Anderson .Paak has slowly been rising in popularity over the past few years. His combination of soulful jazz and lyrically charged rap is taking over, and alongside his band of excellent musicians (The Free Nationals) he played a free, Dr Dre presented show at the Brixton Academy.
Last Thursday, Anderson .Paak suddenly and unexpectedly announced something we see very rarely these days- a free show. Somehow, despite the thousands who were disappointed by the almost instant sell out and the flurry of problems on the Ticketmaster website, a lucky few were gifted with tickets. Finally, 5 nights later, the iconic banner outside one of London’s favourite venues read ‘Dr Dre Presents: Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals’, and the huge winding line of excited, bargain hunting fans already stretches around the corner- despite the band not being due on for another 2 hours.
Despite the band coming on almost an hour late, the atmosphere barely dropped for a second. Every time a song faded out, the audience assumed this was the moment and burst into cheers and shouts, before fading out themselves and returning to quiet chatter. But finally, without any dimming of lights, The Free Nationals took to the stage. The delighted face of keyboardist Ron Avant announced the arrival of the main man, and Paak took to the stage, exploding into ‘Come Down’. Every member of the audience knew every word, and jumped about as commanded.
The ominous ‘Dr Dre presents’ of the announcement posters, of course, sparked speculation. Many chose to assume that, as he is just Anderson .Paak’s producer, it was simply a formality and a chance to name drop. Why would one of the most well respected hip hop artists ever come all the way from California to make a guest appearance at a small, free show in London?
‘All the way from California… Dr Dre!’, shouted the front man. The sheer brutality of some of the screams from the audience were shocking, but it was sort of fair enough, as the man who discovered Eminem, the man who released ‘2001’, one of the best rap albums of all time, walked onto the stage with commanding presence. They sped through a mashup of ‘The Next Episode’ and ‘Still DRE’, with Dre very quickly becoming the central focus of the show. A lot of the time, an artist might not be happy when someone else becomes the star of their show, but when I could manage to draw my stare away from Dre, you could see Paak’s very genuine trademark smile radiating across to a man he clearly idolises, and probably can’t quite comprehend is standing next to him. Before leaving the stage, Dre made sure to turn the audience back to the man they were here to see- ‘This man is gonna be a superstar’. I think he already is.
Immediately, they’re back into it with ‘The Waters’, ‘Glowed Up’ and ‘Bubblin’. Paak’s stage presence is astounding, he runs from one side of the stage to the other, throwing his arms in the air as the audience mirror him and occasionally up to his centre stage drum kit. This drum kit is no gimmick- not just a Lil Wayne guitar solo or a member of One Direction pretending to play bass, Paak is an incredibly good drummer. He takes influence from jazz on his hi-hat playing, with a love of rock music shining through during some of the heavy, instrumental outros of tracks like ’Put Me Thru’. His ability to rap while performing the complex syncopation a lot of his drum parts require is excellent and reaches its peak in the jazz-tinged ‘Heart Don’t Stand A Chance’, which quickly became one of the highlights of the show.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
Announcing that the bands newest song ‘Til It’s Over’ was about to be performed live was met with even more roars of approval, especially from the a guy nearby who said ‘imagine if we get a new song’ earlier. The track is taken from their upcoming album (which Paak repeatedly assured the audience ‘is fire’) and starts off almost hypnotic, before reaching a synth heavy, frenzied climax. The smiles of the band suggest that the reaction was just what they wanted. Finishing up the strikingly short set, the band provide us with the opening track from their 2016 album ‘Venice’ (‘The Bird’), the lyrically bizarre ‘Suede’ and the energetic singalong ‘Am I Wrong’. Even by this point, the audience are still singing every single word and still screaming every time Paak even goes near his drum kit. ‘Lite Weight’ closes the show (without an encore as they are already nearly 10 minutes past curfew) to roars of appreciation from the crowd and smiles of genuine delight from every member of the band.
As the audience piled out of the Brixton academy, a glossy poser with Anderson .Paak and a walrus on it was thrust into everyones arms. For a free show, they really did pull out all the stops. It really was quite spectacular. And Dr Dre was there.
Anderson .Paak returns to the UK this summer.