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review by: Jeb Gavin

In my notes on Jamie Lidell’s concert at the Rock and Roll Hotel Friday night, the word “lasers,” appears no less than four times- excluding the oblique reference where I quoted from the film Human Traffic.  I don’t even think the lasers were all that essential to the show, however masterfully they were manipulated by the fellas bopping to the beat behind the consoles in the back of the house.  There was just so much happening, especially in light of Lidell being on stage alone, looping and singing by himself.  It’s not the first time I’ve had difficulty taking notes while at the same time shaking my ass for 90 minutes straight, but it hasn’t happened in a while.

Lidell is the latest generation of blue-eyed soul singers, and as a British man moved to Nashville to make music the most direct descendent of Dusty Springfield.  Rather than turn out nothing but throwbacks, mining Ray Charles or trying to growl like Otis, he takes a wider view of the genre.  Down in front of the geodesic, mirror plated laptop and drum pad stand he uses, the lighting cues turning his white blazer into a Max Headroom pinstripe number, Lidell unleashes these computer-modified nasal vocals, like listening to Prince rerecording his hits to conform to early ’90s new jack swing.  In fact, if I had to point to one subgenre of soul in which Lidell seems most at home, it would be new jack swing.

Jamie-Lidell

The cooing, the vocal flourishes and trills, they all serve to compound and confound the preset beats.  On occasion he would record himself beatboxing, and then polish it with this electro sheen to the point where he’d sound likeSir Nose D’Voidoffunk.  I’m not trying to be negative, even though I think Sir Nose was actually the antagonist- I loved this show.  For all the cheesy late 1980s/early ’90s audio/visual cues, the fact that the stage routinely looked like a Patrick Nagel painting waiting to happen, this was a new school R&B dance party, and I felt bad for the folks who walked out early, thinking they could do better on a Saturday night.

I think what most fascinated me was the method by which Lidell layered newer electronic dance music into and over the basis of soul.  Drum and bass remix of his own song?  Not a problem, just step up and sing the hooks quicker.  Piano loop ripped from a Greg Wilson mix intro?  Warp it into an electro-house groove and croon right along.  Soul music has always been a sweet spot where you could reconcile the sex of popular music with the godliness of its gospel roots.  To be able to throw newer, modern sounds and music in there and never stray from that happy medium is an impressive thing to see, especially live and in person.

The show ended with an encore of “Multiply,”  and then “Be in Love,” the latter devolving into an a capella sing-along with the audience, drawn out to the very last note.  While half the audience immediately streamed for the doors for air or possibly smoke, everyone who stuck around started dancing again when the house system began blasting “Sir Duke.” Considering the show we just saw, it was entirely possible the crowd might’ve started singing it on their own without prompting.

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