Review: NNAMDÏ at Metro Celebrates Chicago’s Best

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya has been so deeply ingrained in the Chicago underground music scene for the past decade that it’s almost easier to list the bands he hasn’t been in. Did Nnamdi play drums in 2010s post-hardcore outfit Ittō? I swear he did, and I could look it up, but it’s almost more fitting of his local mythology to just say “Probably." I mean, it’s Nnamdi.” Nnamdi’s solo material (under the stylized name NNAMDÏ) is a crash course of eccentric contradictions. It is deeply, anthemically emotional while never taking itself too seriously; it is delicate and explosive, yet joyous and carefree. Attempting to characterize Nnamdi’s unique artistic voice with comparisons to other artists feels unfair to his multiplicity, but let’s just say there aren't a whole lot of musicians who can say their sound is reminiscent of both Young Thug and The Tera Melos.

This past Saturday Metro hosted the album release show for NNAMDÏ’s most recent record, Please Have A Seat, which was to be played in full. This album finds NNAMDÏ fully realizing his pop potential, while still reminding people of his underground rock routes. Though meticulously detailed, and at times very chaotic, Please Have A Seat makes for an incredibly breezy listen due to NNAMDÏ’s incredibly catchy hook-writing. There isn’t a single chorus on the project that doesn’t hit the ear with ease, and every track offers something drastically different. NNAMDÏ enlisted Chicago artists Moontype and Joshua Virtue (who is currently on tour with NNAMDÏ) as support.

Moontype inflects their infectious power-pop with hues of saccharine shoegaze and subtly snarled punk, creating infectious and vulnerable pop-rock. Their live set was enchanting and expansive while never sacrificing their rock edge or their pop smirk. Singer and guitarist Margaret McCarthy’s songwriting proved versatile and welcoming, starting off what would be an excellent evening.

Joshua Virtue’s self-produced, radically left-field art rap can be likened to taking LSD with the ghost of Old Dirty Bastard. It is recklessly experimental and avant-garde, while still being grimy enough to satisfy even the most pretentious hip-hop purists. On his most recent album RAMA, Virtue’s intentions feel like they’re less about making songs and more about reaching into a spiritual, cosmic ether and seeing what can be pulled out. The result is by far his most psychedelic release, both lyrically and sonically. The tracks off the record that were performed that evening were genuinely mind-bending. Joshua Virtue’s live setup was comprised of just him and his MPC, as he freaked the beats live and showed off his deep passion for his craft, rapping with a level of urgency that impacted every word. Tracks like “Armed Revolt Simulator” highlighted the ferocity with which Virtue is capable of rapping, while major throwback “Chrysanthemum” showcased Virtue’s melodic prowess. However, no song on the setlist was quite as moving as “Options (Feat. Audra Vidal),” which finds Virtue lamenting the familiar realities of anxiety with touchingly personal lyrics; “Can you explain anxiety attacks at 4am, cold shower, broke and tired, listening to Portishead.”

After his band took the stage, NNAMDÏ walked out wearing a bedazzled and airbrushed green jumpsuit (made by Izzi Vasquez) that perfectly encapsulates the bubble, goofy, and flamboyant personality that radiates off his music both on record and live. NNAMDÏ then proceeded to perform Please Have A Seat front-to-back, bouncing back an forth between playing rhythm guitar and acting as true front man, truly showing off the broad sonic net the album casts. Album singles “I Don’t Wanna Be Famous,” and “Touchdown,” find NNAMDÏ flexing his bouncy, pop-rap muscle, while “Anti” harkens back to the math rock world NNAMDÏ initially emerged from, and “Grounded,” and “Benched,” see the lead guitar playing ascend to soaring, stadium-rock places.

The most memorable performance of new material was definitely the sing-a-long friendly “Dedication,” in which NNAMDÏ jumped into the crowd and started a mosh pit, breaking the microphone in the process (or just unplugging something, I’m not sure). NNAMDÏ’s awkward grin while a Metro employee fixed whatever was broken evoked not an out of control rockstar destroying everything in his path, but rather a lovable rascal who was just having a bit too much fun. The pause in music was filled by a chair review conducted by NNAMDÏ, in which he praised the chair that was on stage (very on theme for an album titled Please Have A Seat). Album closer “Some Days” was appropriately climactic, as the closing refrain of “I’ll stick around for you,” was sang back by the crowd.

The set concluded with the three singles from NNAMDÏ’s previous record Brat, “Flowers To My Demons,” “Gimme Gimme,” and “Wasted,” followed by “Perfect In My Mind,” a rock-heavy relative deep cut from Brat that acted as an appropriate and exhilarating closer. While NNAMDÏ’s entire band was excellent, drummer Ryan The Person was particularly astonishing; holding down both a traditional kit and sample pad, while providing an exhaustively kinetic performance. Another highlight, which never fails to amaze, is NNAMDÏ’s voice. His ability to shift from subtle baritone to squeaky falsetto is a sight to behold, and his knack for vocal melody is as obvious as ever. The only real criticism I can find for the set is that it wasn’t longer. It wasn’t a short set, it clocked in at just over an hour, but it’s a testament to NNAMDÏ’s discography that he could’ve filled an entire other hour with songs I wanted to hear but didn’t get the chance to. NNAMDÏ has been one of the best Chicago has to offer for some time now, and I believe that with this most recent record, he will deservedly become a national household name.

Picture of the author
Aviv Hart