By Meggie Gates
Huntington Pavilion has yet to fill up as Canadian songwriter Jessie Reyez pours her heart out on stage. Gates open at 6PM and devoted crowd goers sprint from 9-5 jobs to join people already staked out in the front row, waiting for a night filled with musical legends. As Reyez opens the four-hour concert, her music bleeds in to the sky. Words of poetry head to the clouds as she prepares the audience for an emotional night. Looking up hungry for answers, the crowd grips the barricade. “What is life? what is love?” She coos softly. “What is everything?” Well-dressed adults look up in awe.
They hope some of those questions are answered tonight.
Silver Surfer sits a top Thundercat’s music stand waiting for the artist. Already, the night feels like an ode to my childhood. I loved Silver Surfer when I was younger because he was smart and funny. Arguably the most chaotic neutral of them all, Thundercat emulates his energy. “I’m your opener feel free to do a bunch of drugs during my set,” he says as he brandishes a smile accented by the piercing on his dimples. The sun is halfway down as he takes the stage, a brilliant orange ball burning a hole through the sky. Thundercat shakes his pink hair out, flaunts pink sunglasses, and begins. His body eclipsed by his signature six string bass.
Thundercat fills the space with holy music, the kind you find in a church with golden dome ceilings. Working his fingers over a complex set of chords, his music is incongruous from how you’d expect it to go. He takes traditional roots in jazz and twists them to his narrative, creating afrofunk you might find blasting through the halls of Eddie Murphey’s Haunted Mansion. “This one’s for the video gamers,” he says after a four-minute riff with pianist Dennis Hamm and drummer Justin Brown. A man nearby gets on his knees and for a minute, I’m convinced he’s praying. Turns out, he’s rolling a blunt.
The performers on the lineup are determined to enjoy their set with you. The tone translated through Thundercat noodling chords at his own leisure. This night exists for everyone to experience euphoria surrounding childhood. Julys captured by parents who bought Old Navy t-shirts in bulk. Now, everything is different. The sun barely rises before June and May is soaked in rain. If the weather rips the world apart tonight, at least we’ll dance in its ashes. An unspoken agreement the minute Godzilla gets mentioned.
The first time I saw Noname was Lollapalooza 2017, where the crowd was sizeable for an artist just off her first album. Brandishing a shirt that said “Nah”- Rosa Parks, she delivered the performance to a hot, sweaty crowd also pissed about the racial issues she brought up. With Room 25, her stage presence is still politically charged but it’s softer, viewed through the lens of a childlike wonder where the world is still good. “If you don’t know, I’m a very emotional rapper” she says after her backup singer hits the highest note I’ve ever heard. “Amen” echoes through the crowd like Whitney Houston singing from the heavens. “I’m a southern civilian Cinderella petty aesthetic,” she laughs.
I’m going to teach you the hook. I want to sing with you all,” she holds the mic to her before turning it on to the audience. “Yippee kay yippee kay yay with the no name,” airplanes fly overhead as the stadium seating behind me lights up blue and white. With Noname, it’s all about connection. The push and pull of a performer who wants to deliver to an audience who deserves it. She bounces from side to side like hopscotch and ends her set on Shadow Man. “How do you love me?” The song opens. “How do you remember me?” Every nerve in my body is electric. “Bless the Nightingale,” Goosebumps on my arm. “Darkness keeps you well.”
The crowd has thickened in the pit by the time Noname is done. There are rows of people behind general admission and stadium seating reaches the 300’s. The stage goes dark before trumpet player Maurice Brown comes out to announce it’s time. Fire sparks the stage red and Paak ascends from below, wearing a yellow hat and a pink and white striped jumpsuit adorned with sunglasses, despite it being night. “Chicago, do you believe?” He asks before fireworks proceed fan favorite Come Down.
I run in to Noname and Thundercat in the crowd, excited as everyone else to see Paak perform. “If they build a wall, let’s jump the fence,” the entire stage holds their hands to the sky and forms their fists in to guns, slowly lowering their arms as the enormous screen behind them shows King Kong graphics bleeding in to doctors wearing hazmat suits and green nukes falling over a desolate white backdrop. It’s a fun night as much as it is a message. “There’s money to make in a killing spree. That’s why he tryna start war on the Twitter feed,” Paak sings in 6 Summers, direct lyrics aimed at the president he calls dumb in Winners Circle.
The stage is sectioned off by three screens and every song tells a different story, switching between 3D tigers, space, and Lisa Frank cotton candy clouds. Everyone is on the same wave length and I feel unabashedly free. When my Uber driver asks if I was lonely, I say “only when he said Make It Better was for the lovers.” Truly, there was no way to feel alone. Paak made sure of it as he led a conga line twirling fans around to Reachin’ 2 Much. “Everyone put your phones to the sky. Get your flashlights out,” he demands between songs. I look behind me at the stadium and see stars. The kind I miss after being fully submerged in the city.
The smell of weed goes up 90% when Paak asks who still eat cereal at night to put their hands up. He leads the audience in a howl to the moon, and waves crash wash over three separate screens behind him as old polaroid’s of California pop up sporadically. He plays a long drum solo filmed overhead between the images of two strong black women, smiling in his new green bucket hat as the crowd collectively screams at how amazing a drummer he is. Each side of the stage lights up a different color before going completely white. It’s the end of his set and the beginning of an encore.
I want to stay wrapped in the memory of my childhood forever. The beginning always feels safer than the end and lately, that’s all I can think about. Endings. 2050. My sister sends a photo of my nephew after the concert and I consider Armageddon. Music stopping when the world does. As Paak’s sunglasses pan over the screen and through the lens, the entire crowd can be seen smiling and waving at the sky. I like to think there’s hope out there for our children to grow and sway to a rhythm that covers them like a warm blanket. It certainly feels that place could exist for them as the couple next to me holds each other closer. As the moon shines on Huntington Pavilion, promising another sun rise tomorrow.