BERKELEY — When headliner Princess Nokia was able to perform at her Noise Pop Music Festival concert at the UC Theatre Saturday night, she lived up to the lofty expectations of a very passionate crowd. As she took the stage to start the set, several people in the audience even broke down in tears of joy. But what appeared to be technical difficulties meant she wasn’t always able to perform, at least not fully.
She began the show by outlining the rules: This was a safe space that was woman-prioritized, people-of-color-prioritized and queer-prioritized. No touching of bodies and no sexual harassment; everyone was to be friends and family. It was a refreshing affirmation that should probably spread to more shows and genres.
From there, though, things got off to a rough start. After each of the first several songs she and her backup dancers left the stage for several minutes of silence, though the confused muttering of the crowd turned back to cheers when she returned. She also uncharacteristically broke her flow several times during those early songs.
Even with the problems, it was a testament to Princess Nokia’s ability that the times she was rapping without accompaniment were the show’s highlights. At one point, the music cut out mid-line and, rather than rattling her, it actually made her better for the remainder of the song. It was a rare and impressive display of talent and poise.
Her singing voice also shined by itself. An a cappella version of “Look Up Kid,” from her emo mixtape A Girl Cried Red, kept the crowd in rapt silence. It also gave the crew a chance to frantically fix the DJ’s equipment at the back of the stage, which presumably worked since the technical problems stopped after that point.
Unfortunately the confusion returned near the end of the show. When she got off the stage to greet the front row, which was probably a treat for those on the floor, people in the other two tiers began to leave because the stage looked empty, aside from two on-stage photographers. A couple of the fans who began the set in tears even left, apparently under the impression the show was over.
In what seemed like a confirmation of the issues, Princess Nokia ended the show with an apology: “I had a long flight and an even longer day, so I hope you understand.”
The evening’s first two acts, a pair of Oakland rappers, had absolutely no problems.
Opening the show was Queens D. Light, who paired very narrative lyrics with extremely danceable beats. Those beats didn’t just get to her backup dancers and the crowd; a photographer at the side of the stage, with minimal prompting, broke into a dance during a couple of the songs.
The lyrics exuded positivity, highlighted by the crowd participation line, “I’m a champion like Serena,” which the audience seemed to believe more and more every time they sang along. And, of course, happy birthday to her DJ!
After that was fellow Oakland rapper Tia Nomore, who took a more activist bent. She gave a shoutout to 21 Savage, encouraged immigrants not to be ashamed of having trouble learning English and reminded the crowd that Flint still doesn’t have clean water. As expected, the Berkeley crowd was receptive.
Nomore’s lyrical flow was consistently great throughout, getting an occasional “wow” from people in the back who were there for Princess Nokia as they turned their attention from the bar to the stage. Though the biggest cheer was for her mom, seated in one of the VIP areas.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.