Anthony Ramos doesn’t have a lot to prove. The former “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born” star has found significant success as an actor and as a musician, releasing his debut album, The Good & The Bad, on Oct. 25.
Yet when Ramos took the stage at August Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 15, audiences were sure to see a musician, fully in his element, as many of them had never experienced him before. After all, Ramos’ performance on his tour for The Good & The Bad was ultimately a chance for him to connect with audiences on a personal level. While Ramos fueled his performance with an abundance of theatricality, he ultimately grounded the evening with authentic, intimate conversations with his audience.
After a soulful acoustic performance by opener Elliott Skinner, who filled the venue with an air of warmth and friendliness, audiences were visibly enthusiastic for Ramos to take the stage. Skinner returned to play bass with the other band members when Ramos began performing, creating a synergy between his own opening performance and the main act.
Ramos jogged to the centered standing microphone from backstage in a white T-shirt and black leather jacket, emanating a persona that was as casual as it was cool. Rich blue and violet tones lit up the stage and entire venue, creating a dreamy visual atmosphere to coincide with the fullness of the sound.
The concert setlist was ultimately a play-by-play of the album’s tracklist, allowing ample space for Ramos to weave a story through and between each song. Ramos kicked off his act with a rendition of “Dear Diary,” the first track off of The Good & The Bad. The song, a personal ode to the experience of leaving home to chase one’s dreams, served as a pure start to the night. The song — far from the dance numbers or high-energy pop songs that would appear later in the show — was a soft, comforting initial introduction to the artist onstage, highlighting the strength and clarity of Ramos’ vocals.
After his performance of “Dear Diary,” Ramos gave the audience an introduction to himself and the album, explaining the narrative structure of the album as a whole and his personal ties to all of the events in the song. This gave Ramos the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind many of his personal lyrics and to engage more directly with the audience members. He pushed the audience to respond “You!” anytime he referenced “the character in our story,” indicating that every event and sentiment in the album and throughout the concert was inspired by his own experiences.
Ramos then introduced and delved into his second song of the night, “Auntie’s Basement.” Ramos moved from side to side, dancing with sections of the crowd during different parts of the song. The enthusiasm and excitement were palpable during and immediately after the song; after a short breather, Ramos proceeded to conversationally describe his next track.
This alternation between softer, conversational numbers and high-energy pop tracks was a clear pattern through the night. For every gentle, emotional number such as “Isabella” or “Figure It Out,” Ramos and his band transformed August Hall into a buzzing dance floor with songs such as “Mind Over Matter” and “Either Way.”
Undoubtedly, the emotional highlight of the night came right before Ramos’ performance of “The Good & The Bad,” the title track of his album and the song that he proclaimed was his most autobiographical. Ramos discussed some of his own hardships and barriers to achieving success before he went to college, and acknowledged the people in his life that had helped him pursue a creative path.
One of those individuals — Ramos’ former high school teacher, Sara Steinweiss — was in the balcony that night. Ramos led the audience into a round of applause for Steinweiss, who is referenced in the lyrics to “The Good & the Bad” in the lines “Picked up the phone and called Sara/ ‘Cause she knew where music could take me.” Ramos’ emotional introduction and acknowledgment made the authenticity of the track that much more potent for audience members.
Even before Ramos performed his final of the album, “Come Back Home,” and came back for a brief encore with his single “Cry Today, Smile Tomorrow,” audience members could be sure that they had experienced a thoroughly engaging, entertaining evening of musical storytelling. If the exquisite balance between conversationalism and theatricality is an indication of where Ramos’ career is heading next, listeners can be sure there will be plenty of excellent material from the artist in store.