Kamasi Washington pulls out all the stops at Hollywood Bowl

Kamasi Washington Hollywood Bowl 2021 mainbar

It had been 491 days since I had seen a real concert when I arrived to the Hollywood Bowl to see Kamasi Washington and Earl Sweatshirt as part of KCRW’s World Festival.

I was in San Diego in early March for CRSSD Festival and then stayed an extra day to see Tame Impala open their tour. When I got back to LA, I worked one day in the office before the entire world came to a standstill the day Tom Hanks and NBA player Rudy Gobert were announced positive with coronavirus and sent us all into our homes amidst a fear-filled frenzy.

I didn’t quite realize how much live music was to my mental health until it was all of a sudden gone. I had gone almost the first 17 years of my life without having ever been to a concert despite a deep appreciation and obsession with music. But when you’re too broke and you can’t go it hurts a little less than when there are literally zero concerts to go to even if you wanted to.

On Sunday, Kamasi Washington welcomed me back into the world of live music with open arms via his astounding symphony of sounds at the Hollywood Bowl, with an assembled cast on stage he had handpicked just to provide that first show extra oomph.

It too was Kamasi’s first show with a crowd since early March, though he played an empty Hollywood Bowl back in October for one of those “virtual events” we all came to accept over the past endless year and a half.

“Y’all are the first ones to ever hear that song,” a grinning Kamasi told the audience after opening his set with “Drive”. It felt almost normal to be sitting in a seat, taking in the beautiful backdrop and some wonderful tunes.

Sure, I had to wear a mask taking the Red Line from Koreatown to Hollywood, and I wore the mask when making my way through a packed crowd up the hill to get into the venue. And you had to wear a mask whenever you went inside any of the facilities thanks to the latest LA Public Health order for a mask mandate. But these were all no sweat considering I got to be at a music venue after nearly 500 days away from it all.

You could feel a palpable appreciation for the privilege — people around me cheered harder than they otherwise might have. And as the surprises poured out, that enjoyment only grew. LA favorite Thundercat and his six-string bass was on stage the duration of the set as just a backing member of Kamasi’s incredible band — and a few songs into the show he shouted him out as well as legendary local DJ Battlecat prior to “Re Run”, which had both of those guys the star of the proceedings.

He also debuted the song “Sun Kissed Child”, which followed a story about this being his new daughter’s first ever live show and how the love you have for your child is different than any love you can ever experience. Kamasi’s father Rickey Washington had an amazing flute solo during the song.

What followed next was magic. Los Angeles’ own Terrace Martin came out on stage, followed by three of LA’s emcees — Daylight from Watts, Problem from Compton, and Mike Holden from Inglewood — to perform “Pig Feet”. Martin has been everywhere — including working on the latest Leon Bridges record set for release later this year. His speech at the beginning was a stark reminder about the kind of Los Angeles that all of these men on stage came from — south of the 10 Freeway.

Then it was a Kamasi original from the Michelle Obama documentary he worked on — song titled “Announcement”. What followed that was quite a flex — Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujilio of Metallica joined them for Kamasi’s cover of “My Friend of Misery” from the Metallica cover record he contributed to.

Kamasi closed the set with “Fists of Fury” and it was a fantastic send-off for the near-capacity crowd in attendance.

Opening the show was Earl Sweatshirt, who for most of the set was joined by a keys and drum combo called DOMi and JD Beck. The songs that featured those backing musicians went over much better with the crowd than the ones where Earl rapped over a track. Earl had some wise cracks about the kind of crowd it was, but you could tell how happy he was to be performing at the iconic Bowl.

“I have no banter, I can only make fun of you,” Earl told the crowd. He pointed up towards the back of the crowd and said, “That’s the real first class. Who cares if they got halibut, we don’t care about these n*****,” referring to the people in the front in their boxes eating premium meals.

It was a good transition back into the live music world for me personally. I don’t know if I could have handled being shoulder to shoulder with someone in a tiny club right off the bat — and the Hollywood Bowl provides enough space for everyone to feel a little safe given the times we are in. I can’t wait to be back.

Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Eric Han