The sun sets on a chilly afternoon somewhere within the Midrand area. A stream of flickering Christmas lights lead towards a sold-out crowd filled with a disarming number of trailblazing creatives; from producers and artists like Zarro, Francis Jay, Una Rams, and Tyson Syba Teli to media personalities like YouTuber Thato Rampedi, actor TK Sebothoma and poet/writer MisaNarrates. This kaleidoscope of creatives, students and general public had descended upon the City of God in support of one of Pretoria’s more spellbinding independent acts, Tron Pyre. I personally got introduced to his catalogue during the Pangea era and have been a fan of his work ever since; having featured him in the third edition of my Don’t Sleep articles. A full year after the release of Pangea and a week following his latest EP Temporum, City of God marked this incandescent crooner’s first solo concert.
From his debut three years ago, Pyre, born Ndumiso Phiri, has cemented himself as a genre-fluid artist whose discography circles around the blues spectrum, with strong influences within jazz, soul and hip-hop. With 3 bodies of work under his belt from Burgundy to Temporum, Pyre had a significant catalogue of material to build his set from. His music is specifically built around his voice as the lead instrument and musical focal point within an era that’s heavily focused on production. It has a classical and at times cinematic feel to it that fosters an intimacy in his sound that’s often draped within melancholy and with this context it would make sense as to why Redemption would be his concert opener; a song with a first lyric that reads ‘You should probably smile more’. Backed by a stripped band, Tron launched into an hour-long set that served as a showcase for one of his greatest weapons, his vocal prowess.
The Holding On performer is an extremely deft vocalist with an incisive understanding of his tool. Throughout the set, Pyre peppered his tracks with improvised runs like he was a long-distance Olympian backed with mid-distance speed; from re-imagining Moments Pt 1 with a jazzier arrangement and adjusted cadence to match, to displaying different colors of his falsetto and head voice within Wonder Where We’ll Land. His vocals were dizzying. This display and improvisation heightened further into one of my favourite performances of the night False Start, from his latest project Temporum. The studio version is a heartbreaking lullaby comprised of two refrains delivered throughout. The live version was a heart-wrenching affair that saw brand new lyrics introduced mid-way through as Pyre delivered some of the most affected vocals of the night. Each new version of a refrain was detailed with a different level of angst, desperation or longing than before, he was in his element and playing us like putty in his hands.
Following that emotional avalanche, Pyre segued into one of his groovier records, Holding On, increasing the tempo and showing himself as more than just a balladeer before a brief return with Temporum’s closer, Goodbye Emily. The groove continued with Kids, a self-professed ode to his fans and friends, that included a brief passage from Beyonce’s immortal Love On Top. The only other cover of the set belonged to Daniel Caesar’s Blessed, a song he wished he had written re-imagined in the key of Pyre. By the time the concert reached its apex, the sun had all but set with darkness befallen and cell-phone torches lit the stage and Pyre as he tore into an extended version of the show’s title track City of God. Looking around at the crowd of dazed faces immersed in the experience, it was clear that we were witnessing something special, accentuated by the requested encore that followed the performance.
Forged within the realms of high risk is the genesis of a star and these are the stakes with which Tron has angled to play. City of God represents the brass bravery of an artist betting on themselves proactively and unprovoked. The spaces for independence and/or niche experiences are steadily growing with artists like Tron Pyre forging their own enclaves; experimenting, making mistakes and making giant leaps in affirming their presence within the industry. This was my first concert experience of this nature and I hope stands as a catalyst for more bold undertakings in the future for independents. Representing the crooners, Tron Pyre is consistently showcasing the tenacity required to be an icon as he continues to blaze his own path towards success. If you’re like me, you’ll wait with bated breath for his next spectacle, but until then, bump Temporum.