In his own words, Anderson .Paak “demands respect, is signed to Dr. Dre, plays drums and sings, has no face tattoos, and got a nice smile.” There’s a lot to unpack there but it’s a pretty succinct, self-aware summation of one of the more dynamic artists of the moment. .Paak’s been a standout since he first played an integral role on his mentor’s 2015 comeback album Compton, then showcasing his own wide variety of talents on 2016’s Malibu, the album that launched his career to the masses. Now, he’s embarking on the aptly named Best Teef in the Game Tour that strolled through The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory on Wednesday night in support of his latest work Ventura.
In interviews leading up to this tour, .Paak has eagerly mentioned how excited he was to finally have a big budget for this run of shows, and from the jump, the reason was clear: A huge platform sat in the rear of the stage with risers for his full backing band, singers included. Before .Paak made his debut on the stage, pyrotechnics flared up several times because why not? Shortly after, and to the tune of “Hearts Don’t Stand A Chance,” he made his debut atop the platform where his drum kit was lifted from an elevator shaft. Even from such great heights .Paak’s million-dollar smile gleamed from behind a row of cymbals and toms. It was an electric start to what would be a high-energy set. Impressive enough that we’ll forgive his keyboardist for accidentally thinking he was in Houston, which .Paak quickly corrected.
Early on it was clear that .Paak would be pulling from his entire discography quickly, hopping back and forth between tracks from Oxnard (“Saviers Road”) to Malibu (“Come Down”) then on to Ventura (“King James”). At a high-level view, .Paak’s discography is a grand balance of the old and new, incorporating classic R&B, soul and blues with contemporary hip-hop and rap spoken with an infectious enthusiasm. Each album dives a little deeper into one or the other aspect of that sound, but it’s the all-around versatility that is so impressive. The work can be a perfect soundtrack to a road trip or summer pool party, but at the same time it’s so socially aware and personal that it’s just as perfect for solitary rumination, “6 Summers” and “The Dreamer” serving as perfect examples.
There was hardly a dull moment during his headlining, sold-out set. Even breaks in song were accompanied by laser shows, and if that weren’t enough to keep the crowd engaged, .Paak took it upon himself to get up close and personal with most everyone. He casually took a stroll through the venue with his wireless mic, making his way to the seated portion of The Pavilion to the delight of those fans who grooved along with him.
All in all, it just seems like Anderson .Paak does everything right. He doesn’t cut corners and is constantly thinking of ways to keep things fresh. It shows in his live act, and it’s heard in his catalog. He never reinvents the wheel, but he certainly keeps it rolling. His method is particularly inspirational, because .Paak has risen from humble beginnings by always being ready to capitalize on his opportunities. Even before Dr. Dre plucked him from the underground Stones Throw Records label, he had two releases under his belt in the same vein of what we hear today. Even while working with Dr. Dre on Compton, he said he wasn’t sure anyone would hear his contributions. After all, that was an album Dre had been working on and delaying for years. But when it was released .Paak realized how often he appeared on the work. He capitalized on the moment by releasing Malibu and truly launching his career. It pays to be ready.
Anderson .Paak’s story should be inspiring to any creative waiting for their moment. He started like anyone else, making music in his bedroom and working odd jobs until things popped off. After years of putting in the work, he’s finally in a position where he can fully actualize his dreams. With the show he put on last night, it’s intriguing to imagine where he’ll go from here as his budgets increase. His albums are getting grander and grander, with bigger and bigger features each time. His performances are becoming flashy and showstopping. It really makes you wonder what all artists would create if they had the means.
With all the success and growth, .Paak isn’t hesitant to pay it forward. Intermittently throughout the show he shouted out his band members, highlighting their individual projects and their new collective work as The Free Nationals, who have an album releasing this week. To close the show he took time out to honor his friend Mac Miller, who passed away last year, with a touching tribute. He’s rotating an impressive cast of openers like Earl Sweatshirt, NoName, Jessie Reyez, with Thundercat and Mac DeMarco opening the Dallas show, offering an awesome trifecta of performances from unique talents. .Paak really set the summer concerts bar pretty high, which we can all respect.
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