At Melbourne’s Forum Theatre on Friday evening, fans waded through AFL and Rugby goers to squeeze into a line to see one of the most exciting and adored rappers of 2018. Fresh off the release of her stellar album Room 25, Noname has a string of shows in Australia in addition to her spot in Listen Out festival line-ups.
Colette’s DJ set, as the fans filtered through was a great starting point for the atmosphere, with a nice mix of some house and rap music dispersed throughout – Yaeji’s ‘raingirl’ was a crowd favourite, keeping the energy high right towards the end of the short set.
Opening duties were handed to Genesis Owusu, a Canberra native who delivers a beautiful blend of R&B and Hip Hop that is both textured and unique. The set was unique to say the least; Genesis brought out 4 ski-mask clad men in military gear, while he was draped in utility belts – like an R&B militia. He kicked off his set with the more high intensity facets of his catalogue, which got the crowd of 20-somethings moving and shaking, instantly winning them over with his captivating delivery and stage presence. ‘Drive Slow’ was a very early highlight, as the more hollow and blunt percussive elements translated well live, ringing throughout the theatre. The repetition of the refrain ‘drive slow’ felt like a throwback to 90’s hip hop, fittingly met with aggressive head nodding and swaying by the crowd.
His utility-geared goons ran in and out throughout the set, adding an element of suspense as to when they would come out yelling again – ‘Void’ was a perfect instance of this, after a short lull and some crowd work, they returned all guns blazing and completely caught the crowd off guard.
Genesis broke up the tempo of the set with a number of stylistic changes and breaks to talk to fans, which felt much more personal than many opening sets. With his presence and performance, the Canberra rising star has definitely cemented himself some new fans, and reminded those who follow him of his raw talent and passion for his art.
‘Goondocks/ Cbr Zoo 2′ felt like a triumphant celebration of his home-city, with the wild instrumental acting as the perfect backdrop for the immense amount of activity and movement onstage. Owusu closed with ‘Sideways’, a single released earlier this year, that is much more down tempo than many of his more rap-centric tracks. The song is gorgeous, showcasing his vocal talent and ability to simply flow over such a fluid instrumental while still communicating great insights into separation and parting ways with someone.
At the conclusion of the opening set, the crowd was well and truly primed for Noname to perform. Along with a band consisting of some excellent backup vocals, a bass and lead guitar, drums, and a keyboard, Noname walked onto the stage of The Forum Theatre to cheers and revelry. ‘Diddy Bop’ came on early, with her slick delivery only growing more and more fluid in her live performance – jumping on and off beat accentuating her exceptional writing and flows. In between songs, her crowd engagement was charming and further developed the intimate feeling of the show established by Genesis Owusu. At one stage, she was orchestrating some ad-libs from concert goers, but after some difficulties in timing exclaimed ‘how did y’all invent colonialism but can’t get this right!?’, well and truly winning over the crowd with some playful sledging, a true fixture of Australian music culture.
Fans were treated to an unreleased song that wasn’t put onto her most recent release Room 25, as it didn’t make the cut. As my review of the album reflected, it’s an incredible project, and this unreleased track definitely wouldn’t be a throwaway for many artists, but Noname’s quality meant that the beautiful, soulful banger she performed wasn’t up to par with her high standards for her art.
The gifts for fans didn’t stop here, as Noname performed her verse off Mick Jenkins’ ‘Comfortable’ off his The Water[s] tape from 2012, stating it would be the last time it would be performed by her. It was great to have such a strong throwback to the indie Chicago scene, as the quality of artists such as Mick, Saba, Joey Purp and Chance the Rapper has only risen even more meteorically.
“Yesterday”’s live rendition was a large highlight too, with a large instrumental section devoted to solos from each band member that made the instrumental feel even more alive, as fans jumped and danced to some incredible improvised instrumentation, before the song’s conclusion.
Noname stated that due to her perfectionistic tendencies she didn’t want to perform too many tracks from Room 25 as she wanted the performances to be of a really high standard, but luckily, the crowd managed to get a beautiful performance of ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, one of the best tracks off the recent project. The sombre tone of the song was lifted by the live instrumentation and supporting vocals, feeling even more immersive and expressive than the studio cut.
To close, ‘Shadow Man’ seemed like the only logical conclusion to the set – one of Noname’s most iconic and well-loved songs. She shifted across the stage with her rapid fire delivery, highlighting different sections of the crowd to keep everybody’s focus locked on her – a true masterclass in stage presence.
Overall, this was an exceptional show. Despite only a small amount of new material performed, Noname’s renditions her older songs were beautiful, and were done an incredible amount of justice live. And the night was only made better by the inclusion of Genesis Owusu, with many of his tracks really being brought to life by his animated and energetic demeanour.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Room 25 is out now. Noname has kicked off her Australian tour with this show in Melbourne on 21/9
Fri 21 Sept – Melbourne – The Forum w/ Genesis Owusu + Colette
Sat 22 Sept – Melbourne – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Sun 23 Sept – Perth – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Tues 25 Sept – Sydney – Metro Theatre w/ Genesis Owusu + Flex Mami
Sat 29 Sept – Sydney – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Sun 30 Sept – Brisbane – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder from her November 2017 Melbourne show.