Raury Deshawn Tullis is confident in a way that belies his youth.
The Atlanta native, born slightly over a month before his city hosted the 1996 Olympic Games, is both world-weary and bright-eyed hopeful – a dichotomy of opinion that threads the entirety of his debut album All We Need, released just two weeks ago on Columbia Records. As he performed to a rapt, sold-out crowd at DC’s U Street Music Hall on Friday night, it was hard not to think about the tensions inherent in the message and the vessel.
Before us stood a young man with complete mastery of his audience, if not his subject matter. As he performed with his three piece backing band, the 19 year old singer moved frenetically on the narrow stage. The front (and coincidentally, younger skewing) half of the of the crowd sang along to his every word and swayed with him, in total surrender. They threw their hands in the air and contorted their fingers in mimicry of Raury’s trademark hand gesture – a pinky in full extension – all while providing a booming chorus to the musician’s better known tracks. As you moved towards the back of the house, the audience aged accordingly. It’s uncertain whether this was a reflection of the desire for more personal space, or skepticism as to the message itself, but either way, it was nice to see the age range enter the mid 30s.
Raury’s music is emotionally charged and intellectually demanding – addressing topics such as love, fidelity, peace, inner city violence, and family dynamics. This is a young man who is figuring out his message and refining his delivery as he goes along – natural for someone his age, but particularly interesting to see through the prism of Internet hype and major label expectations. While Raury has the polish and musical chops of an artist of many campaigns, his performance was tinged with the exuberance and naivety of a teenager – the sincere belief that this show and this album can actually change minds and hearts across the world.
All in all, Raury puts on a great live show, with impressive musicianship and a visually compelling lights display. The hope is that this can serve as a platform to push on from, as the singer-songwriter for a post-whatever America. The main problem is that we’re not quite there yet, and seem to be stalling on our way.