USC’s first virtual Welcome Back concert thrills and engages viewers through the screen

Photo courtesy of @uscconcerts on Instagram

Featuring a stunning performance by SiR and smooth, fresh vocals from two up-and-coming student artists Kyle Lux and Jordyn Simone, USC’s Welcome Back concert was held virtually Saturday. Partnering with the Black Student Assembly, Concerts Committee live streamed the event from its YouTube channel, beginning the afternoon with an impactful message.

“After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and countless other Black lives in America, it has become quite obvious that the systems of oppression and racism are still prevalent in America to this day and are something that we need to address … That starts with our community at USC, that starts with us,” said BSA co-executive director Calvin Carmichael, a junior majoring in business of cinematic arts.

Following the statement, many Trojans said they would like to see their USC experience change.

“I want my USC to feel like home,” said Leoncya Ngoma, a sophomore majoring in international relations and global economy. “I want to feel accepted. I want to feel cared for. And I want to feel safe.”

Lux, born Kyle Tolbert, a junior majoring in popular music performance, opened his set with a rendition of his 2019 single “Lightyear.” His smooth vocals were slowed down from the original track, making for an emotional performance. The soothing, background electric guitar, played by Eli Bramnick, a junior majoring in popular music performance, highlighted Lux’s pure vocal talent. 

Visually, the set consisted of burnt orange and blue lighting, adding to the alternative, R&B feel. Next, he debuted an unreleased track with vocals that could only be topped by the beautiful and clever lyrics “Spinning like vinyls / Yeah bad case of record love.”

Fellow popular music performance major Simone, born Jordyn Warren, followed Lux’s act. Simone, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and actress who previously competed on both “American Idol” and “The Voice!” Her performance continued the subtle pop and R&B feel of the night by keeping the set simple with her voice and a single electric guitar. 

Simone’s stunning, soulful voice spoke for itself as she performed unreleased songs: “I want you, want you to be happy, for us to be happy.” Dancing while consistently nailing her live vocals, Simone brought a fun energy to her next song: “Baby don’t drown on my drip,” she crooned. 

Afterward, singer, songwriter and producer SiR took the stage for a brief Q&A with Concerts Committee’s co-executive director Samantha Gibbs. Gibbs asked the headliner about his first gold plaque that he won this week signifying selling 500,000 copies of his song “Hair Down,” featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar. 

“I can’t even describe the feeling, you know, I’ve been working in the music industry for a good 10 plus years and I used to write songs for other people … it’s a great feeling because it’s my song,” SiR said. 

SiR said that “Hair Down” is his favorite of his songs, while his most beloved project is his first mixtape, “Wooden Voodoo,” which comprises 21 personally mixed songs. He praised his label, Top Dawg Entertainment, which boasts artists like Lamar, SZA, ScHoolboy Q and Zacari. SiR also cited his mother, Jackie Gouche, as an inspiration, as she sang backup vocals for Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and other famous artists.

SiR’s performance began with surrounding sounds of a plane taking flight and merged into the animated visuals from his “John Redcorn” music video. Two guitarists and one drummer took the stage to back SiR, who displayed his impressive vocal range while performing “You Can’t Save Me,” which ended with multiple vocal runs. He followed with flawless, impassioned live versions of “LA Lisa,” “All in My Head” and “Fire.” These emotive tracks were accompanied by subtly changing, corresponding background visuals.

Next, a highlight of the event was the transition and vocal performance of “Ooh Nah Nah” (originally featuring Masego). SiR’s vocals grew even more powerful throughout the performance, crescendoing as he soulfully belted a slower version of “Wires in the Way” and seamlessly transitioned into a cover of “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. 

The headliner mentioned watching USC football games as a lifelong fan and wanting to attend the school. During the entire performance, SiR made it feel like the audience was there and expressed his hope to be invited back for a future, in-person performance at USC.

“Nonetheless, I can’t wait to get the actual visit to SC and do one of these shows,” SiR said. “I heard these turn-up, like crazy.” Another USC connection was former student and Seattle native singer and songwriter UMI who provided the recorded Japanese vocals for the intro to SiR’s “Mood.” 

Following the track “The Recipe,” SiR gave listeners a humble message about his journey to the top.

“I came into this like, I just want to make music and pay my rent,” he said.“I’m honored that you guys would even ask me to do a show that you guys get big-name acts to come out and do every year.” 

SiR brought the energy, pulling Caribbean sounds into his last song, “Hair Down,” and danced with his band to close the stellar concert.