Chicago-based rapper and poet Fatimah Warner — better known as Noname — headlined a sold-out show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on Wednesday night. Backed by a full live band, Warned acted as a party host, breezing through songs from both her 2016 “Telephone” mixtape and her 2018 studio debut, “Room 25.”
The show began at 8 p.m. with an opening set from Elton, whose blend of hip-hop and neo-soul paired nicely with Noname’s musical aesthetic. By the time the artist had finished his performance after about 45 minutes, the venue was nearly full.
Elton was able to enjoy the kind of engaged audience that is rarely afforded to opening acts. With a lively atmosphere and enthusiastic crowd participation, he worked in songs from his “Elevated” and “Sun Shower” EPs. Between original material, he also fit in a capsule-sized cover of Andre 3000’s “Spread.” Sitting on the edge of the stage, near the end of his set, he foreshadowed the casual party vibe Noname would soon to bring to the venue.
Shortly after 9 p.m., the lights dimmed back down. A neon “Room 25” sign began to flash in the back of the stage. Noname’s live band — which featured a drummer, guitarist, bassist, keyboard player, and three back-up vocalists — walked on ahead of her. Warner took the stage soon after, with drink in hand.
She began her setlist with the opening track from her “Room 25” album, “Self.” The beat dropped out briefly so the audience could rap along with the song’s most memorable line: “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.”
Later on in the set, during a performance of “Song 31,” Warner stopped the band entirely to highlight her lyrics. “You guys know that I’m trying so hard to be clever,” she said to the crowd. She went back over her bars a few times so the audience could appreciate the complexity of her words: “Got a pack of wolves ready to damage a full moon / The only bitch actually rapping, it look like me now / Or meow, kitty just reimagined a freestyle.”
This whole demonstration was more of a joke, but Warner did display the type of lyrical talent that was worth paying close attention to. On stage, she combined a carefree attitude with sharp and calculated flows — very similar to the unique cadence found on both of her records.
Throughout the show, she made an effort to foster a candid interaction with the crowd. After asking if everyone had heard her latest song, she singled out a specific person in the crowd for a more personal response. She stopped once on the intro of another track to ask, “did y'all listen to ‘Telefone’ or not?” She started over, looking for more energy.
If Warner sounded anywhere near accusatory or demanding, it was all with good intentions; it felt as if Warner wanted the crowd to enjoy her music with a confidence level that matched her own.
With this attitude, the show eventually morphed into something closer to a party, with Warner filling the position of the warm and inviting host. The live band kept a tight beat on the jazzy Noname instrumentals. Audience members danced without inhibitions. Lights flashed with vibrant colors.
She brought her set to a finish with the song “no name.” The band carried out the rest of the track’s bright instrumental after Warner had already walked off stage. For a minute, it was unclear whether or not there would be an actual encore. Warner had already performed a sizeable chunk of her relatively small discography. The cheers from the audience for another song felt earnest, something beyond the usual concert ritual.
Warner came back out — alone — for one last song: an a capella version of “Shadow Man,” the final song on “Telefone.” It didn’t take long before the audience began to sing along; the tune was immediately recognizable. It was an intimate moment between Warner and her fans, a fitting summation of her entire performance. She then gave a humble thank you and brought the night of music to an end.