Rafael Saadiq/Aloe Blacc
Central Park Summerstage NYC 7/17/10
Keeping the R&B torch alive with real soul music was the story at today’s packed to the gills Central Park concert presented by the noted Giant Step organization.
To see topnotch musicians along with horn sections in an age where too many rappers set the bar so low is encouraging to say the least.
California based Aloe Blacc, looking retro dapper in a get-up that would have fit right in a ‘70s Fred Williamson flick, performed a solid set of crowd-pleasing original soul numbers. He repeatedly expressed his love of soul music and was definitely “in the tradition.” His song I Need a Dollar from the thoroughly enjoyable HBO series How to Make It in America was a highlight for yours truly. I do believe, however that when you keep mentioning guys like Al Green and Bobby Womack, and even tease a bit of Love and Happiness, you’d best have some sort of stage show beyond swaying to the music and doing a couple of steps. Because as good a singer and songwriter as he is, as a stage performer he most certainly paled in comparison to his idols. Nonetheless it’s certainly understandable that he’s not at that level this early in his career. And from what I saw, I do expect great things from this young man.
Speaking of young men- and women- I watched about 50 of them walk into the free concert with less than a handful donating anything despite volunteers imploring them to do so. Later, the announcer asked folk to roll up their blankets to make space for the 1,000 or so people still on line waiting to get in. A collective groan was let out and only a fraction of the folk bothered to move. This was the selfish “Me Generation” at their worst. And two of my friends were, in fact, never allowed onto the grounds due to the space limitations.
Following Blacc, Vikter Duplaix, a DJ who had been flown in from California played a nice set of mostly ‘70s R&B classics. Hey, I could have pulled the very same records out of my 2,000 strong collection and saved them the airfare. Plus I probably wouldn’t have deafened the audience who had enough to deal with in surviving the ninety degree plus heat. Thanks also to SummerStage for putting the lone water fountain I saw behind a barricade- it’ll certainly add to the concession sales, but won’t be so wonderful the first time they carry somebody out.
So almost two and a half hours into this endurance contest- after two pounding DJ sets, Mr. Blacc, and a decent enough rapper in opener TK Wonder, Rafael finally comes out in an all white outfit looking too cool to sweat. I’m talking a band in suits and ties. Old school all the way. And he’s lean and mean like he just got out of the gym. After seeing enough performers looking like the kids sitting next to you on the subway, or older stars obese to the point of sedentary where they’ll literally sit in a chair an entire show, the guy just carries himself like a star.
And in 2010 that’s refreshing.
Now I’ve loved and supported his music going back to Tony! Toni! Tone! and later Lucy Pearl, as well as his great recent solo albums. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed his TV concerts which regularly float around various PBS and Cable channels. And I most certainly was entertained by what I saw today; on every level he’s a world class singer, songwriter, and stage performer. Yet, at times it felt almost too controlled, too polished for my tastes, like when he zipped through a half dozen of his hits early in the show. There just wasn’t that “sense of danger,” like when an Al Green suddenly, unexpectantly changes songs right in the middle of one and the band tries to “play catch up.” I doubt the Producer, the control side of Rafael, would allow much of that. And where was that raw Bobby Womack, Otis Redding, or Wilson Pickett type cry from deep in your soul? Hell, it’s probably absolutely unfair to make comparisons to legends like these as that’s not even what Rafael’s shooting for. But as a live concert experience- I saw Al Green in his 70s prime when frenzied women would literally storm the stage and in his 80s gospel glory- this just wasn’t in the same ballpark for me.
Regardless, a half hour or so before wrapping up the ninety minute show, they did seem to deviate from the script a bit, even playing a bit of It Feels Good “just for New York.” And loosening things up towards the very end, they “gave the drummer some” and it was smoking. Ending on a high note, the debonair Rafael received the adulation he most certainly deserves.
You know, I may never, ever again see anything as great as a 1970s Al Green doing Love and Happiness live. And being jaded isn’t my best quality as this gig was damn good by any standards. So Rafael, no disrespect intended; I will buy your CDs ‘till the day I die. And I’m sure I’ll pay money to see ‘ya live, too.
In short, I’m sincerely happy that the R&B torch has been passed down to the capable hands of gentlemen like Aloe Blacc and Rafael Saadiq who love what they do and it shows.