Chicago-based artists NNAMDÏ and Luke Titus played an intimate and energetic show at the McMenamins Spanish Ballroom.
At the end of each year, I tend to feel a sense of dread at the cavalcade of year-end album ranking lists. I should be excited to see what music my friends and the artists I follow enjoyed over the year, but I usually end up annoyed that I can’t seem to settle on a favorite of my own. I don’t want to have to rank the music I like, or to definitively say that one album was better than another.
I didn’t feel that way at the end of 2022 because one artist released an album that, for me, couldn’t compare to any others; that album was “Please Have A Seat” by NNAMDÏ.
“Please Have A Seat” has been playing on repeat in my headphones ever since its release in October 2022. The way that NNAMDÏ–the stage name of Chicago-based musician Nnamdi Ogbonnaya–is able to seamlessly blend elements of rock, hip hop, jazz and a nearly endless list of subgenres, captivates me. So when I saw that he was coming to Tacoma on his next tour, I couldn’t resist the chance to see one of my new favorite artists live for the first time.
The show was also my first time attending a show at the Spanish Ballroom within the McMenamins Elks Temple in Downtown Tacoma. After asking a helpful employee for directions (a tip for first-timers: if you don’t have time to explore the building’s labyrinthine interior before the show, you can take the outdoor stairs directly down to the Spanish Bar), I entered the ornate ballroom to discover small tables and chairs had been set up, giving the beautiful venue a chill, jazz club-like atmosphere.
This setup made it easy to relax and enjoy a beer while waiting for the opener, Luke Titus, to start playing. Other attendees were also ordering food, a neat feature of this being a McMenamins venue. It was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been at a music venue, but it left me wondering if this setup would awkwardly contrast NNAMDÏ’s usually high-energy music.
Luke Titus began playing promptly at 7 p.m. Leading the three-piece band from behind his drum kit, Titus and his bandmates entertained us with his eclectic brand of jazz fusion, tinged with pop and R&B sensibilities. While most of the songs they played were fully instrumental, Titus showed off his impressive falsetto on the songs “Blue,” “Pink” and “Gold.” His drumming talents were indisputable, and it was doubly impressive to watch him keep up his intricate, often asymmetrical drum beats while singing.
Titus’s bandmates were equally as talented: the bassist and the keyboardist worked together to create ethereal soundscapes that simultaneously soothed and excited me. This band’s energetic unity provided the perfect tone to prepare us for the headlining act.
An hour later, the moment had arrived for NNAMDÏ to take the stage. To my relief, most of the audience rose from their seats and rushed to the space between the tables and stage. This was the right choice to make, as most NNAMDÏ songs are impossible not to dance along to.
I wasn’t surprised at all to see Titus, as well as the bassist who had played with him, return to the stage. They were both more than proficient enough to bring the sophisticated rhythms of NNAMDÏ’s music to a live setting. Joined by a skilled, sunglasses-clad guitarist, with NNAMDÏ also intermittently picking up a guitar, this quartet impressed me with their ability to stay true to the recorded tracks while incorporating new elements into them.
Although the Spanish Ballroom has a 700-person capacity, the smaller audience made the show feel incredibly intimate. NNAMDÏ bantered with us between some songs, asking the audience for examples of fake swears before “Smartass” (“big stinker” and “crap” were the best the group could come up with) and stories about getting ghosted before “Benched” (one audience member recounted a date’s flimsy excuse for leaving: “I need to go buy a Christmas tree”). He tumbled down from the stage into the audience a couple times, leading us in a call-and-response sing/scream-along for the motivational anthem “Dedication.” It might have felt like a DIY punk basement show if not for the grandiose setting.
After gracing us with nearly every track from “Please Have A Seat”–even “Sudafed,” a bonus track from the recently released deluxe edition–NNAMDÏ and his band wrapped up the show with a selection of tracks from his 2020 release, “BRAT.” They closed with the fittingly epic “Perfect In My Mind.”
Witnessing artists like NNAMDÏ and Luke Titus live confirmed to me something that’s been on my mind the last couple of years: the future of music is in blending genres, not endlessly subdividing into new ones. It’s no wonder that Sooper Records, co-owned by Ogbonnaya, is known for being home to a diverse range of genres and artists. While some critics and listeners may struggle with trying to fit NNAMDÏ and artists like him into a box, I prefer to let the music speak for itself.