Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals – 170 Russell, Melbourne (07/02/18)

170 Russell was packed to the walls and from the very first beat, the entire crowd was cheering for more and singing back every line. In truth the promoters could have easily upgraded to a bigger venue and sold more tickets, but the vibe of the show with that amount of people feeding off the energy of Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals was electric.

.Paak’s onstage persona is fuelled by the same enigmatic, sexualised swagger that gives his music its grit and charm. He then pours a ridiculous amount of energy into his performance, whether pounding on a drum kit or jumping around the stage with joyful punk rock abandon.

The band consisted of keys, bass, guitar and a DJ, with .Paak jumping behind the kit for much of the set. ‘Heart Don’t Stand a Chance’ was an early showcase of both his drumming prowess and his soulful delivery, his unique vocal and flow managing to be simultaneously coarse and smooth.

The live instrumentation added a decidedly rock’n’roll edge to many of the songs, and the amount of energy that came from .Paak, guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzales in particular ensured that the Vans Warped Tour vibes felt and natural and appropriate in their commitment to rocking the crowd.

Things got funkier during the NxWorries cut ‘Get Bigger’, with the bass and keys parts bringing to mind the work of Thundercat, before the song transitioned into the Mac Miller collaboration, ‘Dang!’, and then into ‘Lyk Dis’.

The heavy bass and of ‘Glowed Up’, off Kaytranada’s 99.9% album, shifted the vibe into electronic territory briefly before the band unexpectedly launched into the music from R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition’, with .Paak shifting his words to the classic R&B melody.

It was interesting to note how naturally tracks from 2014’s Venice album merged with the newer material in the set. ‘Milk N’Honey’, ‘I Miss That Whip’ and ‘Luh You’ all had an outing, and freed from the sparse electronic production of the original recordings proved themselves to be funky R&B jams that stood up against anything off Malibu. Once .Paak jumped on the drums halfway through ‘Luh You’ it took on a disco flavour that was impossible not to move to,

It was, however, the 2016 breathrough album that dominated the setlist and that got the crowd most excited. ‘Am I Wrong’ is such a party anthem that from its drum roll intro the entire venue became a sweaty club with a thousand people all moving as one.

Announcing that it would be .Paak’s birthday at midnight, the band presented him with a cake, before planting it onto his face. The frontman spent the duration of the gig singing with icing and a big grin on his kisser, closing out the show with the dancefloor banger ‘Lite Weight’ and the feel good album closer ‘The Dreamer’.

The pure joy that .Paak and The Free Nationals injected into every moment made tonight’s show feel like nothing short of a celebration, making it one of the best gigs this city has seen in 2018 thus far.

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