Fans flocked with a warm summer spirit to Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Thursday to see Anderson .Paak, on tour for his latest album, Ventura. Bolstered by his backup singers and band, the Free Nationals, the soul/funk singer did not disappoint, bringing an invigorating and sunny performance to the stage.
The show started off in complete darkness, but the lack of visual stimulation was made up for by the great anticipatory roar of the audience. Before walking fully onstage, .Paak played his opening drum solo for “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.”As he did so, actual flames streaked across the stage, and the entire platform lit up with images of sunsets and mountains. The song took on an energetic life of its own, quite unlike its mellow recorded counterpart. Once .Paak stepped away from the drums and danced across the stage, his bright yellow outfit came into view, embodying a bright and shining sun that his demeanor reflected.
From the outset, the singer’s infectious, nasal voice, reminiscent of Britney Spears’, was spiked with energy. Matched with the expansive, almost overwhelming visuals, which changed with every song, .Paak’s vocals made the entirety of his performance brim with a thunderous vigor.
During his performance of “Reachin’ 2 Much,” an upbeat highlight from Ventura, bright overhead lights flashed with every crash and beat, the lighting design intensifying the musical moment. This, combined with the catchy sound design, made the beat feel like the unified heartbeat of the audience. The lighting changed with every song, making each one feel unique, though they retained the same essence of vitality.
.Paak engaged the audience with a series of small quips throughout the concert, perpetually captivating his fans. He referenced San Francisco several times, a nod to his concert venue and an effective way to make his fans feel proud to be in the city. While singing “Time,” .Paak walked out into the audience and touched his fans’ hands, lighting them up with smiles. He lauded their racial diversity, which was thoroughly admired. These quick comments and expressions of appreciation fostered a sense of intimacy, making for a great show for a fan.
Another source of strength in .Paak’s performances was his enchanting backup singers, members of The Free Nationals. They were heavily featured for the first time in the evening midway through the concert, in .Paak’s rendition of “Smile/Petty.” Their strong voices, their graceful, coordinated choreography and their gleeful spirits vibrated into the audience, augmenting the joy of the show.
Although .Paak’s own artistic choices for the show made for an incredibly enjoyable performance overall, the concert was slightly lacking due to the openers’ decisions. The talent of the first opener, Los Angeles-based funk musician Thundercat, was obscured by the lackluster live performance of his backing band. The instrumental sounds of the keyboard and drums that occupy most of his songs were played extremely loudly; without the subtlety and engineering of a recording studio, almost every song in his set felt jarring and gaudy.
The second opener, Earl Sweatshirt, was also disappointing. He lacked the energy that was embodied by the concert as a whole. Dressed in a black hoodie and sweatpants, the singer lumbered across the stage, rapping his dismal lyrics in a melancholy voice. Every song felt personal, like a heart-to-heart, which is not necessarily bad. However, because it was impossible to dance along to it happily, Sweatshirt’s performance felt detached from the energetic theme of the rest of the concert.
Even with the lackluster performances of the openers, the concert was wonderfully entertaining. The audience was left with a sense of renewal and exuberance; with his overwhelming joy and energy, .Paak made all stress and tension melt away. The pulsing energy of the concert accentuated the feeling of lightheartedness inspired by his recorded music. Overall, the concert breathed new life into .Paak’s music, including his already compelling new album, making it a worthy and exciting show.