During Game 4 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinee Julius “Dr. J” Erving completed an impossible maneuver under the basket that made his body appear impervious to the laws of gravity. Some say the legendary Philadelphia 76ers small forward walked on air. For a split second, Erving became poetry in motion—a poem a mortal man could never write.
In his 1995 essay, The Heresy of Zone Defense, author and culture critic Dave Hickey shares his initial reaction to Dr. J’s display of superhuman athleticism. But instead of focusing solely on the feat itself, Hickey applauds the circumstance that allowed the improbable to transpire:
“Even Kareem, after the game, remarked that he would pay to see Doctor J make that play against someone else. Kareem’s remark clouds the issue, however, because the play was as much his as it was Erving’s, since it was Kareem’s perfect defense that made Erving’s instantaneous, pluperfect response to it both necessary and possible.” —Dave Hickey
Both Hickey’s quote and Erving’s timeless basketball highlight came to mind while attending Anderson .Paak’s Best Teef in the Game Tour on June 7 in Atlanta, Georgia. Although they exist in two different mediums, performing, by nature, is a physical expression. On stage, much like on the court, an artist's body must endure by becoming an instrument of entertainment. The version of Anderson .Paak who appeared on stage last Friday at State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park became that instrument.
Throughout his hour-plus set, the Oxnard-born rapper, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist appeared inexhaustible. On stage, he is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doing a graceful skyhook; Michael Jordan soaring from the free-throw line with his tongue out; Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis with ease. No, Anderson didn’t perform a flying reverse lay-up, but the 33-year-old maestro did showcase what makes a man appear superhuman.
Tenacity exists in his every action. Fatigue and exhaustion are never present. His mastery of the drums and live vocals likely required well over the standard 10,000 hours. Considering the endless toing and froing of his set, the rigorous athleticism Anderson displays makes every second more impressive.
Anderson was accompanied by his full band, The Free Nationals, and background vocalists, but there was no clustering. Every aspect of the staging seemed curated for a headlining arena tour. Instead of remaining stationed behind his drum set the entire night, Anderson would leave the top platform and make his presence felt across the layered stage. Considering the sizable, outdoor amphitheater, the platform was more playground than prison. Anderson never took this space on stage for granted; he created a refreshing juxtaposition of closeness and separation.
Throughout the night, Anderson’s movements remained fluid and unrestrained. He was spontaneous but concentrated. He sang, rapped, danced, and drummed without breathless panting or long, extended breaks. The show never ceased to be in motion. Not only did Anderson grace every corner of the stage, but he briefly entered the walkway that allowed members from the crowd to dance alongside him as he strolled around the circle. Eager fans left their seats to be closer to the man of the hour. His energy was contagious.
It’s no easy feat making a room with nearly 6,000 people feel acknowledged, but the diversity of his set list helps to spread a sense of fan-awareness. His catalog is prolific, filled with records that age like expensive wine. “Suede,” a standout selection from NxWorries 2016 album Yes Lawd!, didn’t sound dated alongside cuts from more recent albums Oxnard and Ventura.
Oxnard isn’t my favorite Anderson .Paak album, but there’s vitality to the live renditions that instantly increases their appeal. Alongside records like fan-favorite “Milk n’ Honey,” from 2014’s Venice, and “Glowed Up,” a collaboration with producer KAYTRANADA, the entire evening felt fresh and new.
Expert lighting and stage design added to that feeling, with Anderson pairing every record with an enticing visual language. There was a thoughtfulness to each moving piece of his performance that kept our attention.
By the second encore, every drum bang came unrequested; every note hit without a demand. Anderson appeared to be having the time of his life. He dedicated songs to the old players who drove Cadillacs before OutKast released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and to the young adults who still eat sugary cereal after midnight. Looking over the diversity of his crowd, I noted three generations of music fans who all arrived for the same reason: to groove.
Having seen the seasoned Cali native perform four different times at four different Atlanta venues, the Best Teef in the Game Tour stands out as Anderson's most impressive showing to date. From the immaculate weather and incredible stage design to The Free Nationals' exquisite live instrumentation and the evening's accompanying acts (Thundercat and Noname), the night was magical and memorable from beginning to end.
Anderson .Paak's performance doesn’t happen overnight. He is a testament of what an artist is capable of when years of hard work and preparation meet an incredible opportunity.
Staying on the road year after year requires more than a big hit or a giant co-sign. It requires building a catalog, cultivating a memorable live experience, and developing a mastery of athleticism. Underneath a half moon, 2,228 miles from Oxnard, Anderson .Paak showed Atlanta why the stage is his new home.
By Yoh, aka Best Yoh in the Game, aka @Yoh31