Live Review: Anderson .Paak celebrates birthday early with The Free Nationals and a sold out Melbourne crowd

Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals would have been one of the only drawcards of this year’s Laneway Festival for me, with Malibu easily coming in as one of my favourite records of 2016. Thankfully, I was one of the few (well, one of almost 2000) who managed to secure a spot inside Melbourne’s 170 Russell on Wednesday night to see the group perform. The show sold out in five minutes and with no second show or venue upgrade on offer to satiate those who missed out, there was definite an appreciative air in the club.

Emerging at 9pm, shades on, Paak encouraged the crowd to get arms up in the air from the jump, as he and The Free Nationals opened the set with crowd favourite, “Come Down”. As we’d learn shortly after, Paak’s 32nd birthday would be rung in at midnight so this Melbourne show was going to be extra special. He didn’t disappoint either, when it came to bringing a high energy show anyone would want at their birthday party, should they be celebrating in this bombastic way.

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals

The set list was Malibu heavy – as expected – but also dipped into the underrated Venice album, as well as the NxWorries catalogue, drawing “Suede” and “Lyk Dis” out of Yes Lawd! for trots out on stage. While the tail end of the set burst with the club/dance heavy beats of “Luh You” and “Lite Weight”, the build up to this point was considered and incredibly well-delivered.

Obviously, Paak’s skill as a rapper and drummer is an instant winner, but the way The Free Nationals come into play and hold their own is testament to how good their overall band dynamic has become over the last few years of touring and recording. Kelsey Gonzales and Jose Rios provide a double threat on guitar and bass, while Ron Tnava Avant held things down with flair on keys up back. It’s always a treat to be at a hip hop or R&B show with live instrumentation and when you’ve got jams breaking out as we saw during this show, it just takes the overall quality of the gig up tenfold.

Moments of slowed down groove (“The Bird”, “The Season/Carry Me”) were coupled with sexed up hits of R&B (“I Miss That Whip”, “Milk + Honey”), ensuring the crowd had ample opportunity to sway, twerk, grind – all of the above. Each lyric was sung back with force; another great feeling being at a show like this. People weren’t here just to get drunk and check in on social media, everyone was here to be affected by this music and the way the band reacted off that energy was proof that there was a solid engagement here.

2018 is still in its infancy but this show is definitely already holding a good spot at the top of my list for live shows of the year.

ANDERSON .PAAK & THE FREE NATIONALS SET LIST

Come Down
The Waters
Milk & Honey
Glowed Up
The Season/Carry Me
Put Me Thru
Heart Don’t Stand a Chance
Get Bigger/Dang!
Lyk Dis
Room In Here
The Bird
Silicon Valley/I Miss That Whip
Suede
Am I Wrong
Lite Weight
Luh You
The Dreamer

The reviewer attended this show on February 7th.

Photos by Michelle Grace Hunder.