Review: Anderson Paak & Little Simz @ House of Blues, San Diego

I’ve headed out to the USA for a few weeks, and while I’m here, I’m not only enjoying a much-needed escape from the Australian winter, but I’m catching some live music around the country. The first gig I was lucky enough to see on my travels was Anderson Paak at the House of Blues in San Diego, California.

The venue itself is gorgeous, I can’t really compare it to any that we have in Sydney. It’s a well known chain of bars and live music venues across the country, well reputed for good reason. The main bar area is separate from the actual music venue, which holds a capacity of less than 1000. The venue space is rectangular and quite deep, with one side opening out to another bar area and the other side, once you go upstairs (there’s a mezzanine level), leading you straight to the street. The ceiling is incredibly high and the stage is adorned with layer upon layer of scaffolding for lights and speakers. There’s at least three bar areas within the venue itself, meaning there’s no wait for a drink in spite of the show having sold out well in advance.

I first became acquainted with Anderson Paak via NxWorries, his collaboration with Stones Throw producer Knxwledge. I was then reintroduced to him after hearing his voice on six (!) tracks from Dr Dre‘s 2015 comeback Compton, and then, of course, via his stunning album Malibu, which came out back in January and is undoubtedly one of the best albums of 2016.I missed him during his last visit to Australia, so needless to say I was really looking forward to catching him on my travels.

The first act to warm up the crowd was young producer Pomo, who I had previously seen at the now-defunct OutsideIn Festival in Sydney last year. He delivered a warm range of house, hip-hop and R&B beats to get the crowd moving ahead of the live performers. Putting a DJ set at the start of the night was really interesting – not something that happens often enough back home – and it worked really well.

The main support for Paak was London rapper Little Simz, who, if you’ve been reading H&E over the past year or so, you’ll know we’re very, very big fans of. This was her last night of the tour and she brought every drop of energy and charisma that she could’ve to the room, which was already completely full. Her flow is slick, powerful and fast as hell, while her illustrative lyrics are delivered with feverish intensity; it’s easy to see why she was chosen to support Anderson Paak.

The energy was high as she ran through some of the best tracks from her wonderful debut album A Curious Tale of Trials & Personsand it was clear that she was drawing a wide range of responses from the crowd. Some, like the two women to my left, were clearly a little confused by this pint-sized girl from London rapping in a British accent. I’ve been told by many that it’s often remarkably difficult to introduce any kind of international hip-hop to an American crowd, and hearing these women joke about her accent cemented that. On the flip side, however, a large portion of the audience were super into it, obviously already dedicated fans who knew her music well, with bursts of chanting peppering the raucous set. While she was definitely faced with the challenge of keeping the crowd at attention – she had to ask them to quiet down while sharing a story – her job was to warm us up, and warm us up, she did. It was great to see how many people were getting into the set, considering she’s not only a female but not an American. I have no doubt she made more than a few fans last night and throughout the whole tour.

After a short break, Anderson Paak kind of exploded onto the stage in one giant bundle of energy and sound and vivacity, at first alone, delivering a few incredible bars, before soon welcoming his ridiculously talented band The Free Nationals. Already a seasoned performer, having played to immense headline and festival crowds across the globe, he knew exactly what to do to get us moving, dancing and sweating. The banter felt genuine, the chemistry between band members was palpable, and his acknowledgement and thanks of the crowd’s support was real; meanwhile, every track and transition was impeccably delivered, so precise and so refined that the entire thing almost felt like one continuous extended phrase.

After hearing Paak in so many incarnations over the past year or so – with NxWorries, Dr Dre, on his own records and his features on songs by BJ The Chicago Kid, ScHoolboy Q, Mac Miller, Kaytranada and many more – it has become abundantly clear that this immensely talented musician from Oxnard, California is teetering on the brink of superstardom. Having now seen him up, close and personal, I genuinely got the feeling that I’ll be looking back on that day, seeing him performing in a small, sweaty venue with the kind of smarmy fondness people get to employ when they talk about how they saw Nirvana at the Coogee Bay Hotel. Roaring through scenes of hip-hop, funk, soul and R&B, he took us on a journey throughout most of Malibu a touch of Venice, his Kaytranada collab Glowed Up and more, including briefly jumping along to ScHoolboy Q and Kanye West’s THat Part in between the main set and first (of two) encores. There were even a few moments that showed off the band’s funny side – at one point, he stopped the music to supposedly tell a story, only to have his keyboardist interrupt with the opening bars of 1000 miles.

The sweat literally flew from his face as the set progressed, although his energy didn’t waver for a moment as he rapped, sang, drummed and jumped around, all the while carrying a huge, infectious smile. Simply watching him move on stage is exhausting; the man raps and sings so powerfully, jumps manically – there was a mini mosh pit on stage between him and his guitarist and bassist – dances and hypes up the crowd – all at once. He never misses a beat, never fails to hit every note – and that’s before we talk about his phenomenal drumming. He’s just as talented as a drummer as he is a singer and rapper. To drum that well is impressive, as it is to sing with such charm and to rap with such passion. To do all three at the same time is unbelievable.

The only downside to report on is this: we thought Australia had it bad in terms of fans filming and Snapchatting and ‘Gramming shows, but we’ve got nothing on a US crowd. It felt like every single person in that room was watching the entire show through their iPhones, following his moves – especially when he was drumming – like crazed paparazzi, fumbling over one another to get the best shot, watching their own hands and devices rather than the actual show. There’s nothing wrong with snapping a couple photos, or even filming a snippet, but this was ridiculous. Professional footage and photos will be available imminently – why not just enjoy the show with your own two eyes rather than sending shaky, grainy footage of it across the internet?

Anyway, everything else about the night was brilliant. I try not to hyperbolise too much in reviews, but in this case, it can’t be helped; Anderson Paak is one of the best upcoming artists in the world right now, and I cannot wait to see where he’s going next.

Anderson Paak will be performing at Listen Out 2016 (and hopefully to-be-announced sideshows). Dates are as follows:

Melbourne: Saturday 24 September – Catani Gardens, St Kilda
Perth: Sunday 25 September – Western Parklands, HBF Arena Joondalup
Sydney: Saturday 1 October – Centennial Park
Brisbane: Sunday 2 October – Victoria Park

Image: Brooklyn Vegan