Jhené Aiko: What an invitation to her intimate #30DaysInLA show feels like
Big Sean, Chris Brown, and Vince Staples surprise and support.
LOS ANGELES—A silk-robed Jhené Aiko brought her living room to the stage at Hollywood’s Avalon last night and it could’ve looked just like your own Monday night—couches, drinks, and friends abound—had it not been for, you know, the harp player and cellist that sat among the dozen homies; a drummer, guitarist and piano player in the mix, too. This was all in effort for Aiko to pull off an admitted “Unplugged thing” for her fans at her Red Bull #30DaysInLA show: “No tracks, just musicians.” And for a singer that’s consistently ahead of the pack in the world of mesmerizing Chill&B, the uniquely intimate setup felt unforced.
Opening with the slow-moving, piano-led “New Balance,” Aiko paused mid-song to give a genuinely and comically polite “Hi” to an audience member waving their hands at her like a castaway trying to signal a plane. The sultry, drum-and-synth-heavy (and aptly-titled) “Living Room Flow” followed and, despite it being the first time she’d performed the song live, she clenched her fists, bent her arms, and pumped both hips into them to punctuate the line: “I just wanna fuck.”
So, yeah. I mean, her lyrics should be proof enough, but if not for you yet: don’t let Aiko’s diminutive figure, steady smirk, or distinctively gentle vocals fool you; she is consistently a no-holds-barred artist.
After all, “Speaking of sex…” was her next segue. And an appropriate one as it invited her other-half (in both love and their TWENTY88 collaborative duo) Big Sean to the stage for their joint tracks, “Deja Vu” (where they swayed and played off one another with nearly heart-shaped eyes) and “On The Way” (where the crowd filled in the blanks when the couple fell short; the line ”Pussy poppin’ on the way,” unsurprisingly, appearing to be a favorite).
The repetition Aiko gave specially-singled out lyrics on the acoustically-plucky song-for-the-scorned “Comfort Inn Freestyle,” the comparatively bright and encouraging Thundercat-produced “W.A.Y.S.,” and fellow Souled Out cut “Eternal Sunshine” gave us a long-awaited chance to hear vibrato and runs from a voice not necessarily known for being adventurous. And she was back to being her relatable ‘round-the-way self on the welcomed mid-tempo beat of “Bed Peace” (“Did they allow you to bring weed in here?”); “WTH” (which, save for maybe the hauntingly powerful cello solo the crowd got to witness, she admitted to initially writing after being “fucking shitfaced out of my mind”); and “Drunk Texting” (during which Chris Brown came out and surprised the crowd, but not before she made the audience promise not to engage in the titular act).
New single “Maniac,” radio hit “The Worst,” and “Space Jam” (a song for her “Day Ones” that called for lighters from us and bongos from her band) closed the show, cementing Aiko’s status as a frontrunner in soulful songwriting and underrated artistry.
(Also, acclaim aside, hearing her jaw-dropping line from “Post To Be”—you know the one—crooned sincerely was just a gem).