When it was announced back in February that both Mac Demarco and Thundercat would be joining the bill for Anderson .Paak ’s headlining slot at Revention Music Center, the reaction of many was likely that of confusion. Given the hip-hop-leaning style of .Paak, the slacker-rock image of Demarco, and the jazz fusion play of Thundercat, it may seem that each occupy disparate corners of the music industry, and thus draw equally disparate fanbases. However, in today’s world of music consumption, where the barriers between artists and genres are rapidly deteriorating, such varying lineups are only becoming more and more frequent.
As most anyone at last night’s spectacle can attest to, this is a modern trend that all fans of music should get behind, because what last night brought to Houston was not only a showcase of some of today’s most intriguing artists, but further an opportunity for many in the audience to step outside the bounds of their musical comfort zone, and experience something new.
Kicking things off, Thundercat presented a sense of musicianship rarely seen on a stage the size of Revention’s. Son of renowned jazz drummer Ronald Bruner Sr., the virtuosic bass guru (and vocalist) showed his jazz chops throughout his half-hour set, inexplicably ripping bass runs with the speed and finesse of a lead guitarist (which explains his use of a six-string bass).
What makes Thundercat’s music so unique, however, is his way of modernizing these jazz sounds by blending in flavors of hip-hop and funk with each track. This fusion was especially noticeable when his set culminated with “Them Changes,” a hard-hitting gem from his critically-acclaimed 2017 release, Drunk. As for any 7:30 p.m. opener, much of the crowd was shuffling in during the set. Unfazed, Thundercat and his talented trio took it in stride, challenging everyone in the room with their extremely high-level of musicality.
By the time that Thundercat and his band exited the stage, it became clear that many in attendance were there for Mac Demarco. Since entering the indie-rock realm in 2012 as the relatable party-loving prankster, the intrigue around Demarco’s persona (and style) has grown at a ferocious pace, earning a devoted cult following of blog-consuming youths that are sure to show up for anything Demarco-related. The downside of course being that many often overlook his proficiency as a musician, and instead come for a meme-worthy video to post to Snapchat (as was the case during his 2017 stop at Revention). Yet, that isn’t to say that he doesn’t bring much of this on himself, as any given live show of his can (and likely will) include an assortment of booze-driven antics, from lighting his chest on fire to stripping down completely.
To the delight of many long-time fans of Demarco's, Tuesday night’s set more so focused on Mac Demarco the artist than it did the meme. With a catalog that includes more than five impressive full-length albums, the now-29-year-old Demarco performed a fairly no frills set that touched on the entirety of his career.
With early synth-driven tunes like “On The Level,” Demarco and his band to eased the crowd into their mellow play by relying on the offbeat style of Demarco’s showmanship when left with just a mike in hand. However, it’s when Demarco picked up his guitar where he showed just how much he and his band have developed over the years. With older fan-favorites like “Salad Days” and “Freaking Out The Neighborhood,” the band launched into their token surfer feel, which was aided by extended jams between the long-time touring members.
Given that Demarco’s fifth full-length, Here Comes The Cowboy, was released just last month, Houston became one of the first to see these tracks presented on the live stage. Due to the sparse feel of the album, it was uncertain whether these tracks would hold their own in such a big room (much of which was filled with an unfamiliar audience). Yet, by relying on his voice as opposed to falling back on his humor (as he might have in the past), Demarco effectively brought songs like “Nobody” to life, ultimately making for some of the higher points of his night.
Though some in attendance were visibly confused by Demarco’s set (as they likely didn’t expect to begin their night with a shirtless front-man screaming his way through a chill-wave closer like “Chamber of Reflection”), he was mostly well-received by all, and clearly earned the respect and applause of many Anderson .Paak fans who normally would have never crossed paths with his unique brand of music.
Immediately following Demarco's captivating set, it became apparent who the majority of Tuesday night’s sold-out crowd was there to see, as a sea of people began pushing closer to the front of the stage for Anderson .Paak.
The last time .Paak graced a Houston audience was in 2016 at the House of Blues, directly following the release of what would be his magnum opus, Malibu. All in attendance then knew very well that this was an artist destined for stardom. Yet, what those few likely couldn’t have predicted was just how quickly he would get there.
Since that time, .Paak has released two critically-adorned follow-ups (in Oxnard and Ventura), has become the next golden child of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment imprint, has earned a Grammy, and ultimately has asserted himself as one of the most exciting hip-hop/R&B artists around. With this success, .Paak has also earned himself the creative freedom for a far bigger live production. For an artist that relies so heavily on instrumentation (and playing behind his own drum kit), it was easy to worry that the growth of venue and stage might take away from the intimacy of .Paak’s music. However, as we all learned on Tuesday night, it doesn’t appear that anything is taking away from Anderson .Paak, as he and The Free Nationals were clearly up to the task.
After a crowd-enthralling horn solo from the newest member of his Free Nationals band (Maurice “Mobetta” Brown), .Paak kicked things off behind his hydraulically-lifted drum kit with “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” a potent offering from Malibu that perfectly displayed the Curtis Mayfield-like groove that can be found throughout his catalog. Then, coming down from elevated drum riser, .Paak proceeded to blow the roof off the place with “Come Down,” easily his most chanted song of the night.
Many recognize Anderson .Paak as the soul-driven/percussion-leaning artist he first became known to be thanks to the likes of YouTube. However, what was made evident throughout the night was just how much more he is capable of. With jams like “6 Summers” and “Glowed Up,” the smoothness of .Paak’s dancing ability was brought to the forefront as he effortlessly glided about the massive stage setup while simultaneously rapping with the prowess of his label-contemporary, Kendrick Lamar. Throw in the Motown-esq vocal performance of the Smokey Robinson-featured “Make It Better,” and it became easy to see why .Paak has risen in the ranks of entertainment so quickly.
For anybody still questioning .Paak’s status as a major-stage artist, any reservation was likely settled by the night’s encore. After nearly an hour and a half of energy-filled entertainment, .Paak proceeded to close the night with “Light Weight,” a Malibu rocker that further added to the variety of styles seen throughout the night, only to follow that with “Dang!”, a Mac Miller cover that .Paak appeared on before the tragic passing of Miller last September. With the crowd repetitively chanting the song’s ending chorus of “I can’t keep on losing you,” the screen then panned to a photo of .Paak with his late friend Mac Miller, making for a memorable end to an equally memorable night of live music in Houston.
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