By Poppy Tohill
Artist: Aloe Blacc
Date / Venue: Tuesday October 21st, The Powerstation, Auckland
Has Aloe Blacc got soul, or has he got soul. Stepping into Auckland's Powerstationlast night felt like walking through a time machine into the 50's. Picture one of those old original blues bars, where the stage is lit with a big band of musicians, and the singer- dressed in a full suit and tie, with the hat and all, entertains those sitting around.
Although with definitely a bit more of a modern crowd gathering, the Powerstation proved fairly full last night with an array of varying different age groups, all there for the same reason, and excited for it.
Wellington up and comer Estère proved the absolute perfect fit and choice of support act, as she owned the stage with just her own stunningly bluesy and mature soulful voice (similar to that of Iva Lamkum), and with MPC (beat maker for those who are unsure), she projected her mesmerising deep tones over the top of some crazy beats. Warming up the audience excellently, the enthusiastic audience which had doubled in numbers by this time, were more than ready for the main man we were all there to see - of course being, Mr Aloe Blacc, himself.
As Blacc's six piece band took to the stage, it was the whole affair, with a keys, drums, bass, guitar, saxophone and trumpet, lining the centre and back of the stage as they each took to their instruments and began playing the ‘Beast Blood' intro in order to hype the crowd up some more, and prepare them for the arrival of Blacc, as the guitarist yelled, "Make some noise for Mr Aloe Blacc," as Blacc eventually appeared walking to the front to take the microphone which stood waiting for him, looking very sharp indeed dressed like a true 50's soul singer in a suit, tie and hat.
Launching into the first verse of one of his biggest hits, ‘I Need A Dollar,' he soon stopped and joked, "Ha, I got you didn't I?" he laughed, as the music continued building in momentum behind him. "We'll save that one for later, but in the mean time, put your hands together!" Blacc instructed everyone. Well, no one needed to be asked twice, as they all began clapping and singing along as soon as he launched into the title track from his most recent album, ‘Lift Your Spirit.'
"Well, how are you tonight Auckland?" Blacc asked as the song came to an end. "Are you ready to get down to some soul music?" he asked the crowd again, with a very energetic and loud response, as everyone screamed and shouted with excitement.
Blacc had it all to be honest, and even this early on the night it was pretty easy to tell. He had the smooth, old school image down to a tee, with the incredible, bluesy, soulful voice to match and the confident and bubbly stage personality to top it all off. Constantly interacting with the crowd, asking questions and telling stories between and sometimes even during songs, he's definitely a born entertainer who you can get so much joy out of, just watching himself enjoying performing and having the time of his life.
The word exceptional, in no way, shape or form, expresses how talented each of Blacc's band members were, as they each proved masters of their own instruments, dancing over them and putting an immense amount of effort into each song as if it were their last. One thing they were remarkable at however, was intro's, solos and drawing each song out with impressive instrumentals that saw Blacc show off not only his dancing skills, but also his love and appreciation for each member of the band
"I need you help with this next one," Blacc confessed, as the band kick started an epic instrumental introduction to, ‘Love Is The Answer.' As the band continued to grow louder, Blacc stepped aside to introduce his saxophone and trumpet players, each replying with a short impressive solo. Blacc went on to test out the crowds singing voices, as he sung, the classic ‘Woah oh oh ohs,' which the audience gleefully beckoned back to him in complete unison. "We can't start it slow," Blacc informed the audience, still proceeding to heighten the energy and excitement in the room. Following an introduction of the lead guitarist in the band, who also responded with an exceptional solo, Blacc eventually let rip and launched into the song, much to audience's exhilaration.
As the song eventually neared an end, the music began to decrease in volume and slow considerably, as Blacc began to tell everyone the story behind the song, before, the volume increased one last time, as the band drew the song to an end with the ‘Amore Outro.'
Dedicating the next song to everyone in the room, I felt as if I'd stepped out of that old 50's bar for a minute and into an old-school, church choir group, as Blacc and band "turned the funk up" as he announced, and launched into an exquisitely cheerful and mesmerising performance of ‘You Make Me Smile,' from his 2010 album ‘Good Things.' Bringing his dance moves to the floor for this one, Blacc sure knows how to groove as well as he does sing. As the entire audience joined in clapping, singing and dancing along, everyone embellished the biggest grin on their faces, making for such a joyous moment that remained a highlight to me from the whole night. "You make me smi..." Blacc stopped suddenly on a loud drumbeat that stopped all of the instruments near the end of the song. "You make me smi..." he teased one more time, as the band hit one more sudden note on their instruments, slowing the pace right down, before ending with a long drawn out, "Smile......" from Blacc, holding the note perfectly as he continued to draw it out and conclude the song, in the impressive vocal style he'd begun it with.
Blacc's smash hit, 'I Need A Dollar' was next, and this time there was no teasing. "I need you to clap again" Blacc chimed, as the ecstatic audience, screamed and began clapping as the recognisable intro to the hit song began. An all time favourite for many, I couldn't help at this point realise that Blacc is undeniably one of those artists who sounds identical, if not even better live, than he does on recording. His deep soulful and bluesy tones were beyond awe-inspiring and with each song, he continued to blow the audience away continuously. Throughout the popular hit, I saw little gold specks flying through the air towards Blacc on stage, soon coming to realise that humorously this was people throwing dollar coins to him.
