PND and the First Time

An artist’s first headlining tour is special. The crowd is stocked with “day-one” fans, the people who’ve been playing his mixtapes for a year plus, looking forward to the day when they can see their newfound fave in person. You can tell because every time the opening notes of another song come in, it’s like a collective thirst has been quenched. Everyone’s there for the same reason, united in excitement and suspense. (And there aren’t too many people just standing around, nodding idly like the cool kids they’re sure they are.) It’s up to the artist whether they’re ready for this particular crowd, or ultimately squander the crowd’s immense goodwill. In November, at the Boston stop of his sold-out tour, PartyNextDoor absolutely seized his moment.

The Canadian singer, probably best known for being the first signee to Drake’s OVO Sound label, gave a fan-pleasing performance at the Middle East. It was fitting that Party performed in a space typically associated with up-and-coming rappers – at times, it certainly felt much more like a rap show, with crowd hype levels much higher than your average R&B audience. It’s a reflection of the hybrid style championed by Drake and his protégés, and embraced by their young, diverse fan base.

The packed concert had an intimate feel: Party’s relative inexperience coupled with the tight venue forged a connection between artist and audience. It wasn’t that you felt he was singing only to you, but that you were all in it together. His confidence in his abilities was apparent in a vocal performance that matched his recordings, eschewing the backing track many artists disappointingly rely on. Instead, he relied on the enamored audience to serve that purpose, and our voice often overwhelmed his own. Later that night he tweeted that the concert was “PARTYNEXTDOOR feat. Boston type epic”.

The only disappointment was that we didn’t get enough. Although he showed up promptly at his set time, the performance only lasted a total of 45 minutes. Of course, he’s drawing from a small catalog, maybe only a couple dozen songs. But he performed shortened versions of almost all of them, not getting past the first or second verses. You could sense the disappointment in the way the crowd would continue singing each song before it was cut off prematurely. It might be that he underestimated the depth of his fans’ knowledge, and wanted to cover a wider variety of songs for those new to his catalogue. But this was not a crowd that needed any introduction.

PartyNextDoor connects with people because he hits a sweet spot. Although his start and sound draw comparisons to the Weeknd, he’s a different kind of performer. He’s softer, and his appeal lies in his accessibility, as opposed to his fellow Canadian’s well-crafted but deliberately unrelatable tales of excess. But he’s also a little rougher and less polished than Drake, in a way that makes his music in step with his youth. By specifically crafting his own lane, he avoids the pitfalls of such loaded comparisons.

The crowd reflected his sound – guys and girls enjoyed his music equally. A fan favorite moment was his performance of “FWU”, which he told the audience he wrote for his high school girlfriend. (Party is only 21 years old, so that isn’t actually that far off.) Though not a single, it’s clear that this song, where he alternates between cocky directness and surprising sweetness, was one that many held dear. The guys wanted to be like him, maybe found themselves in him, and the girls wanted to be with him (though only one was lucky enough to be called on stage during “Persion Rugs”). If he is able to maintain that balance, he can count on their devotion for years to come.

(A different version of this review was published here: https://hiphoparchive.org/blog/3156-concert-review-partynextdoor)

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