Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals @ MSG (05/31/19) / by Noor Kalouti

This was my first show at Madison Square Garden; I tend to avoid such large venues but it was also Anderson .Paak’s first show at MSG and I simply HAD to witness it. Joining him on his ‘Best Teef in the Game’ tour was Earl Sweatshirt, who just released his third-studio album Some Rap Songs, and Thundercat

Thundercat opened the show with an elaborate set, playing only three or four of his hits throughout, he focused more on an exploration of experimental jazz. It was psychedelic, complex, and virtuosic. Thundercat’s brand of urban jazz is one that he’s firmly trademarked; I can confidently recall that the majority of the set was spent on his brilliant and definitive bass lines.

Frankly, it was hard to enjoy, mainly because I was in the seated area of MSG (I may have felt differently if MSG projected the band on the monitors,) but also because the atmosphere and layout of this venue didn’t suit Thundercat’s style. I would have liked to study his face, how he played the bass and the band’s overall energy. 

Moving on, I expected a very raw, stripped-down performance from Earl and that’s exactly what I got. Accompanying him was a DJ/hype man who had a sort of forest landscape on loop projected behind him—this was the kind of set-up that you’d expect at a Rough Trade or Pianos event in NYC. To be clear, these aren’t complaints; I wouldn’t love Earl if he was the sparkly-type. The fact that he was performing at MSG didn’t seem to phase him at all, he was there to deliver a show, and that was that. This only impressed me more, his performance was extremely consistent with his gloomy, zero-f****-given persona on Some Rap Songs. It’s not even a persona, that’s just him (I think), which made the performance exponentially more genuine. 

Finally, the person (nay, people) I came to see: Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals! .Paak rose out of a giant box, looping drum-riffs, and kicking off the show with his hit “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance.” It’s hard for me to summarize just how fantastic of a performer .Paak is, he was oozing with charisma, swag, and sunshine all the way from Cali! He spent practically all of the 90-minute set alternating between playing on the drums and dancing up and down the stage.

He moved quickly into tunes from his two recent releases Oxnard and Ventura, dropped in November 2018 and April 2019 respectively. One of my favorite moment was his mashup of “Saviers Road” and Sister Nancy’s classic “Bam Bam” tune. He continued to serve recent hits like “Tints”, “6 Summers”, “King James” and many more—with such a huge array of songs to choose from, there was barely any dilly-dallying between cuts. He’d drop his staple ‘Yes Lawd’ or ask us “Are you still there!?” right before jumping into the next song.

The graphics during the show deserve a review of their own. Projected behind the band throughout the set were visuals in tune with the .Paak aesthetics. Rainbows, galaxies, trippy clouds, sunrises—you name it. Paak delivers feel-good music and that’s exactly how I felt during this show. The bands lead keyboardist Ron Tnava Avant had one shining solo performance, most likely during .Paak’s costume change. Ron’s moment was short and sweet, treating the audience to piano improv which I found lovely. 

The oddest moment during this show was when .Paak invited Busta Rhyme to the stage, a move that I did not expect. If anything that’s my biggest criticism of the set, it felt like a cheap choice since the two rappers had never collaborated. It felt as though .Paak landed in NYC, decided to have a ‘big-shot’ guest and Busta was the only available artist. 

In any case, this barely tainted the perfection of his MSG show, .Paak got at least three standing ovations which extended the show by what felt like 30 minutes minimum. He ended the show paying tribute to Mac Miller with their hit ‘Dang’ and he also remembered Nipsey Hussle earlier in the evening.

Frankly, it’s baffling how many hits .Paak can produce. During the second encore, when .Paak re-rose out of his box playing his track “Am I wrong” from Malibu, my fan-girl side was completely unhinged—I discovered a whole new vocal range that night. This concert cemented Anderson’s place as a star, and he reveled in the hard-work that got him here, basking in the spotlight he earned!

All in all, I left MSG with a sore throat but a happy heart (cheesy, but accurate). It was by far one of the best performance I’ve ever witnessed.