Raphael Saadiq proves a slick showman in Vancouver
At the Commodore on Tuesday, April 12
It was clear that Raphael Saadiq was getting ready to take the Commodore stage Tuesday when the between-sets music switched from a monotonous drone to post-Motown, pre-neo-soul classics by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Sly & the Family Stone.
The place where funk meets rock and soul (with extra gravy, please) is exactly where Saadiq’s music lives, as he proved in a killer Straight Series set that drew heavily on songs from his new album, Stone Rollin’. That the nearly packed house responded so eagerly to numbers like the stomping “Heart Attack” (at the beginning) and the show-stopping “Good Man” (about halfway in) is testimony to the dedication of the singer’s fans. After all, the album doesn’t officially come out in Canada until next month. The audience was no less into songs from 2008’s The Way I See It, material from that record drawing equally enthusiastic cheers.
In truth, the vocal mix at the Commodore was on the muddy side, something not helped by the mid-range overkill of Saadiq’s rhythmically impeccable five-piece band, which was augmented by male and female vocalists who also got a few visits to the front of the stage. The other major spotlight was for second guitarist Rob Bacon, who floored the crowd with his Hendrix-like pyrotechnics on the new disc’s “Stone Rollin”.
References to the Stones, and to Sly’s slinkier ilk, are not accidental. And if Saadiq’s melodies didn’t always stand out—the words certainly didn’t—it hardly mattered, given the former Tony! Toni! Toné! frontman’s intense level of showmanship. The way he works the microphone and the room is a throwback to Sam Cooke and earlier, gospel-tinged soul singers. On top of that, Saadiq—whom we recently saw backing Mick Jagger on this year’s Grammy Awards—wields a mean guitar (a white Telecaster for this particular visit).
Instrumentally, the singer’s backing musicians are slick, often reaching for nimble jazz-rock fusion interludes which spice up the retro grooves with more modern touches. (At one point, the band busted out a Marvin Gaye instrumental while Saadiq darted off-stage to change from a black turtleneck to a looser white number.) As for the dapper Californian, he’s produced some massive hits for the likes of Macy Gray and Joss Stone. Now he just needs one under his own name, and the Commodore will be too small to hold him.