Noname – The Forum, Melbourne (21/09/2018)

Chicago rapper Noname’s excellent album Room 25 — technically her debut following the critically acclaimed 2016 mixtape Telefone — was released exactly a week before tonight’s sold out show at The Forum. That she barely touched on the new material was a source of obvious frustration to the artist and she apologised for it frequently throughout the set.

Her band, comprised of keys, drum, bass, guitar and backing vocals, brought the smooth, soulful sound of Room 25 to life, frequently leaning back into the beat while remaining constantly locked in with one another. The bassist in particular sounded funky as all hell, his playing adding a jazz-funk flavour to the mix that underpinned and carried the groove when combined with the tasteful drumming, which itself kept a snappy beat without ever stepping on the vocalists’ toes.

One fairly large flaw in the sound was that Noname’s voice sounded muffled in the mix, which was a major disservice to her poetic lyricism and unique vocal.

Noname is into her fifth year as a recording artist and she is clearly comfortable onstage, her affable persona and child-like voice are a charming combination and she had the crowd in the palm of her hand from the get go. As on her previous Australian tour she patiently taught the audience some backing vocals, though this time with a sarcastic dig at our apparent lack of collective rhythm. “Y’all invented colonialism but you can’t get this right?” she laughed. “I’m just kidding white people, don’t get mad.”

‘All I Need’ was an early highlight, and she introduced her verse from Mick Jenkins’ 2014 track ‘Comfortable’ by stating that it would be the last time she would ever perform it. She soon returned to the fact that she was playing a Telefone-based set, explaining that she hadn’t had time to rehearse the songs from Room 25 and didn’t want to do them wrong. She seemed genuinely bummed and also explained that she was a bit drunk, which perhaps was to blame for the slightly odd vibe coming from the stage. “I know that’s not very professional,” she half shrugged.

They did, however, manage to play ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ off the new album, which sounded just as beautiful and even funkier than the recorded version. Returning for a single song encore of ‘Shadow Man’, the entire show must have lasted no more than an hour, and, thanks to the early start time, it felt strange to be exiting The Forum at 11pm. Room 25 is a wonderful album so let’s hope that Noname can return to play it for Australian audiences in the near future.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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