“The little things I need to save my soul” —Noname, “Yesterday”
In 2016, Noname graced the stage of Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, New York with a drink in hand and nerves abound. She told us she had never done anything like this before, headlining a show for a hungry crowd. On the Pigeons and Planes No Ceilings ticket with the likes of theMIND, Topaz Jones, and Kemba, Noname stood on stage and slowly peeled back the layers of her tension, ever-so overcoming being a victim to her anxiety. Her smiles were endearing, her joy breaking through here and there, and her shock, most of all, permeated the set. “My smile?” she asked gleefully as we recited the lyrics of “Yesterday.” In 2016, Fatimah could not believe the reception, often wide-eyed as the crowd shouted back every word of her precious Telefone. She got it right on Room 25, Telefone saved lives.
Hours before the show, I caught a glimpse of Noname getting ready for her headlining New York performance. A major sentence for an upcoming artist if there ever was one. From the street, I saw her in the front room of Baby’s pacing back and forth, either talking to herself or practicing her set, or some similar alternative. To me, this was her most humanizing moment. She was more Fatimah than Noname, more so than in any song or interview. The accidental intimacy of the moment has stayed with me and colored every showing Noname has had in the past two years. Which is why I jumped at the chance to see Noname live once more, to see how pacing-Fatimah has fared in the past two years and change. Spoiler: very well.
The Noname that hit the stage for her sold-out show at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer was unrecognizable in the best way. Essentially sprinting onto the stage to the opening notes of “Self,” Noname began moving the crowd as if she were rocking an arena show. Flashing lights and impeccable live instrumentation amplified how lithe and eccentric Fatimah really is. We aren’t pacing around anymore. There was no fear emanating from her as she took the crowd into her playful hands. No, there was only a supreme lust for the moment, a lust for living and breathing each breath with unprecedented glee.
If Room 25 was joy personified, then Noname live is the physical manifestation of happiness. Watching her move on stage and command the crowd, I come to realize that all these years later, Noname has become possessed by the very happiness she so often remarks upon in her music. Across Telefone and Room 25, Noname finds herself always in search of peace and reprieve. Yet, on stage, Noname is an agent of her own comfort and delight. Ours, too. She was so captivating a performer, that when the lights were down, there was not a single phone screen lit up in the standing room. The quiet storm that is Fatimah in person held us in her orbit. There was nowhere we would rather have been than in the eye of her set.
No more talk of Noname only spitting lullaby baby raps. Her spirit and music come alive on stage, with the crowd often roaring over her microphone. A strong performer, the show was truly carried by the sheer amount of fun Noname herself was having. We’ve come a long way from the stiff delivery of her 2016 act. In the years since, Noname has grown into her own in every conceivable way, which is why when she announces “I'm sorry, ya’ll, I'm really silly,” after skipping around the stage and taking us on a tour of her band, we can’t help but fall ever-deeper in love. The way she leaps across the stage for “Montego Bae,” but tightens up and preaches with her whole soul for “Don’t Forget About Me” suggests that she will be doing this rap thing for a very long time.
“I put out some new shit, I don’t know if anybody heard it,” Noname says of her newest single, “Song 31,” which is less than two weeks old at the time of the concert. Again, the crowd erupts. “Okay, she heard it!” Noname jests, pointing at the balcony. As she sang of selling pain for profit, the venue moved in time with her. Not a single word was missed, and considering the speed at which music moves, for a brand new song to sink in so is only a testament to how deep the connection is between Noname and her fans.
More exciting than that, perhaps, is Noname has tapped into an even deeper connection with herself. On stage, she has never sounded more secure. At the onset of “Ace,” taking over Smino’s intro, Noname jumps and shouts out “Blokes!” with the most celebratory and childlike essence holding her up. In 2016 she sang “I wish I was a kid again,” on “Yesterday,” and in 2019, Noname got her wish and then some. As a commanding silhouette bathed in blue light, Noname performed “Window,” and lifted the crowd as if she were delivering a holy sermon. She may lament that no one is holy on “Prayer Song,” but she is clearly forgetting about herself.
As she bounces back to selections off Telefone, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of pride and excitement. Her spirit is radiant and moving the music, instead of the music overshadowing her on the stage. “Diddy Bop” sounds fresh and energized. “Yesterday,” the highlight of her 2016 show, brings with it an unprecedented warmth and cheer. As opposed to her No Ceilings show, here Noname is alive with the glory of her work. She bounces and bounds up and down the stage, prompting us to sing along while spooling out a long-lost sense of wonder packed into every classic verse. Noname makes us happy to be alive.
When it came time to announce her final song, the crowd wailed. To which Fatimah replied, “Y'all silly as fuck.” It was a linking moment. She is silly, and we are so silly, and Room 25 has some difficult moments, but it’s so okay to laugh and live life in spite of our pain. That is the lesson of Noname’s discography, after all. Before performing “noname,” she returns to 2016 and admits she did not expect Room 25 to resonate like this. She is grateful and so are we, and then the bass comes in.
She lets the band play her off stage, after an hour of taking us to heaven once only known to Fatimah. Of course, “Noname, Noname” chants fill the venue and under the flicker of her Room 25 light, she returns to the stage to tell us: “I shall oblige to the rules of the encore.” Cheeky as ever, Noname takes a bow and performs “Shadow Man.” By this point, it’s been decided, everyone. Play Noname at my funeral.
The fear of performing such intimate and tender music live is self-evident. No one wants a downer of a show. We come to concerts to escape, not to dive deeper into the doldrums. With her Room 25 tour, Noname turned healing into a ribaldrous good time. She turned tenderness into a two-stepping trapeze act, how she worked the stage. She made the process of trauma and the pursuit of catharsis into a damn party. She made sure we left the venue knowing that she is a superstar. Noname is made of happiness, and she will live forever. Title concert: Noname, thank you for your sweet Room 25, it saves lives.