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Amaarae at the Theater of Living Arts | The Triangle
Arts & Entertainment

Amaarae at the Theater of Living Arts

Photo by Jack Baranoski | The Triangle

“Philly, are you ready to party?” asked Amaarae as she stepped out onto the stage at the Theater of Living Arts. For all intents and purposes, it was a standard evening at the South Street establishment. There was the usual jug of water and cups by the entrance, the 15-year-old manning the merch stand and the tech crew smoking the hookah as they worked the lights. However, there was a different type of energy in the building that night.

“I’m ready to shake some ass tonight,” stated one fan. When asked why they enjoyed Amaarae’s music, another fan put it quite simply: “I like to dance,” she answered. This is a start towards understanding her sound, but trying to explain it is not easy. “If you wanted to compartmentalize it,” began one fan, “it would be like futuristic afrobeats, but so much other shit too.” What is included in this “other shit?” Any genre or style of music one could possibly think of. In last year’s critically lauded Fountain Baby, Amaarae seamlessly transitions from R&B to pop, then from rock to afrobeats to soul to so much more, oftentimes touching on several genres within the same track. Without listening to the music this doesn’t mean too much, but as one fan put it best, that night she was “trying to get crunk, but in a graceful way.” So to answer Amaarae’s question, they were 100% ready to party, and they proved that right off the bat.

Amaarae kicked off the show with Fountain Baby’s first full track, “Angels in Tibet.” This starts with slow, mysterious vocals, which played as she walked on stage, then transformed into an intense, dance funk number that got the crowd jumping up and down, throwing their arms to the heavy-hitting drums. They kept dancing throughout the entire show, even as Amaarae switched from R&B and afrobeats-style songs to a heavily rock-influenced rendition of “Counterfeit,” another cut off the record. She then dances along to a guitar solo, before going right into rapping the final verse of the song. 

At one point in the show, Amaarae took a rare break from singing and dancing to speak to the audience. She recounts an interaction she had with an employee backstage before the show. After seeing her dressed in her on-stage outfit, the employee told Amaarae that it “looks like [she’s] going to war,” and asked her “what [she was] fighting for.”

“I’m fighting for love,” Amaarae told the audience. This resulted in thunderous applause and cheering from the entire crowd, which at this point stretched back beyond the merch stand. She then broke into a slower, more intimate version of the track “Reckless and Sweet.” Despite the change in pace, the audience didn’t stop dancing, rather jumping into a different, yet equally energetic, method of movement. Two by two, nearly every member of the audience began to grind on each other. Men on men, women on women, a guy on someone in a George Washington costume? Needless to say, it was an interesting crowd that night, but one that certainly matched Amaarae’s unique and powerful energy. This energy lasted from the time people started lining up outside through the show’s final song. As Amaarae concluded with an encore performance of her breakout hit “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY,” the audience continued to dance as if the show had just begun, and they were going to be there all night. Two male audience members were especially into the show, dancing with each other in a variety of ways from beginning to end. “It was great,” answered one of them when asked about the performance. “I think a lot of straight people had a queer awakening tonight.” Whether this statement is true or not remains inconclusive, but regardless of that, there is no doubt that Amaarae put on quite the show. Whether it be just her natural, powerful presence, her dancing from beginning to end, or the genre-bending musical clinic that she put on, the show is one that will be hard to forget, yet at the same time nearly impossible to put into words. This is because Amaarae and everything about her lack a clear, cut and dry description, something a lot of her fans seem to relate to. So then how does one explain the performance? It seems as though Amaarae did this best in yet another speech, when she proclaimed to the crowd, “Tonight we are wild. Tonight we are sexy. Tonight we are free.”