Soulfest 2014

By Jake Ebdale

Date / Venue:  Sunday October 26th, Western Springs Stadium, Auckland

When the line up for Soulfest emerged on Twitter earlier this year, it looked too good to be true. So when the artists were actually seen arriving in Sydney for the first show on the tour, it became a reality. Maxwell, Mos Def, Common and the great D'Angelo on one bill - amazing stuff.

The venue of Western Springs was a perfect fit for the artists on the day. It was a bit grey, a bit windy, but spirits were high. There weren't many of the teething problems that new festivals usually encounter, besides over-zealous security and huge lines for alcoholic beverages. The food was great, with very accommodating staff. Overall, the vibe was a family friendly picnic with some seriously good tunes in the background.

Anthony Hamilton was surprisingly good, with a stellar rendition of ‘Charlene'. Hamilton later joinedCommon on stage for a snippet of ‘So Far To Go' (pity D'Angelo wasn't in the zone at that point, who sung on the original with Common). Common, the bald Chi-town rapper who has just released a great record inNobody's Smiling, was a force to be reckoned with, accompanied by a DJ and backing vocalist. ‘The Light' was a revelation on stage. Mos Def, who was on before him, wasn't as vital, but still a politically charged showman, scattering roses in the VIP area of the crowd.

There were some low points - including silent patches between acts. The DJ sets were OK, but it was criminal seeing an artist of Che Fu's calibre behind the decks - if we have anyone to showcase to these international soul superstars, he'd be the first pick. Instead, Aaradhna took the prize home for best local performance.

But when it boiled down to it, the big draw card was D'Angelo. I was lucky enough to attend his solo show inMelbourne, which was life changing. His slot on the festival went for just under an hour - considering his large following and influence here in NZ, it was a shame he couldn't close the festival or perform at a venue like the Powerstation, but a minor gripe - the man was here, and in fine form. He opened with a Funkadelic cover which morphed into funky single ‘Left & Right' - the crowd was definitely on his side at this point. ‘One Mo Gin', ‘Really Love', ‘Lady' - D hit the mark. Closing with ‘Untitled (How Does it Feel)' was the cherry on the cake - the performance of the day by far.

Maxwell closed the day's festivities, and unfortunately was a bit of a come down after D'Angelo's relentless energy, but still managed to hit the mark. In a suave white suit, Maxwell was the consummate crowd pleaser, with tracks like ‘Get Ta Know Ya', ‘Lifetime' and ‘Bad Habits' cranking up the heat. Light rain on Maxwell's blue stage lights gave it an ethereal vibe, especially when that falsetto made an appearance on ‘This Woman's Work'. Then all of a sudden, the show was done.

Honestly, this was a very unique offering in festival terms, something that definitely worked for an Auckland crowd. A lineup like this won't happen again -and if Soulfest does come back next year, it will hopefully still boast a stellar bill like this. Big ups to the promoters for capturing lightning in a bottle.