Concert Review: Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals at Echo Beach in Toronto

 

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Anderson .Paak

2019 is Anderson .Paak’s year. After crushing it on the indie scene for most of the decade, the multitalented RnB/Funk/Soul singer has arrived in the mainstream, finally releasing his major-label debut album on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment late last year. Riding the wave of November’s Oxnard album, 2019 so far has seen Anderson .Paak go on tour, including a sold-out concert at Rebel Nightclub back in February, and in April he surprised fans with his second album on Aftermath, Ventura, less than six months after Oxnard.

Now on his second North American tour this year, Anderson .Paak would be returning to Toronto for yet another show that was sold-out months in advance, after being announced just hours after he performed at Rebel. With all of his albums thus far named after California beaches, it’s only fitting that his June concert in Toronto be at Echo Beach, his second time performing at this venue after headlining the 2016 Manifesto Festival here. With plenty of fans upset with the way bots and scalpers bought many of the tickets to the Rebel Nightclub show and jacked up the prices, Anderson made sure his second go-around was for the true fans only. Using a Verified Fan function on Ticketmaster, the real fans got access to an exclusive pre-sale with cheaper tickets, and first-hand buyers were given a free copy of the new album, Ventura.

Between his two new albums both executive produced by the legendary Dr. Dre, Anderson .Paak has provided the soundtrack to the summer, and with him bringing it live to an actual beach with his band, The Free Nationals, the excitement levels were high going into this show.

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Although it was the first day of June, it didn’t quite feel like summer yet, as it was still chilly with light rain and thunderstorm warnings as we made our way through the gates to Echo Beach. Calling this the Best Teef In The Game Tour, Anderson .Paak had several artists joining him for different tour dates, and for this Toronto show the first opener would be Funk artist Thundercat. Rocking out on a bass guitar and singing, along with a keyboardist and drummer, Thundercat got the crowd grooving to his funky chunes in the rain.

While I was familiar with the style of funk he brought to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album, I didn’t know any of Thundercat’s solo work going into this concert. His songs were groovy and fun to dance to, one standout being “Friend Zone,” as he brought that same upbeat energy to the stage. While bringing the thunder to the stage, Thundercat may have scared off the actual thunder, as the forecasted storm missed the area and the rain completely stopped by the time he wrapped up his set.

Next up would be an emcee from Chicago named Noname. Her band setup included a couple guitarists, a keyboardist, drummer, and three background singers who both backed her vocally and sang out the vocal samples in her beats. After humbly introducing herself, Noname would get the crowd dancing with her songs, spitting her verses in a spoken word style over some soulful beats. She kept the crowd engaged, teaching them some of her hooks as she performed so we could sing along, and had everyone in a cheerful mood. The crowd was so into her set that she could have performed an encore, but the cheers were to no avail, as the show continued to stick to the scheduled set times and soon it would be time for Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals to hit the stage.

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With the sun setting in the background, The Free Nationals took the stage and began their set by teasing the instrumental from track one of Anderson .Paak’s indie classic, Malibu. Rather than perform “The Bird” in its entirety though, they abruptly switched to “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” with Anderson .Paak appearing behind his drum set as it elevated to the high platform of the stage. The fans in the crowd knew the classic Malibu track word for word, singing along to the hook as Anderson’s drumming and the stage’s pyrotechnics had the energy cranked! The crowd erupted as the first song ended and Anderson .Paak came down to the front of the stage to get up close to the fans.

Pulling from a different one of his albums with every song he performed, Anderson .Paak continued on with Oxnard‘s “Saviers Road,” performing at the front of the stage and getting the crowd to bounce. He would alternate between Malibu and Oxnard, with the crowd erupting again as he did the classic “Come Down,” and got everyone dancing to “Tints.” After the fun dance songs, Anderson would return to his drum set at the top of the stage for a more political segment, performing his Ventura single “King James.” With full awareness of where he was performing, he would change up the lyrics in the second verse to say “and we salute the Toronto Raptors, congratulations!,” with Game 2 of the NBA Finals happening the next day.

