Noname / Elton Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, March 12

Noname / Elton Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, March 12
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
Noname's music is full of mourning, over loss of family and black lives, particularly black women. Yet she showed a sold-out crowd at the Commodore Ballroom last night that she is full of life.
Fellow Chicagoan rapper Elton opened the show with a band whose grooves and precision called to mind Anderson .Paak. Their rhythms swung close to the Brazilian jazz that tinges Kali Uchis's Isolation. With infectious charisma, Elton had the audience clapping their hands, snapping their fingers, and singing at the top of their lungs. He even succeeded in encouraging them to turn to each other and say, "I love you."
Noname's band were also deft — maybe too deft. Her guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and three backup singers were overpowering; they ended up burying her vocals. This was particularly unfortunate because Noname is a poet first. In unobstructed, elastic flows, she stacks syllables like a game of Tetris with a perfect score.
But even during the night's quietest moments, like "Sunny Duet," her soft voice failed to rise over the volume of the band. What did translate well, though, were the criticism and optimism in Noname's music. She took point-blank aim at racial politics on the drum & bass-studded "Blaxploitation" and later the hypnotic low-end jam "Prayer Song." She navigated through heartbreak on the chill "Self" and airy "Window."
No matter the topic, though, Noname approaches it with shocking reserve. Over the course of two albums, 2016's Telefone and last year's Room 25, she has found herself in a good place, in her personal and professional lives. Songs like "Blaxploitation" and "Prayer Song" are songs of resilience; in that way, they are songs in which listeners can revel.
A purely joyous mood fell over the Commodore as Noname celebrated herself on "no name." On "Ace," she shouted out the success of her hometown friends, like Saba and Smino, who feature on the album version of the track. Noname was less hype than Elton, but she didn't need to try as hard. A little shoulder shuffling, a few reserved "come on" hand gestures, and, of course, the music were all fans needed to sing more than she did. (She frequently let her microphone hang at her side as she smiled and nodded along to the chorus of fans.)
Noname performed for shy of an hour. She also left "Yesterday," one of her most popular songs, off the set list. Despite these choices, her vibes were so positive, fans hugged each other on their way out. Unlike Elton encouraging them to say "I love you" to each other, no prompt was necessary.