To say ascending St. Louis R&B artist Jordan Ward graced the upstairs stage at The Middle East would be a gross understatement. Donning a forest green “I Got Stoned In Salem” sweatshirt, Ward made the stage his pulpit, delivering a simultaneously rowdy and ambient sermon to the Massholes who were ready to be taken to church that Sunday night. “I love New York, I love DC, but there’s just something different about Boston,” Ward proclaimed to an intimate crowd ready to accept him as one of their own.
A mere two months has elapsed since Ward’s last appearance in Boston, as he opened for the highly-acclaimed Luv 4 Rent Tour, headlined by contemporary hip-hop representatives Smino (also from St. Louis) and JID. While Ward seized that opportunity by summoning a handful of hits spanning his six-year career, a tour of his own — centered around the release of his newest project, FORWARD — offered him the chance to dive deeper into his discography in front of an audience specifically present for him.
He spared no time strolling down memory lane with his audience, emphatically posing the question: “They thought we just started dropping HITS?!” Opening the set list with “Lil Baby Crush” and “Okok (Hibachi)” — his two most streamed songs — set the tone for a captivating performance as it proved the timelessness of his catalog pre-FORWARD and engaged the crowd immediately with lyrics that roll off the tongue with ease. Bundling these past flashes of Ward’s artistry allowed him to reflect on prior obstacles attached to those time periods, as he reassured the audience, “The financial shit, the political shit — no matter what, we good!”
The sequencing of the set list made for a gripping oscillation between kinetic and potential energy that flowed within Ward and the audience members. To hop around the stage to the aptly named “DANCE MACHINE” — the pitter-patter of a sped-up kick and snare accompanied by a playful, aggressively autotuned melody — only to transition shortly after into a lyrics-centric reflection on the preciousness of life with “THINK TWICE” captured the versatility of Ward’s vocals and production. Whether the moment called for a head bang or a wave of the iPhone flashlight, Ward gave each track in the setlist the spark it called for.
Evidenced by a wide smile that seldom left his face during the concert, he possessed a youthful charisma that simply couldn’t be feigned. The sheer delight with which he performed did not come without trials and tribulations, but rather in spite of them. “We all face these adversities, these battles we have on the inside,” Ward said, pausing before closing out his set. “As long as we move forward, we gonna be straight!”