Throughout the past 20 years and some change, Seal has regularly switched up his musical personality, whether that be the alternative rocker, romantic balladeer, or electro-pop hit maker. Now 49, it’s only natural to find him mellowing over projects like 2008’s Soul (143/Warner Bros.) and last year’s sequel. Like Rod Stewart settling into standards or Michael McDonald turning toward Motown, both projects have given Seal a significant sales boost, but despite the safety net, Soul 2 in particular finds him sounding absolutely superb. (photo by Andy Argyrakis)
During his inaugural performance at a sold-out Ravinia, old school R&B may have been the main focus, but the singer also mixed crests from every era of his celebrated career. The results found the packed pavilion and picnicking lawn switching vibes between a supper club and a dance party, as Seal turned in note-for-note perfection no matter what the format.
Out of the covers, a flashback to the disco days for The O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers” came across with funky fury and velvety vocals, and later, he rivaled even the incredibly deep throated Teddy Pendergrass during “Love T.K.O.” Sticking true to the original arrangement, Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come And Take Me)” oozed with horn grooves and meaty basslines, though The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” earned a slight facelift as it shimmered with pulsating rhythms.
The near two-hour show also included plenty of Seal originals to showcase his ambitious solo career, and somehow he managed to switch seamlessly between the throbbing “Killer” and the reflective “Prayer For The Dying.” The most engaging cuts came from 2007’s overlooked but nonetheless extraordinary electronic experiment System, with “Just Like Before” and “The Right Life” (sung on a fan’s seat at the back of the pavilion) surging with just the right combination of contagious choruses and irresistible beats.
Of course, Seal couldn’t have gotten away without playing “Kiss From A Rose,” and while it was certainly one of the night’s more predictable moments, it was served up as a slightly left-of-center waltz. He also delivered an extremely convincing version of “Crazy,” which may have stretched back two decades to his more envelope-pushing, dreadlocked days, but it could’ve just as conceivably been released today.
Besides sharing an affinity for soul, opener Macy Gray also put an emphasis on remakes during her sassy but uneven set. Plucking tunes from the new Covered (429), she put a quivering stamp on everything from Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again” to Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” However, Gray’s acquired-taste vocals left a lot to be desired on her originals, which, outside of the breakthrough single “I Try,” failed to captivate with the same quirkiness as her surprising palette of covers.
– Andy Argyrakis
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