Jhené Aiko launched her first headlining tour on Tuesday night, a 13-date jaunt billed as “Enter the Void.” She was joined by alternative singer-songwriter SZA, neo-soul nostalgia outfit the Internet and pop scion Willow Smith. The “void” of the tour’s title seems to speak to the woozy, off-kilter and experimental elements that often are missing from mainstream R&B. Judging by the sold-out crowd at the Fillmore Silver Spring, there is an audience that feels the same way.
After short sets by Smith and the Internet, a confident SZA performed a dreamy blend of hip-hop, electronic music and R&B, but her set lacked cohesion. Songs often ended abruptly, leaving the crowd unsure when to applaud.
Structuring a set was no problem for headliner Aiko, a more experienced live performer who has toured with Drake and the Weeknd. (She also has been in the music business since her early teens.) As the lights dimmed, shrieks and squeals turned into roars as the delicate singer materialized onstage. In concert, her voice was as saccharine as it is on recordings, but its wispiness often left it lost in the mix. The audience was more than happy to help make up the difference: Every song was a singalong, with some passionate fans performing their own renditions on the fringes of the crowd.
“I consider my fans soulmates,” she said, and that connection served her well. Each song was somebody’s favorite, whether it was the sunny, guitar-driven “Bed Peace,” the drum-heavy version of “3:16 AM,” or the breakup anthem “Lyin King,” before which she instructed the crowd to “put your ex on speakerphone.”
Some of Aiko’s most memorable turns have been on the songs of contemporaries Drake and Chris Brown, but her best songs are her most personal ones. “W.A.Y.S.,” which she said was her favorite from her debut album, “Souled Out,” was the night’s highlight. The title is short for “why aren’t you smiling?” a sentiment shared with her by her brother Miyagi, who died in 2012. “That’s a tough one,” she confided. “I thought I was going to bust out crying.” If there’s a void in mainstream R&B, her confidence and strength — and that of her tour mates — should be enough to fill it.