As the song continued, the music began to soften, continuing quietly in the background as Blacc went on to talk to the audience about reggae being the roots of soul music. Proving extremely knowledgeable on the topic, Blacc then broke out into a verse of Bob Marley's ‘No Woman No Cry,' much to the audience's excitement, who showed no sense of holding back, as they joined in singing along to their heart's content. Shouting with just as much passion and thrill when Blacc asked, "Should I carry on?" as he then began a verse of Sting's, ‘Walking On The Moon,' before the music and recognisable rhythm of ‘I Need A Dollar' quickly returned in it's full volume of glory as they went on to draw the popular hit to an end.
With influences of soul, blues and reggae vastly apparent throughout the night during Blacc's performance, the last influential genre he went on to share with us was classic RnB with a touch of hip hop, as everyone put their dancing shoes on and hands in the air, for another popular smash hit single and crowd favourite of the night, ‘The Man,' which of course nobody hesitated about singing along to also. Merging a verse and touch of ‘Hey Brother' into the hit, Blacc proved the mix and mash up master tonight, with more still to come.
‘Soldier In The City' stood on its own however, as did the acoustic hit version of his song ‘Wake Up' which was made famous by DJ Calvin Harris' producing input. Proving yet another crowd favourite, I ashamedly had no idea this song was originally his, although without a doubt, enjoying this live acoustic version of the track more than any other version I've ever heard.
With this, Blacc announced he was unfortunately up to his last song already. As the drums kicked off the rhythm, not a lot more persuasion was needed to convince the crowd to clap along, as Blacc began singing the chorus to ‘Can You Do This,' asking the crowd to respond with "Yeah, we can do that!" With a little practice run through, before launching into it, Blacc and band put an incredible amount of energy and passion into the song. Letting rip halfway through, Blacc asked the crowd to create a soul train - whereby everybody took part, splitting down the middle to create a pathway for different crowd members who enthusiastically followed one another, showing off their dance moves to the whole crowd and Blacc himself. At this stage, the band and Blacc were going for it, performing and playing their instruments as if their lives depended on it.
"Thanks Everyone!" Blacc shouted, as the song neared an end, "Peace, Love & Soul" he said, while dancing off the stage, as the band slowly faded the music out, and concluded the song. Then departing the stage, all left except the bass player. Almost looking as if he wasn't sure what was happening, or where he should go, he began playing his own extraordinary riff, creating sounds I didn't even know were possible to make with a bass. As he remained the focal point, another spotlight slowly brightened as the Saxophonist returned to the stage joining in with the bassist. Before too long, they held a long note together, as the trumpet player joined them and they all begun playing an instrumental together. Composing what was one very engaging and compelling instrumental, the rest of the band members soon appeared adding their own touch to the elongated instrumental, which began to slow in pace, as Blacc returned onto the stage, as smooth as ever, for an absolutely superb slowed down rendition of Michael Jackson's ‘Billie Jean.' With the touch of the hat, the classic MJ ‘yeeah, hee,' the pelvic thrust and all, Blacc had shown how the King of Pop can be done in soul style, blowing the entire audience away with this exceptional version of the classic hit.
As Blacc stepped aside for a moment his guitarist took to the limelight to show off his impressive skills, as he belted out a riff that was beyond craziness. Blacc, again beginning to sing, stood centre stage next to the guitarist as they began the epic decline and conclusion of the song together in unison, the guitarist finishing by grabbing the microphone from Blacc and using it to strum his guitar with.
For, ‘Loving You Is Killing Me' the drummer took the role of kicking it off, with an extraordinary drum solo, as Blacc introduced the Bob Marley look-a-like to the audience. Whilst he continued to give it his all, Blacc turned to introduce his keyboardist to the audience, who responded by lifting his keyboard off the stand and holding it up on the side for everyone to see his fingers literally dance over the keys at lightening speed. Next it was the guitarists turn to show off his skills one last time, as the saxophonist, and trumpet player soon followed, before officially launching into the second song of the encore.
To conclude his high energy, and awe-inspiring set, Blacc informed the audience that, "when you travel a lot and spend most of your time away from home, you get know what real homesickness feels like. Not when we're in New Zealand though, this feels like home," he quickly added after everybody's initial response of "awww." With this the six musicians on stage, plus Blacc launched into the old school The Mama's & Papas'classic, ‘California Dreamin,' to conclude the night with. With his back to the microphone, Blacc began the song holding one single long note, projecting his voice to the very back of the venue without any technical aid whatsoever. Beginning slowly, the band and Blacc eventually heightened the volume and level of energy, by completely letting rip for one final time, as Blacc again danced around the stage like crazy, while the enthusiastic crowd were left clapping, singing and dancing along, contented and more than satisfied with the entire show and spectacle they had just witnessed.
With the deep soulful tones and the bluesy vibe to match, Blacc very much has soul engrained in his entire body. A spectacle to both watch and listen to live, they say Otis Redding was the King Of Soul, well I think a part of Redding exists and lives throughout Aloe Blacc, and the entire world should be ready to embrace this new King.