Tinashe fills House of Blues Chicago with Talent — Pizza FM

The career of pop star Tinashe has been one of ups and downs. Breaking through the public consciousness in 2014, and building up a following with a steady stream of albums, singles, and mixtapes, her discography is an impressive one. Since “2 On,” Tinashe has proved herself as a force to be reckoned with. She’s landed songwriting credits with a wide variety of artists, put out “nonstop bop[s],’ and maintained a firm creative and stylistic continuity after becoming an independent artist. I had the chance to see Tinashe a few weeks ago at House of Blues. I wasn’t there on press, but I wanted to share the experience with you as yet another gauge for concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first article in the series of five where I’ll discuss concert experience.

All the concerts attended as part of this series were held at indoor, small-size or mid-size venues. However, given both the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent events at Astroworld, it’s important to address concert safety in all concert coverage, regardless of venue size. Before attending any concert, small or large, know that your safety is most important, not only overall safety, but especially as it pertains to COVID-19 and crowd crush.

The Venue

On the weekend of September 24th, Tinashe performed to two sold-out crowds at House of Blues Chicago. What surprised me about the location is that Tinashe’s two-night run drew people from outside of the Chicagoland area. While waiting in line, I heard someone discuss how they took a three-hour drive up from Decatur to see this show, one of the two at House of Blues Chicago that weekend. Sure, they could have seen her in Urbana for Pygmalion (coincidentally, a friend going to that performance how I found out about Tinashe playing in Chicago just two days before attending myself), but to see Tinashe in Chicago to a sold-out crowd at this mid-size venue must have been worth it for the Decaturian. The line wrapped around the street corner and only kept getting longer as I entered the venue.

For those unfamiliar with House of Blues Chicago, the bars that supply the food and drinks surround a small stage with a floor area in front. There are three bars on the main floor, one on each side of the square-ish floor area that isn’t the stage. Above the floor area, a balcony area and boxes lines the walls as you look up to the high ceiling. The venue is on the smaller end of mid-sized, with a capacity of 1,400. I watched from the floor area, and given that the show was sold out, it’s more than understandable. However, it did make me nervous in light of House of Blues’ COVID-19 restrictions for the performance.

COVID-19

In terms of COVID-19 restrictions, the venue was a little relaxed. Patrons were required to wear masks, though they could be removed if eating or drinking. When entering the venue, masks both patrons and employees wore masks, largely without issue from what I could tell. Inside the venue, staff wore masks at all times, even stagehands.

A few minutes into the concert, though, mask requirements went noticeably unenforced. People without drinks kept their masks off for the performance, with no one to tell them to put them back on. Tinashe’s management hadn’t required that concertgoers provide proof of vaccination for entry, though this was one of the last performances at House of Blues Chicago to not require proof. House of Blues Chicago rules changed October 4th, requiring full COVID-19 vaccinations or a negative COVID-19 test result for entry.

I recognize that giving audiences and artist management teams time to adjust to the new requirements was an important step; however, Live Nation is large enough that they have the power to coordinate quicker transitions to vaccination requirements without floundering and potentially exposing audience members. I haven’t visited the venue since, but I hope that the attitudes around mask wearing within the venue have improved since implementing the vaccine/testing rules for entry. Funny enough, Tinashe even included a cheeky reference to COVID-19 in her visuals, with people ironically unmasked all the while.

Rei Ami

Usually, an opener is someone you have to sit through to see who you really want to. Going to the concert, I didn’t even realize there was an opener until I arrived at the venue. It was a pleasant shock, then, when Rei Ami brought her A-game to the House of Blues. Slowly popularity over the past few years, Rei Ami bounced around her recent repertoire with ease, confidence, and energy. Despite the relative surprise of Rei Ami performing, the audience loved it-in fact, I saw someone in the crowd text a friend “There’s an opener playing rn and she’s kinda lit.” I wasn’t aware of Korean-American rapper-singer’s music before this show, but she’s on my radar going forward.

As Rei Ami her set closer, her underground hit “ SNOWCONE”, she shouted “Who wants some fruit snacks, bitches?!” into the crowd and then proceeded to throw them into the audience ( something she’s amazingly done along the entire tour). With her infectious songs and her amazing energy, I won’t be surprised if she headlines shows of her own soon.

Tinashe

Whether you’re talking about Tinashe’s music, her dancing, even her social media presence: she is a talented professional, through and through. That talent certainly showed at the House of Blues performance:

Staging

The setup onstage for the 333 tour, and subsequently this show, was simple, yet effective. Upstage of the front, where the stage floor was exposed, there were three elevated platforms side-by-side. The outer two platforms had two levels, with the bottom levels housing the musicians and the top featuring dancers. There were three musicians, with the keyboardist and guitarist audience right and the drummer audience left. Tinashe occupied the middle platform, but frequently came upstage to perform at the edge with her dancers.

Despite the space restrictions, Tinashe used every available inch well. On a few separate occasions, the guitarist or Tinashe also climbed up to the second level of the outer platforms to perform. Tinashe even chair-danced under the main platform.

Dancers

Tinashe couldn’t have selected a better on-stage crew. The dancers, who’ve been with her for years, were just as precise and energetic in their movements as Tinashe herself. It was definitely a treat to see dancers at a smaller show, and Tinashe couldn’t have filled the space the two dancers occupied better.

