Upstream Music Fest + Summit, Day 2: Will Jordan

all photos by Bebe Labree Besch (view set)

Tacoma-based singer Will Jordan‘s Friday night set at the KEXP’s Occidental Stage may have only lasted around an hour, but, in a sense, he’s been preparing for it nearly every night of his career. Jordan, who has penned Grammy-nominated hits for artists like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, creates most of his solo material — an imaginative blend of trap, hip hop, and contemporary R&B — around two AM, well after his young daughter has gone to sleep. And every time he writes, he mentioned in an interview during Upstream, he’s envisioning how the music will sound live.

All that preparation paid dividends last night. Jordan and his smart, polished arrangements found their ideal expression onstage with the support of a back up vocalist, drummer, guitarist, and two DJs. Each player left plenty of room for Jordan, while also stepping in to embellish a section when needed. This was R&B that lived and breathed.

Mid-set standout “New Low” took the night to new heights. The band remained relaxed as Jordan and back up vocalist Nia June’s powerful voices danced above a subtle trap beat. Their voices spiraled around each other, slowly raising the intensity level.

Passerby’s took notice and joined the crowd. As the band began filling in empty spaces in the song, people began filling in empty spots in the park. By the time Jordan bent his knees to belt the hook one last time, around 140 people had gathered. It was the biggest crowd the stage had seen so far, an honor perhaps all the more meaningful to Jordan given the song’s origin.

Jordan wrote “New Low,” during a painful moment in his life. A few months ago, he was going through a divorce, struggling to make ends pursuing music full-time while taking care of his daughter. “I was just thinking about my life at the time,” said Jordan. “When you think things can’t get any worse, the ground collapses underneath you and you find a new rock bottom.” He turned the pain into a song. “I think you should cash in your pain and your problems and your issues,” said Jordan.

With some luck and the support of a strong backing band, he’ll do just that someday soon. His performance made one thing clear: he’s more than ready to take center stage.

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