After making his New Zealand debut at Laneway 2018, one of the hottest soul and R&B artists in the game right now Anderson .Paak returned to Aotearoa on Saturday night with his band The Free Nationals for a show to an excited Spark Arena on his Oxnard tour.
Fresh off shows in Australia and with a fantastic new album out, Anderson Paak’s rise over the last three years since his 2016 album Malibu has been meteoric, to say the least. He has gone from being a relatively unknown late starter in music to becoming one of the most in-demand R&B singers. Given this, I was very intrigued to see how well he would be received in a venue the size of Spark Arena especially as the show was originally slated for the Logan Campbell Centre but got moved due to the demand for tickets. It is also worth noting that this was his first headline arena show as a solo artist making the evening even more special for all those in attendance, not to mention Paak and his band.
The evening kicked off with Australian soul singer Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote fame. Playing a Flying V electric guitar and backed by three singers, her set was rousing and came across very impressive with her mixture of soul and doo-wop going down a treat.
Given the relatively small-scale nature of her set up with just guitar and four vocalists, her soaring vocals filled the sound in the room spectacularly and it was a cover of the Jimi Hendrix (Have You Ever Been?) To Electric Ladyland? which was the highlight of her short but sweet set.
After this excellent start to proceedings, it was now time for the main man. Kicking things off behind a see-through curtain with the opening track off Oxnard, the Curtis Mayfield-sounding The Chase, Paak and his terrific band complete with dancers then proceeded to take the crowd through a set full of soul, hip-hop, funk and R&B canvasing all aspects of Paak’s career. This included tracks from Venice, Malibu, Oxnard, his side project NxWorries and a special rendition of Dang, the collaboration he did with the late Mac Miller of whom he dedicated its performance.
Moving between the drums and the microphone all evening, Paak was on fire throughout, bouncing and jumping around the stage like a man possessed, while at one point he even stage dived into the crowd. His stage presence and showmanship was next level as he belted out banger after banger with the likes of Bubblin, Come Down and Tints working the crowd into an absolute frenzy.
With this, what struck me was Paak’s athleticism as a performer which was something to marvel at throughout the evening. His uncanny ability to switch from playing the drums to standing out front with a microphone during the middle of songs with amazing ease shows just why he is one of the most dynamic performers in popular music at the moment and why they needed a bigger venue for him.
For me, though it was when he was behind the kit that produced the best moments of the show. The ability to sing and drum at the same time is a rare skill in music and one not often seen in R&B. Paak’s skill on the drums was one of the absolute highlights of the evening and it was on tracks like Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, Suede and Anywhere where he could just lock in with the band and sit in the pocket with a little improvisation here and there thrown in for good measure.
If I could pick a downside to the evening, I would be picky by saying the sound was a bit muddy. At times the bass and guitar got lost in the mix and the drums overpowered the vocals, but luckily thought that did not distract too much from the overall performance.
At a live music event, you want to be entertained and there is a lot to say these days that audiences want more than just a band playing off a set of songs. Last night at Spark Arena, Anderson .Paak put on one hell of a spectacle and I am sure the crowd returned home feeling entertained because it was truly something special to start 2019 with.