On the heels of Oxnard, his wildly-popular Aftermath debut and third full-length LP, the hottest artist across the cultural zeitgeist is Anderson .Paak. I’d add arguably, but if we’re being honest about the mainstream and the underground, it’s hardly a contest. The Dr. Dre-helmed smash-hit album scorched the charts upon detonation in November, a veritable mushroom cloud for the enigmatic singer/rapper/drummer/bandleader with the mountain of mojo. Dominating playlists in the streets and between the sheets since he dropped his iconic sophomore masterpiece, Malibu, in 2016, the man they used to call Breezy Lovejoy is clearly on some other shit.
After selling out theaters from coast to coast on the strength of the Oxnard buzz and throwing down already-legendary live sets (like Suwannee Hulaween 2016, and here in San Francisco on a nostalgic New Years Eve 2017), now comes time for Brandon Paak Anderson to take it back to the stage and prove it all over again. I would not—and DID NOT—bet against him.
From barber to coffee shop, stoop hang to corner spot, skate park to lift line, liquor store to health food stand, there was a palpable sense of clairvoyant anticipation rippling around the country as this tour approached, exacerbated from steady flame to five-alarm-fire when, on Sunday night, .Paak collected his first-ever Grammy for the pre-Oxnard single, “Bubblin’”. No doubt buoyed by the win, after the ceremony, homie showed up and showed out at The Roots‘ legendary annual GRAMMY-JAM in Los Angeles, a crown prince holding court ’til the wee hours of the night. Less than twenty-four hours later, it was go time at The Masonic in San Francisco. Anderson .Paak responded by putting the whole game on notice.
As usual, .Paak rallied road warriors The Free Nationals for yet another stateside sojourn as his trusty backing band. He randomly met them in the parking lot of an apartment building nearly a decade ago—still in the Breezy era—and the squadron remains his ride or die to this day. The First Church of Goon Baptists added ubiquitous trumpet player Maurice “Mo Betta” Brown (Talib Kweli, Tedeschi Trucks Band, MEGAWATT) to the touring lineup for maximum impact and swagger. Stakes were high as Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals barreled into the Bay Area for the opening night of the curiously-named, hilariously-themed Andy’s Beach Club, aka the Oxnard World Tour 2019. Sold out to the gills, the capacity crowd was raging, and people were ready for battle on what was nothing if not a manic Monday night at the Masonic.
Just after 8 p.m., opener Taylor Parx sufficiently warmed up the rapidly filling venue, delivering some colorful pop-tinged R&B over programmed beats and recordings. In short order, the Masonic was brimming with an enthusiastic massive who respectfully enjoyed Parx but were audibly frothing for the main event. After a short intermission, the lights went down and, in an instant, the curtain up. Then, a deafening roar inflated the room. Silhouettes appeared behind the stage veil, a lusty groove began to saunter from the speaker stacks, the sweet smell of sensi a natural mystic in the air.
.Paak was clad in a bucket hat and patterned tie-dye getup that would have made the late Hunter S. Thompson blush. The Gonzo was strong, “The Chase” was on, the Prodigal Son had returned, and before long, the natives were restless. The blaxploitation swag that defines Oxnard‘s opening salvo was the ideal embarkation point for what would be a streamlined seventy-two-minute smoke-show. To start, .Paak and the Free Nationals were hidden behind an enormous stage-wide curtain, only visible in the shadows of a colossal sun. The man of the hour laid down his first of many funky beats on a trap kit, sitting atop a comically-large drum riser, setting the proverbial tone whilst singing his heart out on “The Chase”. He then darted into view to an ovation, reveling in full frontman mode on Oxnard cut “Who R U?”. The Free Nationals continued to rock the house behind the curtain until it came down in earnest for the crunkalogic “Bubblin’”.
