Joss Stone & Raul Midon at Massey Hall
There were two audiences at Joss Stone's Massey Hall concert last night. The first was the Clinton generation - older but not old urban professionals with public radio tuned in on the stereos of their SUVs. The second appeared to be their daughters - trendy teenagers with hip scarves and a propensity for screaming. It was hard to decide who to side with, the wildly gyrating teenage dancers or the slightly crotchity CBC fans who kept glaring at them to sit down and actually listen to the music. It was clear, however, that Joss herself was playing to the fans her own age.
Fortunately for the yuppies, there was definitely something on the schedule for them. The show opened with a solo set by Raul Midon, a vocalist in the Bobby McFerrin tradiditon. "Solo" almost seems like a misnomer in this case. It was one man up there with nothing but a guitar, but he pounded out rhythm lines on the guitar effortlessly and was able to vocally recreate an entire horn section, so it seemed like a much larger band. He fused genres and styles effortlessly, under a Latin umbrella.
At times, the vocal manipulations pushed him over the edge into novelty act, but the strength of his vocals - when he wasn't attempting a falsetto he just doesn't have - and musicianship and songwriting should be more than sufficient to support a conventional approach. Avoiding even a hint of "novelty act" seems especially important given that Raul is blind. He has the chops to be taken seriously as a musician, and should take care to avoid being misbranded. When his album comes out later this year, I can see him becoming the NPR poster child of the year - eclectic and interesting, he should hold significant appeal.
Joss Stone is a stellar vocalist, with range and control that would be the envy of singers twice her age. Unfortunately, she mixed that with the stage show that was blend of pop idol and karaoke host. In a set that lasted just over an hour, she sang only 8 songs. I use the word sang here loosely. A good portion of the vocal heavy lifting was left to her back-up singers who carried most of the melodies while Joss herself threw in occasional bits of coloratura. She didn't have time to sing much more than that, because she was far too busy running from one side of the stage to the other trying to convince the audience to sing or clap or scream.
The moments where she actually stopped and sang - especially on Right to Be Wrong - were intense and beautiful and all too rare. Her 6 song main show was dragged out over an hour, followed by several minutes of screaming while we waited for her to appear for an encore, which was, fortunately, another strong vocal moment - Spoiled. Then, after a one song encore, she disappeared for another few minutes to draw even more screaming and finished with Some Kind of Wonderful as a pointlessly painful audience singalong.
There's no doubt that Joss is tremendously confident on stage and has personality to spare. Despite pushing many of my 'shut up and sing' hotbuttons, there were moments of genuine warmth and good humour throughout the night. An audience member who had earlier been forced into the spotlight was hand delivered a flower and a kiss when she was tossing bouquets to the audience. She shot a sideways glare at an audience member who had given her a lighter she couldn't get to work during Right to Be Wrong. She kicked back on the drum stand for a moment of relaxation and a sip of tea then mimiced surprise at realizing the audience was still watching her. Small moments like these shone through the artificial enthusiasm of all the 'Are you having fun yet?' cliches.
Walking out the door, the audience was still separated. The yuppies were grumbling about not being able to hear the vocals over the screaming and the drums and asking incredulously if she'd really only sung 8 songs. The kids were ecstatic and excited from the energy of the event. I wanted to side with the kids, to be absorbed into that group high that can make live music so intoxicating, but ultimately there was so little music involved in this high that I just couldn't get up there.