Written By | Nathan Washington
On an otherwise quiet Tuesday night in the Melbourne CBD, fans are queued up around the block surrounding 170 Russell, preparing themselves for a night of smooth, funky and energetic tunes from Jamaican-born American R&B artist Masego. Currently on the Laneway Festival circuit, this is his sole headline show in Melbourne while on tour, and the night ahead is looking to be a massive one with a quickly sold out crowd to show for it.
Opening for the show tonight is Sydney local Milan Ring, not only an upcoming R&B artist herself but also a self-proclaimed producer, guitarist and rapper, all of which will be on show throughout her set tonight. Starting off, Milan gives the audience a taste of some dreamy vocals, bathed in blue neon light and playing her synth, before launching into a barrage of tracks featuring bluesy guitar licks, layered instrumentation and room-shaking bass. She’s an impressive one-person act and knows how to work the crowd too, talking to the audience in between songs about her start as a producer and discovering instrument looping, a topic she uses as a lead-in to her song Stack It Up, drawing cheers from the crowd as she adds layer upon layer of harmonised vocals before kicking in a heavy bass and drum support. Sparkling guitar solos feature in more than a few tracks, demonstrating more of Milan’s impressive musical ability all around, and by the time her set wraps up she has made more than a few new fans out of the crowd, departing to a massive round of applause from the already wall-to-wall audience.
In between sets, the stage is prepared for Masego, and this is the crowd’s first clue that tonight will not be your typical R&B performance, with two saxophones set up as well as multiple keyboards, synths, bass, guitar and drums. As the lights dim, one of the saxes is taken off stage, quickly emerging again in Masego’s hands as he walks out to screams from the audience, with backing singers and the rest of his band in tow. Greeting the fans’ screams with a smooth saxophone line in response, the show is underway, and immediately the crowd is moving, super funky basslines and tight drums providing the perfect backing for Masego’s strong voice as he starts to sing.
The 25-year old artist, born in Kingston, Jamaica, commands an immediate stage presence through his unique combination of multi-instrumental talent and smooth, high-pitched vocals, seamlessly switching between keys, saxophone and voice and bouncing around all areas of the stage singing to all different sections of the crowd. The band is incredibly tight, filling 170 Russell with a wall of powerful sound, drums and bass keeping the performance in check while synths dazzle and the two backing vocalists give stunning performances of their own. The dynamics are wonderful too, with all of the band members stopping on a dime for moments of silence only to launch into a barrage of smooth dance music once more, getting both the crowd and performers dancing and grooving.
Masego himself, however, is unquestionably the highlight and centre of attention, and rightfully so, between getting the crowd involved, leading the band masterfully and even delivering the crowd live beat-making sessions on the spot with looped drum pads, synth, vocals and saxophone all featuring. In the second of these beat-making moments, he tells the audience he needs a break from performing to hydrate, and proceeds to build a backing track for himself to drink water while playing, asking the crowd to scream as loudly as they can every time he takes a sip, a ridiculous yet wildly entertaining sight. On this same beat, he then gets each member of the band to solo, turning from an endearing fan moment to a severe showcase of skill, with each musician playing their hearts out to the devoted and admiring crowd, a seamless transition that encapsulates how good the set has been at balancing between audience engagement and pure musical talent.
After this, Masego is back on the saxophone, getting fans into a frenzy once more while playing a smooth solo, and the intensity grows as his keys player picks up another sax. The two musicians trade fours with each other, a jazz tradition, spontaneously adding onto each other’s riffs and then soloing wildly together, before Masego returns to centre stage and demonstrates more silky vocals, the crowd dancing wildly as the band finishes off the set triumphantly, funky bassline and drums booming through the speakers. Masego departs from stage with goodbyes to the audience, but is not off stage for more than 30 seconds before re-emerging to the thunderous chants of “One more song!”and sending fans into meltdown with a killer live rendition of his 2017 hit single Navajo, a clear audience favourite quickly becoming a singalong with Masego himself sometimes getting drowned out by the might of the crowd, a fitting way to end a spectacular night of performances.
Fans turned out in full force at 170 Russell for their chance to see Masego live tonight, and were not disappointed, with a wild night consisting of a great opening set from Sydney up-and-comer Milan Ring before Masego himself brought the house down with a killer performance from him and his band. Milan will definitely be one to watch, with a growing presence on Triple J Unearthed sure to pick up more momentum in 2019, while fans will be looking forward to Masego’s next release after last year’s debut album, whatever that next music may be. Masego is finishing off his Australian appearances with Laneway Festival before heading back to America for the massive III Points Festival in Miami, in a lineup alongside big names like A$AP Rocky and James Blake, where he’ll be sure to give crowds another memorable performance.