Review: Noname showed she’s ready for big things at Danforth Music Hall


NONAME at Danforth Music Hall, Thursday, January 3. Rating: NNNN

Shortly into her headlining set at Danforth Music Hall, Noname asked the audience if she could perform new music, prefacing it with a warning that she might mess up the lyrics. Her request was heartily approved, and the Chicago rapper got halfway through her recently released single Song 31 before stopping her band. Joking that she was out of shape, she completed the dexterous second verse flawlessly after the crowd spurred her on.

That moment of humility felt apt for Fatimah Warner, whose discography frequently finds the 27-year-old exploring her vulnerabilities. On last year’s sophomore album, Room 25 – which dominated critics’ best-of 2018 lists – she levelled up her songwriting and candidly detailed life events, including a move to Los Angeles and the end of an intense romantic relationship. Over cosmic jazz and neo-soul production, the rapper, reared in Chicago’s fertile poetry community, also tackled macro-level topics including gentrification and police brutality without coming across as sanctimonious.

Following shows at the Phoenix in 2017 and Field Trip 2018, Noname’s return to Toronto on a cold January night was eagerly anticipated, with the sold-out crowd chanting her name before she’d even stepped out. While the venues on her 2019 tour may no longer be intimate, her 45-minute set proved she’s plenty capable of captivating large rooms.

Backdropped by a neon “Room 25” sign and carnivalesque lights, she skipped across the stage with playful swagger, drinking wine and cracking quips. A four-piece band gave the funky Montego Bae and the braggadocious, soulful Ace additional punch, while three backing vocalists contributed gospel vibes and filled in for Noname’s many collaborators.

Leaning heavily on material from Room 25, she rounded out her set with a handful of cuts from 2016’s Telefone (the mellow Bye Bye Baby received one of the biggest singalongs of the night), and her scene-stealing turns on Smino’s Amphetamine and Mick Jenkins’s Comfortable. Although she seemed slightly taken aback by the crowd’s lack of movement (chalk it up to the cold or post-holidays sluggishness perhaps), she had irresistible energy, and after announcing that the last song would be followed by her post-show ritual of drinking more wine and checking Twitter, her fans roused themselves to bring her back for an encore.

She chose Shadow Man, a somber reflection on spirituality and mortality that name-checks fellow Chicagoan (and college dropout) Kanye West. It’s too early to tell if she’ll reach his stadium heights, but only a fool would bet against her.

@nowtoronto | @Max_Mertens



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