings.
“She with it, She with it/ Keep it 300, I ain’t even gotta hit it,” the lyrics to NxWorries cult hit ‘Suede’ encourages concert-goers to pop their metaphorical collar. And if that wasn’t enough, the swag surfing continues when the laidback groove of ‘Anywhere’ assists .Paak in ferrying everyone to Long Beach, California for four minutes of sunshine.
Given no choice but to perform an encore – the uncontainable Birmingham crowd’s rapturous applause feels like it’s been going on longer than a Quentin Tarantino movie – .Paak rolls into ‘Come Home’, though his final sign-off proves the biggest and most heartfelt moment of the night. “Put one finger in the air if you miss Mac Miller the way I miss Mac Miller,” he instructs the crowd, paying tribute to his friend and fellow musician, who died almost 12 months ago.
As the musician hops back behind his drums, the opening chords to Mac and .Paak’s summer anthem ‘Dang!’ ring out. Not sure how to respond, the crowd are conflicted. Some stand still and take a moment to remember the talented Pittsburgh musician; others have a dance in his honour. It’s a beautiful moment, and the perfect exclamation point. A photograph of .Paak and Mac together appears at the back of the stage, as the house lights come up and put an end to yet another Anderson .Paak performance.
Anderson .Paak played:
‘The Bird (Intro)’
‘Heart Don’t Stand a Chance’
‘Glowed Up’ (Kaytranada song)
‘Reachin’ 2 Much’
‘Put Me Thru’
‘Suede’ (NxWorries song)
‘Make It Better’
‘Milk n’ Honey’
‘Am I Wrong’
‘Dang!’ (Mac Miller song)