Photo by Daniel Boczarski at SXSW 2016
Tired (drowsee?) from too many late nights playing Pokémon Go, squashing into a packed Phoenix Concert Theatre to see Anderson .Paak was the last thing on my mind. It was the opposite of bed. Exhausted, it was a combination of obligation and adoration for Paak’s tremendous 2016 album “Malibu” that got me through the door. The place was rammed (paaked, even) and filled with a tangible excitement. I found a cosy corner and settled in grumpily.
Have you ever seen a performer who immediately lights up a room? Paak crackled on stage like ball lightning and never let up. Any qualms of exhaustion instantly dissipated in the face of such strong stage presence. The crowd were into it straight away, bodies moving and surging. Voices singing along to every song. A sea of hands and smiles getting down to an irresistible dance beat. It was, in Paak’s own words, a “packed-ass house of sweaty, beautiful people.”
There was a vigour to Paak’s show that doesn’t translate well to paper. His style was eclectic, with a freeform flow similar to jazz. Sudden tempo changes, builds and samples came out of nowhere. Paak rarely stood still, whether he was front and centre, hopping to the back of the stage or behind the drum kit. I don’t know that I’d ever seen a rapper/drummer, but Paak carried it like it was the norm. The band was filled out with a lead/bass guitarist, a DJ plus keys/vocoder and everyone got a shot in the spotlight.
If a lifetime is a series of moments, this gig was alive. An anecdote about fear of dirtying his new Air Jordans aged six (“Momma can you carry me?”) brought new meaning to The Season/Carry Me. Later in the gig Paak started to give a heartfelt thanks, while the band members jokingly played saccharine riffs in the background. A few keys of Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles on were enough to derail the sentiment and get the show back on track. Kaytranada’s Glowed Up was a real highlight, Paak jumping into the crowd with a fierce energy. After the crescendo of audience favourite, The Bird, the band performed a quick riff on Bowie’s Let’s Dance to close out amidst rapturous applause.
Wet, sweaty people filed out, but the remainder of the crowd bayed for an encore. Five minutes later to a half empty theatre, a dressed down band came out for an obviously unintended encore. Smiling, they walked off-stage to cheers for “one more song. One more song.” They graciously obliged and performed another two tracks. Paak took the mic. “Thank you Toronto. This was one of the best gigs of my life.” It was easy to agree.