There was something slightly off about tonight. Not Allen Stone. No, no. He wasn’t off. He’s far too professional and talented for that – but certainly the poor sound and the restless crowd were. The drums were a touch too loud, the keys and vocals too low, and during the only acoustic song of the night, which demanded utter silence and patience, sections of the crowd engaged in mindless chatter that drifted lazily from the back.
If we had been allowed our moment’s reverie we would have wallowed in Stone’s glorious invocation of Simon and Garfunkle on their classic 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. His soft, lilting voice was always going to woo here tonight. It’s what people love most about him. His vocal range is astounding. But somehow, someway, it just didn’t quite come across.
The rest of the gig was patchy, for the most part. The bigger numbers never quite reached the wild peaks of the studio recordings, while the aforementioned slower song was intruded upon. With a house band consisting of bass and lead guitars, drummer, and two keyboardists, it seemed all but a formality that the place would be jumping. And boy did Allen Stone try to make that happen. Perhaps too hard. There were moments of collective hand waving and clapping, and even a couple of sing-alongs that made the gig feel more like a vaudeville show than a concert. Stone evidently sensed the crowd was losing attention and desperately needed some encouragement. But you can’t fault him for his earnestness and desire to show people "a damn good time" – as he put it.
And this is to take nothing away from Stone as a singer-songwriter. This is a concert review after all. The 25-year-old from Washington State, a self-confessed "hippie with soul" who sounds like some of the best R&B and jazz singers from years gone by - from Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye to Donny Hathaway, and who performs like Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and Jay Kay combined – shot into the public’s consciousness back in 2010 when he self-released his debut album, 'Last to Speak'. A heady mix of folk and soul, with a healthy spattering of spiritual influences and political issues thrown in, it was his unique voice that made him stand out amongst the dross of other popular artists plying the same trade.
But it was on last year’s self-titled sophomore LP that he really came into his own, with most of tonight’s performance being taken from this record. There was the celebratory spirit of 'Contact High' and 'Celebrate Tonight', alongside the pure funk and groove of 'Satisfaction', ending with the evocative, ethereal charms of 'Unaware'. Evidently what was also missing was the horn section that so often accompanies some of his tracks. There was too little groove and not enough damn funk. The songs sounded good, but collectively they lacked that intensity you so often look for in a live setting.
My guess is he was too eager to make a good impression here, and was sadly at the whim of a crowd who had seemingly stumbled into the wrong gig. The guy is supremely talented, no doubt about it, and too damn charming to boot – but in another time, in another place he would have brought the house down.
Words by Oliver Clasper
Photo by Lonnie Webb