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WPGM Reviews: Anderson .Paak And The Free Nationals Live At Alexandra Palace

Anderson Paak for Highsnobiety © Robert Wunsch 2016 styled by Chantal Drywa photographed in Brooklyn, New York

Want to know what the sure-fire antidote to a miserable, grey and drizzly Friday night in London is? The infectiously catchy, sun-drenched vibes of Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals tearing up Ally Pally.

Fresh off the release of his third album, Oxnard, Anderson .Paak made his way to London to play his biggest British show to date at Alexandra Palace on March 15.

Far from a household name only a few years prior, Anderson and his live band, the Free Nationals, had slowly been gaining buzz and attention before a meteoric rise to prominence with the breakthrough 2016 album Malibu. This time, playing to a sold out Alexandra Palace, the moment had arrived to see if the Dr Dre protégé and musical wunderkind had earned his place in the big leagues.

The evening began with support act Tayla Parks, flanked by two giant inflatable cacti, who ushered in the eager crowd with her luscious, joyful R&B.

However, there was only one man the amassing throng of people had come out to see, and they remained restless as the anticipation grew – until .Paak himself finally emerged, silhouetted by a brilliant red moon, his expansive drum set and beanied head spotlighted in a brilliant amber glow as he channelled Curtis Mayfield for the 70s Blaxploitation groove of “The Chase”.

There wasn’t a moment to stop and breathe as we were whipped through the first few cuts from Oxnard, during which we were given our first taste of the event’s pyrotechnical wonders; air cannons boomed and bursts of flame engulfed the band as they romped through the audacious “Bubblin’”, the slinking bass of “6 Summers” and the lead single charm of “Tints”.

.Paak bounded down to meet the baying crowd, channelling Mick Jagger as he strutted and glided across the stage like a man possessed, endlessly and effortlessly cool in head-to-toe blue and white stripes.

If you needed any more confirmation that the rapper, crooner and drummer-extraordinaire was now anything less than a bona fide smash hit, you only had to observe the assembled sold out crowd at Ally Pally.

One could observe young, smartly shirted professionals fresh from the city rubbing shoulders with moustachioed Hackney hipsters and the occasional older seasoned gig-goer head-nodding towards the peripheries; it was a melting pot that spoke to the cross-generational appeal of Anderson’s bright, lively funk and soul-tinged sound.

It’s a sound truly brought to life by the Free National maestros who flanked .Paak on either side, sprinkling in a sultry guitar lick here or a buttery trumpet fill there. These were the moments which injected new energy into overlooked album tracks like “Trippy”, or provided a new perspective on fan favourites like “Suede”.

Anderson’s frantic, kinetic drumming fired up the sweaty, moshing crowd and propelled them through “Am I Wrong” towards the end of the show.

Operating like a well-oiled machine, .Paak and the gang whisked through their rapidly expanding catalogue of hits, satiating the die-hards with older gems like “Come Down” and “Put Me Thru” and rewarding newcomers with “King James”, a fresh new track from upcoming album Ventura.

The night finished with a celebration of the life and music of Mac Miller in the form of Anderson and Mac’s bouncy break-up anthem “Dang”. The hook of “Gone too soon / Wait, we was just hangin” took on a poignant new meaning in the wake of Mac Miller’s death last year, with .Paak reflecting on the musical brotherhood the duo had shared.

As Miller and .Paak’s beaming faces were projected large onto the backdrop, the final notes of the night were drowned out by woops and cheers. Looking from Anderson’s pearly whites to Mac’s cheeky, playful smile, I realised it was a reflection of the audience itself; my face ached, and it dawned on me I had been grinning like a fool for the past two hours – as had all of the partiers around me.

If that’s not enough to convince you of the sheer joy elicited from watching this freakishly talented ensemble of musicians playing together, then nothing will. Keep Tabs on Anderson .Paak on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Words by Elliot Tawney

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