It’s a warm July evening. The sun has just begun to set, staining the sky in pinks and oranges only seconds away from being consumed by night. I’m in the backseat of an Uber with my headphones in. En route to seeing him perform, I’m listening to the artist formerly known as Obey City (pronounced “oh-be city”). A track called ‘Airy.’ A smooth jam that’s equal parts R&B and electronic, a slow-dance ballad perfect for a Dirty Dancing remake by Sofia Coppola. After putting out two EPs as Obey City, the Brooklyn-based artist is set to release his first full-length record as Sam O.B next month. The first few singles he’s teased from the album are extensions of what he’s done, revealing his grown confidence and skill while keeping in line with the sample-infused fort he’s built on streaming platforms like Soundcloud.
Sam O.B. is taking the stage tonight at the Echoplex, a Los Angeles venue on the more intimate side known for shows of a dancier variety. He’s second in line on a triple bill that concludes with headlining Canadian electronic act, Teen Daze. When the first opener’s set comes to a close, the floor of the venue clears out, leaving room only for the lights of the two disco balls rotating above. The members of the audience stand and sit to the sides like middle schoolers too awkward to mingle at a dance.
At around 10:01 PM, Sam and his band, whom he endearingly refers to as “The Hair Club,” take the stage; each in a different colored shirt as if they’re collectively role playing a Mario Kart game. They start things off with a groovy number that is shamelessly equal parts Prince and the Bee Gees with a visceral bassline leading the way.
The configuration on stage is a visual indication of a shift in his music. Sam’s sound hasn’t changed, but he’s learned to adapt, incorporating the sounds of electric guitarist Arnie Finkel and drummer Evan Shaughnessy into his music to form a more developed sound. To his left is bandmate and collaborator Elisa who mans the keyboards and contributes vocals.
The frontman is on the bass guitar while letting the Macbook to his right do its thing. Despite being the architect of the project, the live show in no way suggests this. The addition of live instruments makes the music feel much more collaborative. The jazz-infused groove that he’s concocted comes alive in rich and bold colors on stage, not too different from those of the shirts he and his band are wearing.
With help from Elisa, he beatboxes through a chorus under house beats on a track on the forthcoming record about what he calls “falling in love at the club.” It’s a rather nostalgic spin on a somewhat contemporary sentiment. He asks for blue stage lights to perform one of the album’s previously released singles, ‘Midnight Blue.’ With a chorus like a wave of synths and bass, it lives up to its name and more, especially with help from the live instruments. Maraca in hand, he “slows things down a bit” with another one off the new record, ‘Saltwater,’ a track that exhibits smooth salsa elements and one of the smoothest instrumental outros of the whole night.
With the promise of one last song, Sam thanks the audience for coming out, ending with another previously released single, ‘Common Ground.’ It’s a perfect summation of his set: groovy, danceable, nostalgic. He doesn’t play ‘Airy,’ but I’m not disappointed. One thing is clear above anything else: Sam’s a changed man. He’s seeing colors, and so is his music.
Positive Noise is out August 11th through LuckyMe.