I’ve been vaguely aware of Kiwi-born, Australia-bred and London-based neo-soul artist Jordan Rakei for a while, hearing his praises online without properly jumping in myself. So when I saw his name pop up on the Powerstation’s roster, it was the perfect opportunity to repent for sleeping on this musical underdog - and to see if this geographical melting pot translated into his music as well.
But first, we have Wellington native Louis Baker, bobbing his head like his own personal metronome as he kicks off Alive. There’s a palpable passion in his performance, producing the same “restraint-to-explosion” dynamics of modern pop, but in the context of a soulful voice and soulful guitar. Purple lights during Purple Rain notwithstanding, Baker had a minimalistic approach to the setlist; get in, show some peace and love, promote the new album Open, get out. There was a nice sense of progression though; cracking out the drum machine halfway through really added a punch to some already impressive vocal acrobatics. It’s nice to have an artist who cares about the people and names his songs as such.
And then the main man himself, Jordan Rakei, sandwiched between Akai and Yamaha synthesisers alike. In fact, almost every band member has a keyboard to spare, and they swap between those and their guitars in what has to be the tightest on-stage chemistry I’ve ever seen. From where I was standing, the mix favoured those keyboards heavily, suffocating the guitars and vocal harmonies underneath woozy effects - and with such talent on display, it’s a shame not being able to hear it all. All the same, you could hear just enough to get into the groove of Rolling Into One or the quiet storm of Speak, and that’s enough.
Draped in a Tokoroa High t-shirt, it was a beautiful juxtaposition of a performer so casual in his proficiency, a higher being in regular clothing. If you didn’t know any better, Rakei could blend into the crowd unnoticed - and it’s that everyman, almost introverted demeanour that shines in his potent songwriting.
The tracks from Origin are absolutely resplendent, bathing in delicate electronic flourishes and deft inflections from Rakei himself. Some are extremely faithful to their album renditions - cue my personal favourite You and Me, with its boom-bap drums and euphoric piano - and some become extended jams, with Mad World pushing funk beyond its limits into something otherworldly. Cuts from the older catalogue get their dues as well; having only ever seen an acoustic version of Sorceress, the drums were a delightful surprise and didn’t stray from the polyrhythmic patterns that boomed through my ribcage throughout the night.
Encores are easy to see coming from a mile away, and Rakei’s was a notably effervescent one - dropping Eye to Eye and Mind’s Eye back to back, a contrast of his jazziest tendencies and his funkiest riffs. Draped in a Tokoroa High t-shirt, it was a beautiful juxtaposition of a performer so casual in his proficiency, a higher being in regular clothing. If you didn’t know any better, Rakei could blend into the crowd unnoticed - and it’s that everyman, almost introverted demeanour that shines in his potent songwriting. I mean, the man took inspiration from The Handmaid’s Tale for a ballad, for God’s sake! If that’s not a sign that Jordan Rakei is a man of the times, I’m not sure what is.
All of which is a massively convoluted way of saying: Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Rakei won my heart in one. It’s never too late to give in to the good vibes, and to promote the man from being the perennial “one to watch” into the one actually being watched.