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Paak would take the front of the stage again and the pyrotechnics would shoot off flames around him as he rocked the certified head-nodder, “6 Summers.” Getting the crowd to bounce with him, he would take the energy up a notch by performing his Kaytranada collaboration, “Glowed Up,” with even more fireworks and more bounce. There would be a light show as Anderson .Paak left the stage to change, before returning to perform the first half of “Smile/Pretty.” He would be on the drums again, hidden underneath the stage, and the crowd erupted as the screens showed him rocking a Kyle Lowry jersey as the drum set was elevated to the top of the stage again.

Next, Anderson would perform my favourite song off the new album, “Reachin’ 2 Much,” singing the first bit while on drums and then running down to the front of the stage as the beat flipped mid-way. Rocking to the funkier half of the song, Anderson .Paak actually jumped down onto the beach to dance among the fans as he sang; the fans immediately around him were turned up, but much of the crowd was more focused on getting a glimpse of the action with their phones rather than dancing themselves. There would be some time for .Paak to make his way back to the stage, and so The Free Nationals got some shine without him as they performed their own song, with the keyboardist Ron Tnava Avant on vocals.

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When Anderson .Paak returned, he had changed clothes again, rocking a bright orange du-rag, and was back on drums to perform a song for the lovers with his Smokey Robinson collaboration off of Ventura, “Make It Better.” He would keep up the happy vibes with a Malibu throwback, “Put Me Thru,” adding extra energy to the song with a back and forth solo between himself on drums and Ron Avant on keys, along with having fireworks go off in sync with his drumming. Avant would get some more shine as he had a lengthy solo on keys afterwards, using heavy but tasteful autotune in his mic to cover Drake’s “All Me” and the sample used in 2Pac’s “California Love,” before letting .Paak take over again.

Anderson .Paak would get back to his Oxnard album with the slow-paced “Anywhere” and “Trippy,” minus the verses from Snoop Dogg and J. Cole of course. He would then get into his own raps, performing another Malibu throwback with “The Waters,” followed by a tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle. With these slower paced songs mellowing out the vibe, Anderson would pick up the tempo again with another new Ventura track, “Jet Black,” before pulling out some more obscure tracks for the diehard fans. Continuing to rap, sing, and play drums all at the same time, Anderson .Paak would pull out a NxWorries song with “Suede,” getting the crowd to yell out the album title Yes Lawd! with him. He would then perform his Grammy award-winning standalone single, “Bubblin'” with a ton of energy before closing out his set with a 2014 throwback from his Venice album, “Milk n’ Honey.”

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With the crowd in the palm of his hand, Anderson .Paak and his band left the stage with everyone wanting more, causing a strong encore chant to break out. The crowd erupted as the drum set would rise again at the top of the stage, and the band would return, Anderson starting back at the drums and performing the Ventura intro, “Come Home.” They would then get into straight throwbacks, taking two standout moments from the last time they performed at Echo Beach in 2016 and putting them back to back, performing the Malibu cuts “Am I Wrong” and “Lite Weight.” These two classics got the crowd grooving, and Anderson did his bit during the latter track where he got the crowd to all get low to the beat, before rising to a jump as the beat dropped.

To close out the performance for good, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals did one last song in tribute to the late Mac Miller, performing their collaboration “Dang!” and Anderson closing out on the drums. The band, background singers, and Anderson himself would all join at the front of the stage for a bow before wishing the crowd a goodnight.

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Overall, this show was a blast! Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals performed as great as ever, and their stage setup has only gotten more extravagant with all the screens, lighting, platforms, flames and fireworks. Anderson’s showmanship is a big part of what made me a fan in the first place, and he’s taken it all up a notch with the added fame and success. He performed all my favourite songs off the new Ventura album, although there were some Oxnard cuts I would’ve loved to see performed live like “The Chase,” “Headlow,” and “Brother’s Keeper.” It was still an awesome time though, as the rain stayed away, and Anderson .Paak’s music kept the party live no matter which songs he picked out to perform. We’d love to see him back at even bigger venues, although his music is made for beach weather, making Echo Beach the perfect Toronto venue to see him perform in.

 

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