REVIEW: Anderson .Paak at Huntington Bank Pavilion

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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.   

Tara Terra Returns with a Bite On EP Couch Surfer, Lover

Tara Terra hits the ground running off their two-year hiatus. Lead singer Emily Blue released two solo EP albums, 69* and Another Angry Woman, outside the band during that time, showcasing abilities to flawlessly maneuver between indie-rock and synth pop. They were albums exploring the nuances of sexual liberation as a woman, compared to the indulgence of romance in Tara Terra’s music. Now, returning to her roots with the musical stylings of bassist Nick Soria, drummer Joey Buttlar, and guitarist Evan Opitz, Blue is once again ready to face heartache head on.

Blue busts the lock off a diary Tara Terra seemingly scattered throughout previous albums Where’s Your Light (2017) and Daughter (2014). It feels as if ‘couch surfer, lover’ is an EP Blue is finally letting her hair down in. Funny, considering the first track is called ‘hair down, for now.’ The song mirrors the fun, upbeat feeling of earlier songs like Don’t Call Me Darlin’ without such a heavy chorus. “Would you wait for me,” Blue asks as the drums and guitar slow down, “I want you to say it for me,” she addresses the subject, as if her fate is in their hands, before realizing the power of purpose is in hers. “Or do I need to let go? I need to let go,” she asks, the vocals overlaid in the second chorus, the chords upbeat and poppy, the kind you can’t help but shuffle your feet to as if a specific dance already existed.

Photo by Morgan Paije

Photo by Morgan Paije

The EP focuses on a strained romance between two people balancing their own emotional state made difficult by life on the road. Doing what’s right for yourself paralleled at the expense of another is introduced perfectly by Tara Terra’s thematic use of cheerful music. When the lyrics turn around to face how strong the narrator is, the words are so pronounced there’s no mistaking them. “I am a ray of fucking sunshine, so why won’t you let me in?” rings throughout ithaca, the band’s debut single. The song so beautifully overlays the loss of self in a relationship when you love someone so much:

“This would be heartache if I weren’t in it

This would be heartache

I could see the cracks in the floor if I weren’t sitting

Right on the part where it breaks”

The self-awareness of a fractured relationship hard to detach from carries throughout the record. The emotional rawness and intensity of ithaca bleeds in to the more subdued lions’ manes, a gut-wrenching punch to the stomach. Juxtaposed against the first half of the album, the song teases us with piano chords so soft and unexpected, it feels you’re seeing something you’re not supposed to. This is nothing new for Tara Terra, who often slow down albums to showcase talent. It’s the necessary lead in to a conclusion you know is coming, but aren’t ready for. Write My Name and Shades of Blue are two exceptional examples of this, but none split a story as effectively as lions’ manes does. A middle to a story exploring the wandering feeling of loss:

“And when we took a drive through my hometown,

I remembered the smell of the air

I think sometimes I get lost in the city

It gets colder quicker here”

Without a doubt, this lyric captures the entire essence of the EP, feeling so at home with someone else sharing the rug they’ve swept out from under you. The desire to build a home from rubble is a search that drives Tara Terra’s music towards love. Where hair down, for now and ithaca are the beginning half of a story that yearns, new york and couch surfer are the necessary revelation that comes with life. The answer to what happens when everyone takes from you and leaves nothing behind.

Opening with a melancholier start, new york gives pulse to a heart tired of pumping. The narrator finds themselves in a place they’ve never been before and realizes it’s not as scary as they initially thought. “I’m so afraid of the winter. Somehow, right now, I don’t mind.” The feeling is made stronger as the music grows more confident, starting off slow before allowing itself to grow in to a full out, rock ballad. “You’re so afraid of the future. Somehow, I’ve run out of answers,” Blue sings. The idea being that if they refuse to start, you never will.

The EP ends with couch surfer, arguably the most beautiful song on the album. It feels like this is the necessary conclusion Tara Terra has been searching for endlessly, not only on this EP, but on Where’s Your Light and Daughter as well. Blue often sings of heartache and loss connected to family ties, searching for love to make up for twisted roots, but here, Tara Terra finally finds reconciliation laid out in previous lyrics. Borrowed was one of their first songs reassuring the narrator they’ll be fine, but couch surfer is putting that in to practice. It’s throwing yourself in to the fire and stepping on the train that leads nowhere. The beauty of living is the fall and the catch. Falling in love and catching yourself after. Couch surfer, lover is about the pain of romance, yes, but it’s also about the pain of finding yourself. When you’re at the finish line helping others hobble over.

“Just let me hold your hand if it’s alright

Let me tell you how to make it alright

To be a lonely child”

The ins and outs of a relationship seem so desirable when you’re not in them. Sometimes they come so fast in the rearview mirror you don’t have time to process how close they are until they pound on your front door to remind you what pain and pleasure tastes like. Tara Terra captures this feeling so effervescently, Blue’s soft voice bursting at the seams, giving life to words flowing uncontrollably. Running without any destination in mind. ‘couch surfer, lover’ is the mixtape from high school that still aches to think about. It’s the road trip you imagined taking with a loved one before you decide to drive west without them. Cracks in the floor already existed, but now you’re at the part where they break.

Tara Terra will be showcasing their new record at Sleeping Village April 7th in Chicago, IL.