There have been three transitional phases in the brief career of the awkwardly punctuated West Coast rapper, singer, drummer, and producer, Anderson .Paak.
There were the soulful cuts that he made as Breezy Lovejoy, before hooking up with Dr. Dre and releasing songs on Dre’s 2015 album, Compton. There was the proud moment of Grammy acknowledgment for his sandy, sexy 2016 album, Malibu. Finally, there was the fanfare that followed his December 2018 appearance on Saturday Night Live with Kendrick Lamar where .Paak and his stalwart band, The Free Nationals, unveiled barnstorming songs from his then-new album, Oxnard.
If ever there was a transformative live performance on SNL – and there have been many, some that date back to David Bowie in a porcelain tux showcase in 1979 to the more recent showing of Kanye West’s 2018 MAGA hat-wearing 2018 escapade – .Paak’s was it. Drumming, singing and rapping next to hip-hop’s reigning deity, Anderson’s steamy new tracks were dynamic, and his live show that night was one you wanted to see again.
Think James Brown and the JBs hot.
Think Parliament-Funkadelic exiting from the mother-ship hot.
Case in point would arrive here in Philadelphia during a sold-out Sunday night show at the Fillmore, one stop on his appropriately named Andy’s Beach Club World Tour.
Starting in shadow behind a thin scrim, Anderson and his band commenced the night with a soft ‘funky drummer’ shuffle from the James Brown days of yore, before quickly moving into an electric piano and muted brass reverie for fan favorite, “The Chase.”
From that first moment – and to cease the need to continue throwing out comparisons – the sound of The Free Nationals live had an early A Tribe Called Quest vibe to go with its West Coast’s heavy bass rumble. That latter vibe came through loud and clear, via the low riding “Milk N’ Honey,” as well as the diabolical brass line that the Free Nationals lent Paak as he sang-rasped his way through “Who R U?
Yet, by the time this assembly hit up the live spy-film-soundtrack groove of “Bubblin,” with .Paak jumping on the drum kit, the effect was clear: these guys were more Technicolor jazz, a true Blaxploitation of classic R&B than anything else.
The Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale mixed with Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score, fused with first album Earth Wind & Fire – all themed for rap-soul types, and all played by California session cats who, in their spare time, used to play as a wedding band.
Their mission – like any great wedding band – is to please, broadly, moms and millennials.
Therefore, the rapper and his band might have been jamming to orchestral jazz on songs such as “Glowed Up,” but Paak & Co. proved to be as universal as they were occasionally quirky. Plus, they ran through a 21 song set surprisingly fast – another notable wedding band touch.
Much of .Paak’s raps and vocal song stylings got lost in the wild mix, and the roar of his band. Still, Anderson’s handsome baritone came through loud and clear through the clackity hip hop of “6 Summers” and his raspy gem, “Tints.” More so than his voice, .Paak’s personality was always sunny and bright, whether he was croon-rapping his way through “The Waters” and “Put Me Thru,” or engaging the Philadelphia audience, bravely.
“My sister told me not to crowd surf in Philly since you guys drop everyone,” he said, laughing. “But, I’m going to trust you.” And so, Anderson .Paak braved the crowd-surfing waters, trusted his instincts and dove right in, while the mass that converged the floor at The Fillmore supported him.
That’s just the type of night it was.