Anderson.Paak, Earl Sweatshirt & Thundercat 6.14.19

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words by Derek Miles (Miles Photography)
Photos by Charla Harvey Photography

“I’m gonna come dance with y’all!” Anderson Paak yelled into the mic as their set rose to a monolithic peak. He began to climb the stairs alongside Ship Rock, stage right. Surely he must be slowing down after striding beyond the 25th row right? Mind you, Paak is still rapping and singing the entire way up. “That’s got to be row 35 at least by now!” Having a performer come into the crowd is always a fun spectacle, yet it’s anything but new in the ‘ol bag of tricks. But Paak sent it all the way up to the 45th row without exhibiting a single sign of being winded. And he probably would have kept going if his wireless microphone’s range were longer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Thundercat, otherwise known as Stephen Bruner, launched the crowd into a frantic foray of furious jazz from beat one, whether we were ready for it or not (some clearly weren’t). It became apparent if it hadn’t been before, that Bruner’s time with The Suicidal Tendencies still played a relevant musical role in his live intensity. He plays the six string bass more voraciously than most guitar shredders, and with the harmonic complexity of the bebop/jazz fusion elite.

After blowing our minds for a solid fifteen minutes, the trio of virtuosic elevation slowed it down to the infectious, slinky funk of “Them Changes”, a standout track from Thundercat’s 2017 release, Drunk. Weaving in and out of the sections, Dennis Hamm and Justin Brown (keyboards and drums, respectively) really showed their dynamic capabilities here, beyond their obvious chops and technical prowess.

Not before long, the giant Thundercat symbol, shown like Batman’s signal on stage, faded as the three walked off to a boisterous roar from the crowd. A quick changeover occurred and Earl Sweatshirt kicked things into a different mode. He announced that he was just going to feel things out and freestyle for a bit while his dj, DJ Black Noise added the musical backdrop. The set was fairly slow paced. There were some nice ambient sections but their beat was nebulous and elusive. The crowd around me did not seem captivated or attentive much at all. But after Thundercat, it was a welcome cool down I suppose. There were some interesting video clips that accompanied the music on one of the LED panels behind them.

By the time Anderson Paak was to hit, the audience was riled and ready to go. The stage exploded with light as the massive LED panels fired up to their full luminosity and color. The whole band was on risers, an impressive scaffold built like a futuristic jungle temple with pyrotechnic canons at the base. A castle fit for King James, which was the title of the fourth song to come into the set. “Make it Better” put things into a smooth R&B groove while others were straight hip hop or even jazz at times.

The Free Nationals were a powerhouse, seamlessly transitioning through genres and songs that varied stylistically. Paak is uncompromisingly energetic and razor sharp with his confident swagger and musical direction. He was running all over Red Rocks, up and down the massive stage production, playing drums that would descend on a platform or rise up to rejoin his band mates after free styling and showcasing his moves on the front lines of the stage. Two encores to end the show and you could tell he still had more to give. This tour is dubbed as the “Best Teef in the Game Tour”, and while Anderson Paak has some nice chompers, I’d say best energy in the game. It’s like he has everything to prove, not to others, but to himself, to see how much he can actually do. And while he is doing this, he simultaneously succeeds.

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