Serena Isioma and the Celestials at Lincoln Hall
SERENA ISIOMA AT LINCOLN HALL; 9/29
Deryk G; shot by Enrique Manjarrez
DERYK G & HATE SONNY
Deryk G was the first opener, comprised of a jazzy 7 piece. They played a couple songs that got the crowd moving with a lovely combination of bass guitar, jazz drumset, and tenor saxophone. The second opener, Hate Sonny, was a trio comprised of Sonny himself, his DJPreme, and his instrumentalist Jay. Both openers had really great stage presence as they warmed the crowd up to their musical stylings. Both also had incredible saxophonists as part of their acts. Sonny genuinely was able to interact with the crowd in a way I didn’t think was possible post covid.
Serena and Sonny performed the penultimate song of sonny’s set together and the audience couldn’t get enough of it. The last song of his set “kill bill” had a bass that would make the cheapest set of subwoofers sound immaculate.
SERENA ISIOMA & THE CELESTIALS
Serena’s set opened with a member of the Celestials — their DJ, Izaya — hyping the crowd into oblivion with a couple popular rap songs before serena came on stage. The venue was packed tight in anticipation of the show that would rock their nights.
Serena Isioma; shot by V Sidaugaite
Serena came bounding on stage to a Tyler, the Creator mix with such heavy bass that caused the crowd to absolutely lose their marbles. Within the first five minutes of their set they had climbed onto a side speaker gathering a further hype from those in attendance. The flashing lights, heavy bass, and all around energy of Serena just in the first song is something I’ve never witnessed before. The way they captivated the audience in just the first track alone is legendary and a testament to their stage presence. “Why Am I So Toxic” did not drop the ball either. The crowd was still bounding and jumping around the venue.
“Valentina” led into a softer side of them with a twinge of swing bass and the guitar being plucked so heavenly in a way that would make you fall in love. “Meadows in Japan” was blended incredibly smoothly right into the back end of the previous song; with a very lovely melody and the reception of the crowd, definitely made these two songs perfect to perform back to back.
“I Feel Fantastic” is slightly more abrasive of a song so it was not blended, however that didn’t take away in any sense. In fact they were able to introduce it in a way that made the audience quiver in excitement. After this song, they took a second — with the crowd’s support — to sing happy birthday to the opener, Deryk G, as well as their manager, Matt.
This rendition of happy birthday allowed for the transition to “Cookout”, which did not cease to showcase — yet again — the astounding stage presence. I’m bringing it up a lot, but as a 21-year-old artist on their first tour it is quite a feat to behold. Serena has the stage presence of a much more seasoned artist — which will only come as a benefit the more they travel and perform.
As one of their more popular songs, “Sensitive” proved itself to be a staple of their discography. Serena was able to command the crowd into jumping and waving their arms that surely had them feeling like the only people on earth. It is a very coveted trait to be able to create an environment so powerful the audience feels as though they are one together in the moment, as though they might life forever. But Serena was able to do this exact phenomenon with ease.
Serena Isioma; shot by V Sidaugaite
“Huh?” almost completely changes the mood with swing drums and a little bit of jazz. I think the best part of being able to witness their performance was the way they fully drenched themself in the music, dancing and moving about the stage in such a way that was natural to them. In the end of the track, Serena opened up the middle of the floor for a dance train of which I was in the dead center in the back. Witnessing them so easily spread the crowd like Moses was indescribable.
This dance train led right into “Voulez-Vous Me To…” that had everyone in such a mood they were dancing like I’ve never seen. It was honestly incredible the sheer power serena seems to behold in their performers body. Bringing in members of their group, they made a dance circle on stage, hyping each other up. Serena does this clever thing where in between the songs they do an ad-lib introducing the next song. This isn’t something they invented as i’ve seen many live performers do it, but it’s the way they were able to convey it made it feel like they really did invent it.
“I Don’t Wanna Go” started off as a smoother succession to the previous tracks, but ended up being just as hyped for the crowd as the entire set before this. The instrumentalists of this track were exceptional, phenomenal, even celestial. There was a beautiful wind chime sound effect that led directly from the previous song into “Hard”, a drum heavy, but incredibly dreamy song that questions why. The instrumentals of these two songs were so wonderfully blended with guitar riffs from the former showing up in the latter.
Serena led the ending of “Stop Calling The Police On Me” into a faux ending by asking if they should play another song. After a short consultation with the band, “Really Really” was introduced. As the closing track to their set it left the audience even more hyped than the opening track if that was even possible. Splitting the floor in half again for the last ending of the track was a power move. Not like the entire performance wasn’t a power move.
In addition to being able to witness a master of their craft performing what felt like a life-changing show, I was able to catch a brief interview with the legend themself before the show. We talked about songwriting, inspiration, and growing up in Chicago; but we also chatted a bit about how covid had impacted their musical journey, as well as what they might say to someone who’s never listened to their music before.
For the interview below, I will be italicized and Serena will not.
What is your biggest inspiration?Probably life and lights are my biggest inspirationsWhat does an average songwriting session look like to you?Probably in my bed or in the shower or in the car; moments of isolation are where I write most of my songsInteresting, so I guess I could lead right into ‘how did covid impact you as an artist?’Well, it impacted me a lot as one can imagine; it was a lot for everyone, but it really pushed me and other artists because it made me want to go even harder and I just needed the light at the end of the tunnel. Have you been performing live for very long? Did covid impact you performing live at all?Yeah, I was actually supposed to go on a tour and open for Orion Sun, but it did not work out obviously. But that’s fine because now a year later I’m doing my first headlining tour; first time performing, first time performing with a band, and it’s been really fun. Sweet, so how do you go about writers’ block? What do you do when you get writers’ block?I rarely get writers’ block because I don’t go out of my way to write music when it’s not inspired. I don’t have writers’ block because I’m not trying to write when I can’t, so it’s just not an issue because I make sure it’s not an issue.You’re from Chicago right? How did growing up in the Chicago area influence you musically?It influenced be a great amount because when I was younger I wasn’t focused on music at all really. I was in Orchestra so I was classically trained in piano and violin so I did that for a long time, but when I realized it wasn’t making me popular I stopped and started doing sports. Thankfully I got out of that and stopped caring about what other people thought of me. It took living in the situations I was in to really force myself to find myself.What is your favorite song to perform live? Because which show is this in your tour? I would say this is just smack in the middle, so I have a pretty good idea of which songs are gonna be good. Definitely “Really Really” and “King”, they’re a little more abrasive. and then the song “Sensitive” which everyone knows so that’s really fun. I would say those are my favorites to perform.What would you say to someone whose never heard of you before?I would tell them to listen with an open mind.This is my last question, but how would you describe your music to someone whose never heard of it before?I would describe it as fun and meaningful.Sweet, well, I don’t have anymore questions. Do you have anything you want to say or add?I would say go stream my music and anticipate my album coming very soon.
Why Am I So Toxic
Meadows in Japan
I Feel Fantastic
Voulez-Vous Me To…
I Don’t Wanna Go
Stop Calling The Police On Me