13 Jan 2019

REVIEW: Anderson.Paak at Spark Arena

From RNZ Music, 9:32 am on 13 January 2019

How will Anderson.Paak's Spark Arena performance compare with his blistering Laneway appearance in 2018? Paak fan Yadana Saw was there to see the funk, hip hop rap artist at his first ever arena show.

Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak Photo: RNZ/Daniel Lee

Anderson. Paak is clearly a trustworthy man.

At an early evening set at last year’s packed Laneway Festival Anderson. Paak told us that he and his band The Free Nationals would return to New Zealand.

And now, about 50 weeks later, Paak is back, with said band, two dancers, a new album and a new concert location - Spark Arena.

Reviewing this show was going to be difficult. The Laneway show was an energising and rousing set. The front three rows knew the words to all the songs; it was one of those semi-religious concert experiences -  Paak fans, like me, were absolutely satisfied by what he and his band delivered, and for the other Laneway punters who hadn’t heard of him: congratulations, they'd made a new musical discovery.

Last night, at Spark Arena, lots of punters were excited to see Paak for the first time.  

The show opened with an orange-beanie topped Paak centre stage on drumkit playing 'The Chase' from his latest album, the Dr. Dre-produced Oxnard. For the front end of the show Paak drew heavily from his newer material, including non-album, prosperity-rap single 'Bubblin’' which was very well received by the crowd.

Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak Photo: RNZ/Daniel Lee

The appeal of Anderson. Paak is his ability to draw on so many musical flavours. Those who like their funky pop confections get their hit, the jazz-school noodlers are catered for with Paak and Free Nationals’ drumming. Similarly the West Coast hip hop fans get their heavy bottom bass rumble; the conscious East Coast lot nod their heads at the introspective and meaningful lyrics. Even the rave kids and blissed out Balearic lot can get lost in the dance music qualities of Paak’s material. It’s a musical pick and mix that works because Paak and his Free National band are such a tight live unit, thanks in part to the years spent as wedding band and session music players.

To see this level of familiar and disciplined playing is a rare treat in the RnB and hip hop realm - where a live experience is often inevitably an underwhelming backing track supporting a hard working vocalist.

So when many of the Oxnard tracks ('Who R U?' springs to mind)  did not utilise the Free Nationals like Paak’s earlier material, the band seemed like forlorn props while an energetic frontman bounced around on stage and crowdsurfed into the audience.  

Standout moments were when Paak was singing from the drumkit, showcasing his skills which were firing in tandem with Free Nationals sticksman Callum Connor.

Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak Photo: RNZ/Daniel Lee

At times Paak’s vocals were difficult to make out, particularly when he was behind the drums. Also occasionally lost were some of the intricate soundscapes in Paak’s recorded work. This reminded me of the Laneway set, where the right sound mix also proved elusive - but the energy between the crowd and the performers hit that sweet spot where it didn’t really matter in the end.

However, at Spark Arena, it did matter and reports of sound quality differed depending where you were. Those who were sitting up in the stands were quite satisfied, meanwhile some of the knowledgeable sound nerds in my posse weren’t convinced that all was well in our ears.  Where was that fat and dirty West Coast bass, the calling card of Dr Dre? Is it that Dre’s meticulous production doesn’t translate to large, cavernous venues? Why is that I’ve found myself in the human lull a few rows back from the front row mosh pit?

But thankfully it all came right when the show delved into Paak’s breakthrough album Malibu. This (and his NxWorries collab with producer Knxwledge ) was what the crowd were waiting for. Yes Lawd indeed. Once Paak and the Free Nationals were banging out more familiar material, or music better suited to a live show, the energy lifted.

Perhaps it was because I had retreated the party zone around the sound desk where people were singing and dancing their little socks off. Or maybe it was because Paak and his band threw down the party jams for the encore. It seemed the concert had finally begun when previous Laneway set opener - 'Come Down' - blasted out as the first song during the encore. This was followed by new summer jam 'Tints'. Once the confetti cannons rained down on Spark Arena to the lilting, dreamy 'Lite Weight' I felt lost in my own joy.

Paak ended the night with a heartfelt tribute to the late Mac Miller. Performing a cover of Miller’s 'Dang!' with a photo of a beaming Paak and Miller onscreen.

The unique draw of Anderson.Paak’s sound is that he and his band are real live humans with actual instruments. When, at his first ever arena show, by Paak’s own admission, he and his band returned to these fundamentals the party really began.

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