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Jhené Aiko Burned a Fan's Ex on the Phone at Skyway Theatre

Jhené Aiko at her sultry best.

Jhené Aiko at her sultry best.

Jhené Aiko 
with SZA and The Internet 
Skyway Theatre, Minneapolis
Sunday, December 21, 2014

Jhené Aiko teamed up with like-minded R&B performers SZA and the Internet for her Enter the Void Tour, which completed its run Sunday at the Skyway Theatre. Each artist shared a general vibe, comprised of a female lead and a live backing band. Each of them brought distinct approaches.
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Though every group had a fairly traditional funk band setup -- featuring live bass, drums, guitar, and keys backing up the frontwoman -- the Internet felt the closest to the standards of old, evoking a neo-soul vibe versus the wavey trap sounds of the other groups on the bill. Still fairly left-leaning, Syd the Kid played the downturned, unlikely lead singer who carried a fairly soft-spoken voice across a number of tempo-jumping tunes.

The group carried a certain subtlety that made them unique, but there were certain songs where Syd couldn't quite hit the range she was aiming for. The absence of "She DGAF" was notable as one of the group's best and most in-your-face, but the smoke songs came off fairly strong. The songwriting and attitude was a profound note to start on, and it hinted at the heights the show would reach later.

SZA may have been the evening's highlight, carrying a rare, carefree energy to the stage that brought vibrant new life to her material. Wearing booty shorts and an Iron Maiden T-shirt, she belted her songs and danced along as though she was singing by herself in her bedroom, removing any self-seriousness in favor of playful joy.

While every touring artist makes some half-hearted allusion to how glad they are to be in whatever city it is they're in currently, SZA was genuinely excited about returning to Minneapolis. She cited the creative energy in the air during her appearance at P.O.S.'s Best Fucking Show Ever as the direct inspiration for her latest single "Sobriety," which she recorded in Minneapolis after TDE's Punch sent out a tweet inquiring about studios in the area where she could lay down a track. As she played the song in its birthplace, it transformed from intriguing Soundcloud fodder to exceptional live R&B.

SZA was having an unprecedented amount of fun on stage, and the crowd in turn let their inhibitions down to meet her at her level. She flipped her long, flowing hair, twerked, and bounded about the stage as she sang, stopping to giggle at her own dance moves on occasion. At one point she transitioned from her own "Pray" into O.T. Genasis's "CoCo" ("I had to, that's my favorite song") turning up as though she were a fan rather than on center stage.

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After an overlong interim period during which the audience went from anticipatory to impatient to upset, Jhené Aiko finally met with her band onstage (who had been standing, ready to play, for several minutes) after being led by a stage manager to a seating place of pillows. The stage setup was full of fake candles and other light fixtures, bathed in purple light and fog to emit a smoky lounge vibe that suited the material.

Dressed in a billowing top and a bow, Jhené finally set off the night with "Limbo Limbo Limbo," lulling the audience into the downtempo melodic framework that defined most of the set. She has a fairly profound singing voice live, amplifying her tones into big vocal center points without ever getting histrionic or shrill. The songs become more dynamic in the live setting, thanks in large part to the band that brings the production to new heights. She ran through a number of older tracks and material from her recent debut album Souled Out, keeping the tone smooth and the vibe electric.

The soul singer liked to engage with the audience, pointing out people's wardrobes or dance moves that she appreciated in leading people in singing particular parts of songs. At one point, to introduce "Lyin King," she asked that everyone dial "the fuckest of the fuckboys" in their lives and to put them on speakerphone to be personally called out by Jhené Aiko herself, borrowing one fan's phone to sing directly to whomever had done them wrong. While she found the space to loosen, she also found songs like "Comfort Inn Ending" and "W.A.Y.S." to get serious and add some extra weight to the song's themes by extending herself vocally.

She has a fluid style that's suited to heavy tracks or lighthearted ones, switching between recalling the last tweet of her late brother who passed from cancer to encouraging that the audience blow their weed at her. She mentioned that she'd been touring since she was 13, and it stood to reason that she had the ease of a natural. She thanked supporters for helping her to earn three Grammy nominations, sincerely returning the love that the crowd gave her throughout the night. Ending on her biggest hit "The Worst," she let the audience sing the stuttering chorus initially before launching into her well-lauded rap and an especially impactful closing croon.

When she left the stage, the audience turned around and left in droves though her band remained to solo out the final few measures. Despite the unnecessarily tense between set periods, the show was profoundly solid from front to back and made an undeniable impression on local R&B fans.

Personal Bias: I can find this brand of spacy contemporary R&B a bit lackluster at times, but the live energy added a lot.

The Crowd: Diverse mix of music fans, excitable and knew many of the words.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Jhené, hurry up with your fine ass!"

Random Notebook Dump: The opening DJ seemed fairly preoccupied with shouting out the birthday of no one in particular. 

Setlist:

Limbo Limbo Limbo
To Love & Die
Spotless MInd
Mirrors
Bed Piece
Lyin King
Higher
Vapors
Do Better Blues
Stay Ready (What A Life)
Comfort Inn Ending
Stranger
Eternal Sunshine
W.A.Y.S.
Drunk Texting
3:16 AM
The Pressure
From Time
The Worst

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