Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals put on eclectic, enthusiastic show

R&B / hip-hop group concluded SpringFest activities with spectacular concert


With a quick look around the crowd, it was rare to find anyone not dancing or enjoying the music.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

For anyone who didn’t get to experience the wonderful event that was Friday’s SpringFest, here’s a quick depiction of what went down — a cloudless blue sky, arguably the best weather of the semester and an abundance of good eats and activities. These pleasant elements set the scene for the festival’s main event — Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals’ nighttime concert. Held at the Amphitheatre, .Paak and crew had an exciting and wonderful charisma, making for an excellent conclusion to the University Programs Council’s event. 

As The Free Nationals came out on stage, the crowd was immediately greeted by .Paak’s intoxicating energy and happiness. The band has a knack for creating funky yet moving tracks, and the set bounced straight into “Come Down,” a crowd favorite. Accompanied by his pump-up DJ Callum Connor, .Paak wandered up and down the stage, encouraging all parts of the crowd to get their arms up in the air and bump to the music. 

While the setlist was heavily filled with tracks from his 2016 release “Malibu,” the Free Nationals would occasionally dip into tracks from 2014’s “Venice,” as well as some of .Paak’s side projects and features. “Suede” from his side project NxWorries was a hit with the crowd, offering a soothing tune that really expressed .Paak’s soul. This was one of the many tracks where .Paak manned the drums and illustrated his sheer talent as a musician.

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals have certainly had a successful last year. Aside from touring the world in length, the band has been featured everywhere, from Coachella to an iconic Tiny Desk Concert at NPR to soundtracking the newest Apple advertisement. Back in February, the band unofficially announced their debut album, expected to come out in the summer of this year. 

The Free Nationals became affiliated with .Paak almost nine years ago, when guitarist Jose Rios started playing with him, and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez coming to join three years later. DJ and backing vocalist Callum Connor helped in mixing and producing .Paak’s 2015 release “Venice.” Keyboardist Ron Tnava Avant would also join soon after, and together they formed the group that plays together today.

.Paak’s ability as both a rapper and drummer is without question an impressive feat, but the way the Free Nationals came to play and illustrate their own individual talent was a great indicator for how good the band’s overall dynamic has become over the last few years of touring. Guitarist Rios had plenty of charming guitar solos — namely his fun, jazzy noodling in “The Bird” — as did bassist Gonzalez, whose improvisations on basslines were downright fantastic. But in their live rendition of “Lite Weight,” keyboardist and backing vocalist Avant stole the show with his autotuned solo and keyboard freestyle. Avant’s face full of pure happiness indicated that The Free Nationals were having just as much fun with their performance as the crowd was.

Another notable aspect of the show was The Free Nationals’ ability to diversify their setlist. Moments of slowed-down groove in songs like “The Bird” and “The Season / Carry Me” were coupled with intimate R&B hits like “Luh You” and “The Dreamer,” ensuring the crowd with an ability to sway, jump and bump to the music. .Paak sang each line with such intimacy and care, releasing his fervor and dedication to making this show an enjoyable experience for all.

Though the atmosphere of the show was definitely different than a typical show for .Paak & The Free Nationals, mostly due to the fact that it was a free show for all students in an open amphitheater, this didn’t seem to affect the overall outcome of the show. With a quick look around the crowd, it was rare to find anyone not dancing or enjoying the music. .Paak and company without a doubt brought soul and energy to SpringFest, finishing the night with a wonderfully memorable performance for every kind of fan.

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