Published Jan 05, 2019Noname hopped behind her beaming mouth and her bounding voice, her lips dodging every stutter and break. She darted right through the meticulous diction of "Self" to slow at its final word, "pussy," relishing the corpulence of articulation. She halted mid-"Blaxploitation" — "Wait wait wait" — to ask, "Montreal... what the fuck is up?" and, mischief bobbing in her eyes and a giggle burbling at her throat, "Are there any Telefone fans in the building?" She skipped over shrieks into classics "Diddy Bop," "Sunny Duet" and "Reality Check." "Montreal," she sang to us like a lullaby. She almost couldn't sing through her smile.
She held in some words to let us chant out, gasping encouragement like "Help me out with these backgrounds please." But it became clear that she actually needed us, that her throat was killing her and that every skim across a line was taking something out of her body. She bounced extra when her raw throat pin-balled all the way through a dense verse.
She needn't have asked for the help; it was there, holding her tight. Even her lights buzzed to surround her: 6x6 synchronous bulb-squares that flashed Amen's ("All the atheists in the backseat sing") and a giant American flag. Mostly they wiggled to the beat like some collective sentience. When she introduced the "beautiful people" in her band and the crowd didn't erupt enough, she was insistent: "Alright, so where I come from we show extra love." And "Hey," she said, "make some noise for yourself." We made it. We sent it right back. Face fissured, she grinned with every mouth in the crowd, her eyes big as spotlights.
The "fucked up shit going on in my throat" meant that Noname couldn't make it through her brand new "Song 31" (which she introduced with a sheepish "Has anybody heard it?"). She tried and yelped twice; she sent us to Spotify to listen later. But I'm pretty sure no one noticed an error on her tongue. Then came "Forever" and "Part of Me" — "PART" and "ME" blinking behind her — which rumbled and bulged and almost took us out. What finally obliterated us was "Bye Bye Baby"'s tender tsunami. "Ooh you know I hate goodbye... Bye bye blue, I'm gonna fall in love again."
After "No Name," our nameless darling slipped offstage. Her vocalists reiterated: "Your life is your life is your life / Don't let it pass you by" as Corona Theatre fell into darkness. We were all there without her, singing and screaming until she came back for an encore, the letters and lights heaven white. "Shadowman" imagines the celebration of her life: "When I die it's 27 rappers at my funeral / Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy." We already knew how it had felt with her gone. Here she was, singing to us from beyond some finality. "Drive safely. I love you," she called, only to vanish again, leaving us again to finish a song without her, her absence its own kind of love.