The Secret Group
June 8, 2019
SonReal wears his heart on his sleeve, particularly on his new, moving album, The Aaron LP. Last night, performing for a small but sturdy crowd at The Secret Group, he also wore his heart on his T-shirt. A few tunes into his 17-song set, the rapper/singer/songwriter peeled off a stylish white hoodie (available at the merch table!) and revealed a Cher tour T-shirt. Seeing her visage recalled her biggest hit, the one called “Believe.”
The Canadian rapper believes in his promise. He believes in the music he makes, especially with the new vibe he’s hit upon lately. So, even though the Saturday night crowd wasn’t at capacity, that was okay by him. He believes the next Houston crowd will be larger.
“You guys are gonna get sick and tired of this shit, but I am gonna thank you all night,” he told those who did attend the show. “You know why I thank you? Because I came to Houston like a year ago and not only was there like literally 10 people or 20 people maybe, this is already like five times the crowd I had last year.”
“I focus really heavy on the journey. I appreciate and I enjoy the journey, and let me tell you this - this is the smallest room you’re ever gonna see me play in Houston from here on out,” he said to these in-the-know fans. “Let me tell you this, when shit does pop off and shit starts getting crazy, you know what? I just want you guys to know, here in Houston, you were here fucking first, okay?”
The night did feel like a last chance to hang onto a well-kept secret. SonReal has hit a career growth spurt. As he told the Houston Press earlier this week, the new songs have created a shift in his following. The U.S. crowds haven’t caught up to those in Canada yet, where his music has gone platinum and earned him a half-dozen Juno Award nominations, but it’s catching on. Throughout the week, he tweeted from spots like Phoenix and Dallas, where the once-smaller crowds had grown. In that respect, Houston was no different.
Some fans were on hand for old favorites. They called out for “Preach,” which wound up closing the set, which weighed in at nearly two hours. Some wanted to hear “Everywhere We Go,” the song whose video has 24 million views. They were rewarded for their patience about ten songs deep. “No Warm Up,” was high up the list and helped set the tone for what was to follow. But the night was for fans of The Aaron LP. He played all but one track from the album, which released in early May. That was by design because SonReal is on record saying the album's blueprint – which features more meaningful songs and more expressive singing than rapid fire rapping – is the one he expects to follow for his next release.
The set opened with “Fearless,” the first song off the new album, and included “1000 Highways,” which he wrote for his wife, and “Healing,” a duet with Jessie Reyez, who was there in spirit (read: over the PA) last night. A highlight from the new album was “Quit,” which is what “Take This Job and Shove It” might sound like in the hands of Bruno Mars. Or Curtis Mayfield. Or, the new R&B infused SonReal. The vocals were so achingly soulful and impressive delivered live, it made me feel a little sad for the people who were dancing to '90s R&B songs being rehashed in the bar outside the showroom.
It also made me feel bad that more Houstonians weren’t in the showroom to experience this artist’s wealth of talent. SonReal didn’t sweat it, though. Like the lady asked, “Do you believe?” SonReal does.
“I just wanna say I’ll never forget this show for the rest of my life. This is my first show in Houston that was actually more than like 15 people,” he said. “Next time I come to Houston, how many of you guys are gonna tell two friends to come to the show? How many of you guys are gonna tell four friends to come to the show? How many of y’all are gonna tell 20 friends to come to the show?” he asked and the crowd promised it would do so.
“I don’t even have 20 friends. Twenty friends is a lot. I don’t expect that,” he said with a laugh. “But maybe if y’all could do like three or four, that’d be tight.”
Personal Bias: "My Friend" is at the top of my personal SonReal playlist. I’m very close to my son, who got me listening to any SonReal songs in the first place, and this one reflects on the father-son bond and on the importance of family, notions near to my heart. A weird, but very true story: my son is in a band and many times going back some years now he’s dialed up “No Warm Up” or “Everywhere We Go” before shows to get himself and his bandmates hyped for their performance. He’s followed SonReal’s work and is a fan.
Last month, I got a text message from my son, who was in Los Angeles recording his band’s new album. The message was a photo of him with SonReal. Apparently, Hoffman and the four-piece backing band that killed last night were at the same studio rehearsing for this tour. My son spotted him, they met and took a selfie together. Because he was such a fan and suddenly was there with this artist he respected, it was a pretty cool “is this real life?” moment. My kid’s busy tour schedule allowed for a night off last night, so we took in the show together. “My Friend” was a definite highlight.
The Crowd: Sparse but enthusiastic and ready to tell two, four or 20 friends to not miss the next Houston SonReal show.
Random Notebook Dump: Small shows can make for nice moments. Occasionally during the set, SonReal would spot a certain fan singing or rapping along and this guy knew the words to the old stuff and the new. During the show closer “Preach,” he leaped off the stage and into the crowd and rewarded this fan by rapping alongside him before returning to the stage to close the night. We asked the superfan, David Gallardo, how he got familiar with SonReal and he said his wife, Jennifer, who was also in attendance, first showed him SonReal’s music a few years ago. The Houston crowd was SonReal’s largest ever, but still not large enough for fans like Gallardo. We asked him what folks are missing out on.
“Everybody’s into the mumble rap,” Gallardo said. “This is poetry. It comes from the heart, that’s exactly what it is.”
SonReal Set List
No Warm Up
Have a Nice Day
Can I Get a Witness
Everywhere We Go
Back to You