Gallery > Performances > 2016 > 20160407 – Crystal Ballroom by Henry Cromett (+9 UHQ photos)
Tinashe never wants to play Crystal Ballroom again. Not that she has anything against Portland’s springiest midsized theater in particular. It just seems like she doesn’t want to play any midsized theater again. Watching her put on what was essentially a scaled-down arena show last Thursday night—fit with wardrobe changes, an LED screen and mild pyro—it’s clear the 23-year-old singer, dancer and former actress has much grander ambitions in mind. She’s played big stages before, opening for Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. Now, she wants them for herself.
The potential is there, but it’s going to take some adjustments. To this point, she’s made her name on billowing, late-night R&B—songs that slink in the shadows rather than project to the rafters. Even “2 On,” her breakthrough 2014 summer jam, purrs instead of roars. It was a hit on radio and in clubs, but Tinashe’s natural habitat is the bedroom, where she self-produced her first two mixtapes. To fill the spaces she’s aiming for, it’s going to require an artistic recalibration, if not a total overhaul of the qualities that have earned her the attention she’s received so far.
She’s already making those moves. Her as-yet-unreleased new album, Joyride—which she recently canceled her international tour dates to finish—will feature production from professional hitmakers Max Martin, Diplo and (ugh) Dr. Luke, and promises a more “uptempo” direction.
Her show at the Crystal felt like a test run for her bigger, louder, faster, brighter future. Descending a white staircase set up in front of a screen projecting images from her videos, she opened with new single “Ride of Your Life,” on which she borrows a slight patois from Rihanna and luxuriates in the spoils of newfound fame. Accompanied by a keyboardist and overly busy drummer, the bowel-shifting bass rattled nearly all the subtle allure out of her older material, booming so low and slow at points it pushed into doom metal territory. Surrounding herself with a crew of dancers that only left the stage for a fleeting ballad or two ensured the show never lacked energy. But cramming 17 songs into a little over an hour left little room for her to forge a meaningful connection with the audience, beyond glad handing with the front row.
Like Carly Rae Jepsen at the Wonder in March, seeing Tinashe here felt like catching an artist in a transitional point of their career. While Jepsen is downsizing, Tinashe is extending her reach upward, but hasn’t yet grasped the next rung: the Crystal was half full, at best. Obviously, that could all change once Joyride is out. If her aspirations weren’t clear enough, at one point she broke the set down, singing a medley of Janet Jackson and Selena Gomez accompanied only by piano. She’s got the voice, and the presence, to reach those rarefied heights. The only concern is what she might be giving up to get there.
All photos by Henry Cromett