A&O Productions' Chicago Benefit show, for the Academy of Music and Arts for Special Education, or AMASE, sold out in under an hour. The $10 concert featured only women of color from the Chicagoland area: rapper and headliner Noname, singer Jamila Woods, comedian Rebecca O'Neal and DJ Rachel Williams. It was worth every penny.
The event was hosted at local venue SPACE, which sits behind the restaurant Union, in an open room with small candles on top of the coat racks of the back wall. The small, carpeted stage commands attention when an artist begins to perform, overshadowing the merch table in the far right corner and the bar to the left. Mood lighting graces the back stage and illuminates artists perfectly whether the genre is rock or jazz. If there's any place you want to feel like it's just you and your favorite artist, SPACE fits the bill. For many Northwestern students, it was their first time at SPACE, and the first time A&O highlighted a great local venue.
SPACE quickly filled up with eager students right at 7 p.m. Due to a unfortunately long soundcheck, Williams didn't perform until half an hour after her scheduled start time. Her set seemed to be shortened, and, if she had more time, she could have gotten more people dancing. But, she got the crowd energized for the next set.
After Williams was O'Neal. Lewd but honest, O'Neal's stage presence had the crowd cheering and laughing out loud, like when she talked about her Jewish ex-boyfriend and her family's fear of offending his eating restrictions, or when she recalled her job as a Grubhub deliverer.
Woods created a calmer, ethereal experience after O'Neal's set. The soul singer had beautiful visuals appearing behind her, such as a Black girl getting her hair done, and scenes of a snowy Chicago winter during the song "Lonely Lonely," from her album Heavn. She even performed "Sunday Candy," the collaboration with Chance the Rapper she is most known for.
Noname owned the stage, period. Her bubbly personality showed through her performance, such as when she beamed as the audience sang the words to the songs off her debut mixtape Telefone, or when she took off her shoes to get more comfortable. It was less of a concert and more of a live singalong, with Noname as the director. Her rapping was relaxed, but not mistaken to be lazy. Dressed in a tour T-shirt, jogging shorts and leggings, she looked for the utmost amount of comfort for herself and her audience. After each song, she told them to chant "We good and we good and we good and we good" when prompted. When her set was over, the audience begged her to do an encore and she complied, performing "Shadow Man" before leaving.
Evanston got a taste of Chicago that showcased its diversity and power. A&O should be proud of this new incarnation of Benefit. If the future is anything like this year, it will definitely have students clamoring for tickets again.