Band

Accompanied by the two dancers, the band jams to “Worst in Me”

And the band-unbelievable! I’ve had many occasions where I listen back to a live performance of a song that doesn’t work as well live as it did in the studio. This wasn’t the case for the 333 Tour, where the band’s strong musicianship was key in achieving a high-quality live sound. Both the drummer and the keyboardist weren’t afraid to use samples-the keyboardist wasn’t afraid to play using sounds close to (or exactly) the synths used in the actual tracks, and the drummer had a drum pad beside his drum set. The guitarist filled the role of both rhythm and lead guitar: his sound meshed perfectly with the other two bandmates doing rhythm guitar, but he wasn’t afraid to stand out when the song needed that lead. All three bandmates very effectively prevented the set from falling flat. Watch the guitaring shredding to “X” here.

Setlist

With all those background pieces, the music had such an amazing opportunity to shine. As I mentioned before, Tinashe’s discography is extensive-and she made sure to utilize the full breadth of it. She wasn’t afraid to perform all her hits from the past near-decade: all the singles from 333 (“Pasadena”, “Bouncin”, and “Undo (Back to My Heart)”) were featured alongside singles from her 2014 album Aquarius and everything in between.

The set had virtually back-to-back music with far more quick transitions between songs than break. This fan compilation retweeted by Tinashe herself gives you an idea of how clean the set’s transitions were.

For those die-hard sweet T’s (Tinashe’s term for her fans), there were a few surprises in the set. A portion of the “Indigo Child” Interlude from Aquarius became a song transition. A costume change partway through became an opportunity for the band to jam to “Worst In Me” (her collaboration with Kaytranada). To top it off, Tinashe performed a bit of “Hopscotch (THEY. Remix)” instead of the album cut version. But the biggest surprise was having both “Bouncin’, Pt. 2” and “Bouncin’” in the set. “Bouncin’, Pt. 2” featured a chair dance in the space under the center platform from Tinashe, while “Bouncin” replicated some of the original choreography from the “Bouncin” music video, including a small trampoline portion. Watch Tinashe perform an excerpt of the music video choreography on a small trampoline here.

For the entire set the audience-they reacted. Singing along at full volume was more common than not amongst concertgoers that night. I kid you not, my ears rang so much after the performance because two dudes behind me screamed so much during the performance. But it was a good, happy ear-ringing that night and the next morning, a reminder of the good experience of that night (I do recommend wearing ear protection, though).

If you’re interested to see the full setlist, the setlist.fm post of her Philadelphia performance matches her Chicago set very closely.

Tinashe’s voice

Tinashe’s voice was amazingly spot-on even as she did the demanding dance routines for each track. In fact it was so strong that it deserves its own section here.

I’ve listened to Tinashe since “2 On” came out, and despite fluctuations in her popularity, it made sense as to why both her Chicago shows sold out. A through-line in all Tinashe’s music is her amazing voice, and it showed on that stage. Within the stylistic R&B/Pop space that she fills, the wide range in genre that space contains was no issue: Tinashe sang the laid-back tracks with as much laid-back energy as the her more hype songs.

Everyone’s ears were glued to her voice, singing along with fervor, cheering at high points & attentive at the low points. People were standing up in the opera boxes as Tinashe put on such a high energy show that it was almost a crime not to dance, smile, and sing along. That infectious energy wasn’t limited to the audience, either: I even caught the dancers and musicians mouthing the words at times.

All throughout, Tinashe sang each song so jaw-droopingly perfect. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her live singing was better than her already-amazing studio vocals. The qualities of a seasoned, veteran singer were all there: tempos were matched perfectly amongst Tinashe and the musicians, and her clean, clear voice soared above the instrumental backing without pitchiness. The set was demanding vocally, but Tinashe was hitting the lower end of her range in “Rascal (Superstar)” just as easily as the opening falsetto section of “Save Room For Us”. Tasteful embellishments were even sprinkled throughout.

It’s in moments like this, where someone’s voice is the force that brings a whole show together and propels it forward, that it’s clear why live performances are still worthwhile amidst a global pandemic.

Final Thoughts

Under normal circumstances, I’d recommend catching a glimpse of the tour before it ends. Unfortunately, Tinashe’s 333 Tour ended last month, though that doesn’t mean that she won’t have more in store. I left the concert more a Tinashe fan that when I came in. I bought a tour shirt on my way out, and the entire drive home I thought “wow, what a concert.”

If you get a chance to see Tinashe live sometime in the future, don’t pass it up—it’s well worth it.

Addendum

At concerts, I Shazam the pre-show music to remember what played. I thought that it might be good to include the songs that Shazam caught here:

Additionally, if you didn’t see Tinashe’s tour but were interested in her performance, she’s uploaded her 333 Tour performance from Moment House. It isn’t the same as it was live, but it’s still amazing:

Originally published at pizza.fm on November 10, 2021.

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Writer at Pizza FM, Media Consultant for Twocanoes Software, & Music Tech alumnus at UIUC (w/Spanish & Informatics Minors). Also a Songwriter/Sound Designer!

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