Giant Step 20th Anniversary: Aloe Blacc + Raphael Saadiq, Central Park Summerstage, July 17 2010

Ernest Barteldes By

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Giant Step 20th Anniverary
Aloe Blacc + Raphael Saadiq
July 17, 2010
Central Park Summerstage

New York, NY

For his first appearance in New York, Los Angeles-based singer Aloe Blacc came on stage backed by a solid nine-piece band, showcasing his take on the classic soul revival that harkens back to the likes of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and others from that time, whose influence Blacc openly acknowledged during his set. Though most of his tunes had more of an up-tempo groove, one of the greatest moments came when he slowed things down for a gospel-via-blues take on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." The arrangement was mostly based around the bass line, which made the tune almost unrecognizable at first; the audience, however, burst into applause during the bridge and began to sing along with him until the end.

Another memorable moment came during "Politicians," a funk-laden tune with a Motown feel, with Blacc's lyrics questioning how a First World nation like the United States can have so much poverty, injustice and hunger. The tune was one of the few socially conscious tunes he performed, as most of the material he performed was about romantic love won and lost.

After a twenty-minute intermission, headliner Raphael Saadiq's ten-piece band came on with a dramatic rock overture that shifted to soul as he was ushered onstage. The group—consisting mostly of studio musicians—demonstrated great chemistry, and was finely tuned to the bandleader's music, which incorporate shifting tempos and rhythms.

As Saadiq wrapped up the opening number, he sent a shout-out to various New York City neighborhoods, with the crowd reacting to his call-and-response. Saadiq's music has a bit of an "old school' drive, but he is very aware of the changes in the music, and during his set he included jazz-inflected, neo-soul grooves, as well as reggae and dance music, without ever losing touch with his original style.

He gave his band plenty of space, allowing his backing vocalists to take the lead on various numbers. All the musicians had the chance to showcase their individual talents, and Saadiq had great charisma and energy in spite of a punishing heat wave that hit New York city that weekend.

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