Written by Ronny Kerr
Supported by soul singer Malia and Compton rapper Buddy, The Internet’s frontwoman Syd is spending a couple weeks touring the west coast in support of her new solo EP, Always Never Home. Here are impressions of the show at the Grand Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Wednesday, November 29.
A quarter to 10, Malia took the stage. My first thought: “Isn’t it a bit bold for an emerging artist to attempt to claim that single name?” But I didn’t get carried away into speculating as to what kind of sounds we’d hear from solo artist Ivanka in 2021. Instead, I let myself be seduced by the sexy, soulful, easy sound of two electric guitars—and Malia’s voice.
Originally from the suburbs of Seattle but now based in LA, Malia makes soul music. Her recordings come complete with drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, but onstage at the Regency it was just her and another guitarist. Electric guitars sound naked without a rhythm section, but Malia thickened the sound with looping effects while the other guitarist added frills and wah-wahs in the background. More than anything, her voice and presence filled the air.
She ended her five-song set with the new track “Simple Things”, but her biggest crowd pleaser was a cover of Daniel Caesar’s “Get You”. The short, sweet set may have been the best part of the night.
Minutes after Malia, Buddy took over. Day and night. While Malia was all soft, smooth, feminine soul music, Buddy was rapturously masculine hip hop. He did his best to hype up the crowd, stomping back and forth across the stage while his DJ laid down the beats.
“SF has the best weed of the tour,” declared Buddy. “Who’s got a light?”
Clouds of smoke billowed through the ballroom as the Compton rapper belted out his tribute to weed, and the ceremony wasn’t complete until—you guessed it—they played the quintessential Nate Dogg sample. (Also no surprise: Wiz Khalifa features on Buddy’s new EP, Magnolia.)
“Somebody call an ambulance!” a voice shouted.
Buddy had long since ended his set, and in the half hour or so while we waited for Syd to come out, a girl fainted. Just dropped to the floor. Deadweight. We expect this at ravey shows that bring the little kids out with bags of "molly," but at an R&B show?
The girl regained consciousness, thankfully, and walked out with a friend’s help. Everyone else relaxed. Suddenly I looked around and realized almost everyone was making out. Heterosexuals, lesbians, men, women, whatever—hands clawed through hair, tongues wagged toward tongues. (It’s just an observation: I’m not going to be the guy complaining about a high concentration of PDAs.)
At last, with no fanfare whatsoever, somebody dropped a beat and Syd stepped out singing. The stage may have been the most minimal I’d ever seen. It was just Syd and a white curtain illuminated purple and blue. No instruments, no props, no nothing. Just the artist, a microphone, and a room full of adoring fans.
And for her entire set, it was all love. Simple beats and big soul permeated every song. One she dedicated to the “independent woman,” while another went out to the “entrepreneurs.” That last one spoke dear to Syd’s heart. In San Francisco the term usually means “tech bro,” but Syd made it clear that she was referring to people like herself who struggle for their art, struggle through the insecurities, and never imagine they would find themselves owning the stage in a packed venue the size of the Grand Regency.
Serious credit to Syd: in 2015 her band The Internet dropped Ego Death, one of the best albums of the year. And at the beginning of 2017 the band’s tour served to showcase not just what they create as a whole but also what each member is capable of individually. Matt Martians, Patrick Paige II, Steve Lacy, Chris Smith—each of these guys has since released great solo work, and one can’t help but imagine that Syd is the little sun powering The Internet’s solar system.
But if you didn’t know all that, it would have been easy to get bored at Wednesday night’s show. The most obvious example? Syd knew singing “Girl” (one of the biggest singles from Ego Death) would light up the crowd, but the actual performance deflated any potential for fireworks. The DJ backstage pressed play and the song started playing. It literally sounded like the LP version. Onstage Syd coolly sung along to studio Syd. Or she let the crowd sing. It was just a big ballroom version of karaoke.
Still, if anyone else minded, I could hardly tell. The only possible signs? After dancing through much of the set, everyone in the right balcony sat down. And you could hear tons of distracted conversations murmuring above Syd’s relatively low volume performance.
All that aside, the room swelled with love. Syd let everyone know that she had insecurities about her career, but she's maturing and gaining confidence. Spreading her wings, as the metaphor goes. Here’s to hoping she returns with live instruments the next time she flies through town.