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Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals Spend New Year’s Eve In San Francisco [Review]

New Year’s Eve is typically already a frantic night in the Bay, a palpable nervous energy rises to the surface as people race around the city at a pace that seems out of place; this is a town and a region that hurries for nothing and hustles for nobody. With an hour-long line snaked around the SoMa corner, 1015 Folsom was the hottest ticket in town, on the biggest night of the year. Grammy-nominated Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals teamed up with Haitian phenom Kaytranada for a double-headline bill. Booking two artists of this current magnitude might have been a recipe for too much swag all in one room, and the gig proved to be an ambitious undertaking; challenging, frustrating, and exhilarating- in nearly every way imaginable.

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1015 seemed relatively unprepared for the onslaught of people and furious energy, stuffing everybody into an oversold club, the .Paak portion of the show was chock full of weekend warriors, rent-a-ragers, and infuriatingly stereotypical millenials. It seemed many were attending this incredible event more for a buzz than the bass, more focused on their Instagram than getting loose in the dancehall. New Year’s Eve always pulls this kind of crowd, even for events like Phish at MSG, but most of the time this type of fan is an exception, not the rule. As the Bay Area’s hippest (and most self-important) swarmed the venue, I’d guestimate the ratio 50/50 on New Years Eve. It made for a fair amount of confusion and comedy, conversely it was gratifying to see a few of these folks lose their minds during the performances too.

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Fighting our way through a sardine-stuffed floor level, traversing to the balcony, we were perched with an obstructed view and average sonics. Bay Area hip hop legend Kevvy Kev was getting the crowd warmed up with the classics. Per our custom, we made friends with our neighbors and declared our intentions: We Came To Dance. As far as space to boogie, we did the best we could with the hand we were dealt; the same could be said for Anderson .Paak, as disorganization onstage and repeated sound issues delayed his set til nearly the midnight hour. By the time The Free Nationals took to the stage, 1015 Folsom was like a powder keg, ready to burst at the first note.

.Paak finally stormed the spot at quarter til, and despite the technical difficulties that plagued them throughout, delivered the goods in force. Coming out of the gates with “Drugs” and “Milk and Honey,” two songs from his 2014 debut Venice, the man they used to call Breezy Lovejoy brought in 2017 with a panache and verve befitting a Grammy-nominated artist who doubles as the hottest thing in the streets.  Balloons ran amok from the rafters, ancient lovers reconnected, and .Paak steered the ship into the monster-jam “Come Down” (produced by Hi-Tek), its gurgling, reverberating bassline and mountain of mojo announcing the new year in a most grandiose, swaggadelic fashion.

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The remainder of the set was a frenzied, raucous affair, .Paak alternately rapping, singing, and playing the shit out of some drums. The dude was one thousand percent rock star, crooning sweet nothings while seated behind the kit, taking our minds to the tip of a cloud. The Free Nationals ran through his smattering of fantastic jams, featuring a who’s who of dope producers/writers/collaborators, from yesteryear to manana, and right today. “Lite Weight” (produced by Kaytranada)  was a torrid and sexy, disco-house/R&B freight train , “Am I Wrong” (produced by Pomo, who played in the basement against Kaytra in the main room) was .Paak as both black Jamiroquai and the hood Ric Flair, and “Waters” (Madlib) contained some of the illest future-boom-bap that’s ever been laid to wax. The only outright miss was a re-arrangement of “The Season/Carry Me”, which was played twice as fast, an obtuse performance almost punk in execution; one must respect the courage before knocking the rendition. .Paak’s songbook is a life-affirming ode to the polarity of his realities, to both beautiful and blasphemy, riding shotgun, blunt in hand, for his life journey; as the blazed-up everyman gleaning every last drop of cosmic slop from the code of the streets and between the sheets. An artist with intergalactic powers and two tons of game. This is a man destined for certain greatness, and while this performance was not the shape-shifting séance that was his power-hour at Suwannee Hulaween, we were treated to another glimpse just why his name will ring out in every direction for years to come.

People were somewhat lost after the magnum blast from this prodigal son of LA, and they wandered around the venue listlessly, if they could move at all. Thankfully, Kaytranada assumed the position in relatively short order, front and center on the wheels of steel. Blasting off with a personal favorite off his 99.9% album, “Track Uno”, Kaytranada had the audience in his grip from jumpstreet. From that moment on, he dove into an apparently bottomless crate of smash after smash, seamless transitions from song to the next. Breaking out an arsenal of tracks he has produced for others, remixes, as well as a hefty slab of original cuts, the most impressive aspect of Kaytranada’s live DJ set was that he mixed everything on the fly.  This Haitian revelation (by way of Montreal) is a humble cat, he made sure to keep the lights on the party as he played in long shadows. If you looked up from dancing, you might peep him grooving and moving, while he was putting in work like a mad professor in the lab.

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The intense, overcrowded and bro-tastic vibes that permeated the room during .Paak’s set were replaced with a feeling of togetherness. This was most noticeable by the many dance circles that broke out across the club once the crowd thinned a smidgen. While there were a fair amount of people intoxicated, more people appeared to be getting high on big vibes and Kaytra beat-science. Aiding the psychedelic atmospherics were projection-mapped images rotating behind Kaytranada, mostly showing wavy images of cannabis, sunshine rays, muscular women in swimsuits, and moving images of his album cover.

Playing an extended hourplus set,  Kaytranada dropped a bananas remix of Rihanna‘s “Kiss it Better” which sent the crowd into a complete dithers. Taking her provocative vocals and a more uptempo groove, it was almost as if he was showing out – as he’d already committed murder on the decks, and proven enough with crazy drops into titanic cuts like “Together“, “One Too Many“, and the .Paak assisted “Glowed Up.” After unleashing his relentless repertoire on an audience now drenched in sweat and champagne, Kaytranada fittingly shut it down proper with the remix that catapulted him into the mainstream cultural zeitgeist and made him the darling of the Pitchfork contingent, Janet Jackson’s scintillating come-on “If”. From start to finish, Kaytranada made sure every last person in that room was a part of the Rhythm Nation. Furious styles broke out in the club, as dancers playfully taunted their partners, and lovers rocked the dancehall with a salacious verve that proved infectious.

Photography- David Markun

Words: B. Getz