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Two driving forces, passion prevails. Making iiwaa a shining example of a dedicated artist.

For someone that’s constantly going to shows, it’s rare when I attend one that moves me. I’m talking chills, lump in throat, topped off with the whole “no I just have something in my eye” spiel. I can count on one hand the names of artists that are responsible for causing such a reaction out of me. Three being my all time favorite bands, and the other two, I saw for the first time last Sunday night at the Gift and Thrift house.

I was first introduced to HANDSXFEET by Steven and Nadeen from Gift and Thrift. Back in September of this year they had put together a show at The Underground, where he would be headlining. Although I didn’t attend the show, it was around this time when I became familiar with HANDSXFEET. Admiring the lyrics, aesthetic, and message he brings with his music. Even before seeing HANDSXFEET live, there is a strong energy that radiates from his project. Exuding hope, strength, acceptance, and hunger, and it is extremely contagious.

That being said, I was stoked at finally having the chance to experience HANDSXFEET live, and I’m glad it was somewhere as intimate as Gift and Thrift. Making his entrance wearing a hockey mask, thrashing, and screaming, you can’t help but to suddenly feel energized. Ready to jump and scream the lyrics right back at him. In between songs, he talks about the importance of mental health awareness, sobriety, and staying alive. When he touches on the subject of suicide and loss, there’s a heaviness in the air, and I instinctively rest both of my hands on my chest. When I look around, I notice I’m not the only one doing this. Looking up and pointing to the sky, while his other hand holds the mic, there’s a look of pure passion and vulnerability on the face of HANDSXFEET. A familiar look. One that I notice on the face of sincere musicians, who seriously love what they do. And with that, he goes into his next song.

The next artist I saw that night was iiwaa. Their Frank Ocean -esque single, Peach Szn, had been stuck in my head since its release, and prior to that, it was the melancholic and mellifluous song, Boys Don’t Cry (which is my favorite, and the first song I heard from iiwaa). Before the show I had met iiwaa. Naturally, I expressed my love for Boys Don’t Cry, and when I said this, they made my night by replying with “I’m gonna play that song tonight. But don’t tell anyone. It’s a surprise.”

When they opened with Peach Szn, I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one singing along. Something that always makes a performance instantly better for me, is when you can just tell the performer is having fun. And iiwaa was having a blast. Throughout their performance they were smiling, dancing, and encouraging the audience to sing (and we sang our little hearts out). Tangerine Lamborghini was a particularly fun performance, one of the few songs iiwaa raps on, and the one that had us all bobbing our heads. After every song, I couldn’t help but wonder if Boys Don’t Cry was gonna be next. It ended up being their last, and it left me holding back tears as I watched iiwaa give a speech about loss, depression, and how boys do, in fact, cry.

Just hours before performing, iiwaa had a balloon release in memory of their brother, who’s life was tragically ended shortly by suicide. It was the anniversary of his passing, and the song was dedicated to him. Pacing the stage, with their eyes on the ground, occasionally looking up, iiwaa spoke with a heavy heart. Stating how they always felt like they were pursuing this path for their brother by working endlessly, and constantly pushing for success. It was only recently that iiwaa found it within their self, to start doing it more for them as well. Finding worth when looking in, and finding that it’s okay to do something they love, simply because they love it, and not only in the memory of their brother. With these two driving forces, passion prevails. Making iiwaa a shining example of a dedicated artist.

The sheer strength, professionalism, vulnerability, and transparency from iiwaa was admirable. As a show goer, I was beyond moved and fixated on iiwaa. Unable to look away, and taking in every word. As an artist, I was immensely inspired.

With that, came the opening notes to one of my favorite songs.

“They say boys don’t cry, guess I’m not a boy am I? Guess I’m not a boy am I…

I reached for the hand of my partner, and rested my head on her shoulder, and watched as iiwaa sang with the same look that HANDSXFEET had worn prior. The look of a sincere musician that seriously loves what they’re doing.

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