Just 12 months ago, Anderson.Paak played a headlining slot at Auckland's Laneway festival that was so wondrous, so colourful, and so summery you had to wonder if the festival would ever be able to top it.

So to say .Paak's first headlining show here, his Laneway follow-up that was forced to upgrade venues from the Logan Campbell Centre to Spark Arena due to demand, was highly anticipated is an understatement.

Many of the 4000 or so fans crammed into the arena had clearly spent the day getting burnt at the beach in sweltering temperatures, probably cranking one of his excellent three albums, Venice, Malibu or Oxnard, as a soundtrack.

You could say that's good preparation for an Anderson.Paak gig. His brand of Californian urban summer soul has caught on, and many in the rap community - from Kendrick Lamar to Mac Miller and Dr Dre - have grabbed it and put to good use themselves.


But from the moment .Paak emerged on stage in a weather-defying outfit that included a jacket and orange beanie crammed onto his head, it was clear he was facing an uphill battle, and would struggle to reach the peak of his summer Laneway stunner.

Why? The sound. Ugh. .Paak played some of his most memorable songs up front, from the high energy antics of Who R U? and Bubblin, to the grimier throbs of 'Milk n' Honey and Glowed Up, but all were thwarted by a sound mix that at times became unbearable.

.Paak's vocals, drenched in honey and so full of soul he's been called a hip-hop Marvin Gaye, were set so far back in the mix it was tough to hear him, a crying shame on his slower, more heartfelt moments like Heart Don't Stand a Chance. The Waters was so overpowered by kick drums and cymbals it morphed into a throbby echo, an endurance test instead of the top-down cruiser it's meant to be.

The problem wasn't .Paak. He's a massively engaging, highly entertaining performer, thrashing around on his drum kit, leading co-ordinated dance moves with his band The Free Nationals, rushing around the stage and beaming that mile-wide smile throughout the show.

He didn't seem aware of any sound issues, but he did admit it was the band's first arena show as a headlining act. It should also be noted that other, bigger bands have had similar issues in that venue.

When it was time for his encore, it was clear things weren't going to get better. To combat the issues, the volume was turned up to excruciating levels.

That meant there was no last-minute saving grace. Am I Wrong and Lite Weight are incredible songs on record, full of depth and emotion, but last night they were mangled messes, punctuated by occasional bursts of feedback squeals.

By the time .Paak came to cover Mac Miller's Dang! to close out the show, I saw several people with their fingers in their ears trying to combat the punishing volume levels. I felt like doing the same.

Mac Miller deserved better. Anderson.Paak deserved better. We all deserved better. Dang, alright.

Who: Anderson.Paak and the Free Nationals
Where: Spark Arena, Auckland
When: Saturday, January 12