Anderson .Paak is a commanding and omnipresent force in the current hip-hop landscape. Rising to swift success with his album ‘Malibu’ last year, the California native has been enjoying a thrill ride of touring, recording and traveling the world ever since. His band- The Free Nationals, are an act that are tight and dripping with groove; lending themselves beautifully to both .Paak’s Grammy-nominated album, and to his technicolor live show. With a smooth, but unique high-tone vocal style, there really isn’t anyone in the world that delivers music in the way that Anderson .Paak currently does.
Towards the end of the bank holiday weekend .Paak took a break from his full time role in support of Bruno Mars on his world tour, to grace the stage at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town. The old theater venue is going through a home run of really excellent hip-hop and urban music acts at the moment; and it only seems right that .Paak should join their ranks.
Funk-laden support for the evening came from Zach Said. With influences spanning from Chance The Rapper to D’angelo, the twenty three year old Shropshire native seemed totally at ease in front of a crowd of VERY devoted .Paak fans. With a droopy drum framework, the band delivered a soulful and heartfelt performance. With lyrics fixated on past loves and losses, there was a relatable, homegrown feel to Zach Said’s sound. They felt very far away from the bright neon lights of ‘Malibu’ and ‘Venice’; but were, oddly, the perfect warm up to what was to come.
After the stage cleared, there was a palpable anticipation of a spectacle. Seeing live, funk-laden hip-hop is such a rare treat. Last year GIGsoup had the great pleasure of viewing similar levels of all encompassing technical ability in rapper/ producer Black Milk and his current co-operative band, Nat Turner and tonight, things were set to get dangerously funky.
The Free National’s entered the stage in unison, masterfully wielding their instruments, awaiting the entrance of the main event: Anderson .Paak. Appearing on stage in a pin-stripe boiler suit with a huge Cheshire Cat smile, there is no doubt that .Paak has some serious stage presence.
“London, WHATS GOOD?!” he shouted, bounding across the stage, beaming out from behind his massive shades. From every corner of the extensive venue, he absorbed waves upon waves of cheers. For the next hour and a half, he took the audience full throttle through a cherry-picked range selection of his music- both solo and collaborative. Covering a large amount of his material from ‘Malibu’ and ‘Venice’, he had the crowd screaming along perfectly to every word he sang. A particular highlight of the performance came during ‘Am I Wrong’, where .Paak took his natural place behind the drums. .Paak made his adolescent debut as the drummer of his local church band; and that night he looked as easy and calm with drum sticks in his hands as he does holding a microphone. The tracks selected from ‘Venice’, including the ethereal ‘Might Be’ and unexpectedly trapped out ‘Drugs’ were all familiar flexes of Anderson .Paak’s diverse and interesting sound.
A great number of ‘Malibu’s’ track list is distinctly atmospheric and sensual; which lent itself beautifully to the piano/controller/bass/guitar and of course, drums arrangement on stage. The staggering amount of .Paak’s vocal features were on full display also; with a live rendition of both Kaytranada’s psychedelic ‘Glowed Up’ and Mac Miller’s Sunday-drive ‘Dang!’ all included in the set for flavor. Truthfully, it was an hour and a half that is difficult to describe. The Free National’s are a musical force to be reckoned with, and .Paak’s stage presence and talent is simply galactic in its scale. This is most certainly his golden year; with promises of a new album very soon, it is extremely exciting to see his talent continue to rise.