On this night, it seemed an intention had been set and laser focus placed on the team thriving onstage as a true live band instead of relying on backing tracks so heavily as they have in the past. Rest assured, the hip-hop sh*t remained a major element, and it was left to the steady hands of Lo_Def (Callum Conner, DJ and programming), who scratched and sampled in pre-recorded parts while the band (and the funky drummer) coalesced around these cuts. It was crystal clear by the time the boys unleashed the intoxicating ratchet-trap of “Bubblin’” that, indeed, killing was their business—and on this night, boy was business ever good. When the charismatic .Paak arrived (with yo’ mama) at the Marriott for a belly-flop, the response was a thunderclap that threatened the structural integrity of The Masonic.
The Free Nationals are the perfect foil for Anderson .Paak. Onstage, they move together as one with visible kinetic chemistry. Jose Miguel Serrano Rios handles guitar duties on the wing, while Kelsey Miguel Gonzalez holds him down on bass and background vocals. Maybe most impressive of the “Free Nash” cats is keyboardist Ron Jerome Avant, aka T-NAVA, who complimented .Paak with choice contributions on (homemade?) synths, Fender Rhodes and piano.
There was a percussionist in the wings who augmented .Paak on a drum kit next to the large riser. Throughout the show, he would support .Paak as he toggled from front and center back to the main drum set that looked out at the whole theater. Omnipresent NYC horn hero Maurice Brown is the newest member of the touring ensemble, as the trumpet wizard was added just in time for this tour. Mo Betta kept it classy, and got in where he fit in all night long.
Piloting the wayback machine toward 2012 debut Venice for the gully, profane “Milk & Honey”, .Paak raced back to the drum kit and lit up hi-hats and sizzlin’ snares like a human 808 machine while simultaneously spitting the furious verses with authority. The low-end rumble sounded like a locomotive rolling, but the master of ceremonies never once lost his cadence while banging out the beats. With a giant jumbotron flanking the entire band and arena-rock pyrotechnic explosions, Anderson .Paak embraced some ambitious production elements to create Andy’s Beach Club. However, the focus and attention on the stage was placed squarely on the music early and often. It stayed there for the duration of the performance, as .Paak repeatedly left jaws agape with his feverish energy as both rambunctious bandleader and dazzling drummer.
The juiced-crew forwarded Kaytranada’s boisterous bass-anthem, “Glowed Up”, and once again, our safety was in question as the masses lost their minds on the dancefloor. Apparently sensing imminent danger, .Paak steered the bombastic Quebecois ship to a safe space, a well-lubricated punky-reggae-skank that slowed our roll considerably, but did not for a moment dim our glow. .Paak channeled that vibe into three consecutive Oxnard joints, beginning with the pointed, topical “6 Summers.” This quasi-controversial number featured impassioned, empowering pleas atop an irresistible hip-hop jam with a provocative hook. From there, most of the Free Nationals left the stage as Lo_Def and A.Paak detoured into some proper boom-bap aesthetics on “Saviors Road”. While the lush 9th Wonder production rang out into the ether, .Paak took the opportunity to stage dive into the audience and horizontally-deliver the verses from his back, crowd surfing and spitting atop the outstretched arms of the teeming GA floor. Before you knew it, there he was back up on the drum riser, crooning sweet nothings on “Smile/Petty”. Nothing short of amazing, here we stood under his greatness, and he’d only been on stage for half an hour.
Among the most beloved cuts found on what many consider a perfect album, Malibu’s “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” arrived to 3,500 swollen heart chakras bursting wide open. Again, .Paak assumed his throne on the drum kit and belted out the number, which was delivered in a Dilla-fied style. .Paak had that classic Detroit-deli, flam-snare rim-shot going, the patented off-beat/on-beat click with T-NAVA’s Fender Rhodes voicings way up in the mix. The track featured a short and sweet keytar solo, while Maurice Brown’s trumpet serenaded skyward and the whole room sang at the top of their lungs. .Paak offered this humble nod to Mr. Yancey with much style and grace, yet without ever really deviating from what makes “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” so special to so many, the paean’s bold emotional quotient. The man whose name was on the marquee kept it real as the stone in your crown, and he held the entire room in the palm of his hand.